I seemed to be the only person nervous for the Not Boyfriend and Lil E's dad to meet. I fretted about it quietly, then on Facebook, then by drinking 27 cups of coffee and applying 14 layers of lip gloss under a pretty calm-looking veneer.
All of that, even the under-the-surface stuff, turned out to be for nothing. The event was a non-event, five seconds of handshakes and man-nods with Lil E smiling in the middle and me in disbelief these guys were handling it all themselves.
Rewind a few hours: On the way to E's Taekwondo belt testing, we three were in the car, with my boy playing DJ on my phone. We sang loudly to the songs that get him fired up. If you have a 7-year-old, you are already humming Katy Perry and Black-Eyed Peas and Fun and Carly Rae Jepson.
The traffic was slow and I was winding my way around the Saturday drivers when I realized I'd perfectly positioned myself behind Lil E's dad. The car is unmistakeable. Not only is the license plate number burned in my brain but the dented scars of the time I brushed up against another car's side mirror remain. We live a few minutes apart and since E's dad moved so close about 18 months ago, I've been on high alert for this moment of meeting on the road that connects our homes to the school and martial arts studio.
And here it was, a preview for the meeting that could be moments away.
I slowed down, changed lanes, nonchalantly said, "Oh, there's your dad in the car ahead of us."
Lil E was surprised I recognized it, as he always is when I reveal what I know about the father he is so good at keeping compartmentalized.
"How do you know?!" he asked.
"I know the car," I smiled. Lil E was already back to DJing anyway.
My vehicle chess-strategy worked a light or two later and E's dad sped ahead while we turned off to stop at Starbucks.
We arrived at the studio before he did, and I chose seats in one corner hoping his dad would find his way to another. In the mirrors lining the floor where the kids practiced on mats, I saw E's dad enter behind us, linger in the back, then find his way quietly to his own seat. I stayed focused on my son. That's what the afternoon was about anyway, even in the meeting of these two men.
Testing at this studio is a two-hour test of parental patience with ten minutes of overwhelming pride. Lil E stayed focused during his forms, stepped up his confidence and aggression in sparring and then broke boards in one swift kick and one powerful elbow strike that made it all look easy. My heart oozed all over the mat.
And then, after lots of waiting and shifting in folding chairs and slyly checking Facebook while other kids tested, it was all over. Sweaty kids swarmed the waiting area, parents hugged kids, and the volume cranked up to nine, maybe 10.
Lil E stopped in front of me for a quick second, enough time to get a kiss and grab his bag to change, then scooted off to his dad for a high five and darted to the bathrooms. The Not Boyfriend sauntered over to the front desk, stood still and calm among the chaos. I breathed it in, then out and made my way to him.
Had there been a camera, the rack focus would have blurred out all the students and parents and instructors surrounding us and in a snap, we would have all been clear and defined.
I stood next to the Not Boyfriend and Lil E and his dad converged from different corners, creating a small circle at the center of it all. Lil E opened his mouth to say something. But he was interrupted by something I never expected.
E's dad reached out his hand and introduced himself to the Not Boyfriend. All on his own. E's dad initiated the meeting. Not me, not the boy. Not even the NB. It was so uncharacteristic that I stood silent, watching it all happen in front of me. Lil E's mouth closed.
The Not Boyfriend returned the greeting, and then they both looked down at the kid on the verge of a red belt.
His dad said one more quick congratulations, that he'd call later, then without looking at me or E at all, focused back on the Not Boyfriend.
"Good to meet you," he said. And then he was gone.
It was one tiny moment. Very small in the scheme of it all, and even in our relationship. But there it was, significant in its uneventfulness. It was important that it happened and I was relieved it was all over.
There are a thousand questions to ask: Could things go smoother if there is just another man in the picture? Can E's dad deal with a boyfriend better than an ex-wife? What will unfold from here?
But there wasn't time to think of any of that on Saturday. There was just enough time to shake my head reactively in surprise and turn back to the board-breaker between us. I had no control in this situation. I wasn't even a factor. And Lil E didn't have to parent his other parent or even say a single accomodating word. It happened just as I'd told him it should, with those two adult men figuring it out. And they did, in five simple seconds.
That was it. Nothing more. Thank goodness, that was it.