The other night I went to a 40th birthday party at a friend's house. His wife threw him a wonderful dinner, invited his big group of friends, who have known each other since nursery school and have stuck together through every happiness and tragedy ever since, and made him a 15-minute slideshow of all their collective memories.
There are photos of this group in nursery school, at summer camp, high school prom, at their weddings and with their children. I've yet to find a rarer or longer lasting group of friends. It's incredible to see their bond. The guys are all still best friends, their wives are best friends and even their children are, too. They do boys trips, girls trips and family trips throughout the year. It's quite the tradition and I'm lucky to have stumbled upon them when I met my boyfriend. I doubt there is a nicer, more welcoming group of friends.
But today I'm feeling a little off. Where is my group of friends from childhood? Or the couple friends my ex and I had been cultivating when we were married? The family trips with our friends and their kids? When you're divorced, it's hard to maintain those friendships. Some people fall off the map, or couple friends remain friends with one of us or the other or find new couple friends altogether.
When you think about it through this lens, I feel like a train involved in a crash, with twisted metal and debris all around me. I couldn't continue on my track, so, relatively unscathed, I was put on a new track.
And as happy as I am to have a new track, to feel like Thomas the Train, useful and huffing along, it's still a little disorienting, just by virtue of the fact that at one point I was on one track and now I'm on a new one. When will the feeling of newness wear off? Does it ever? I have caught myself marvelling at my disorientation on and off for four years.
My head was spinning as all the other couples at the 40th birthday party were talking about the funny notes their kids leave under their pillows; their family's weekend routine of making French toast for breakfast; and what to do about the raccoons digging up their lawn. When will I get to talk about "our" family and "our" routine" and "our" lawn?
I'm sure it will happen soon enough, but how long does it take to build a new family? To have mundane family things to talk about; things traditional families take for granted, but stories I wish I could share, too?
My kids are nearly half grown by now and perhaps set in their ways and roles. Will my oldest always think of himself as the oldest even when he has a big sister? Will my youngest always be the competitive younger brother even with a new dynamic? Will my boyfriend's daughter always think of herself as an only child? Will I always see myself as a single mom? How long does it take to create a compatible new family dynamic? To establish unique traditions? How much will we stay the same and to what extent can we morph into an "our" of our own?
I don't understand how the world works. I seem to grapple with it every day. And even happy occasions like a 40th birthday party make me lament the things I lost. Things I want to have when I'm 40. I'm afraid it will be so obvious on my 40th birthday slideshow where things changed, where my train veered off course. I'll feel exposed. Vulnerable.
Will everybody see how sad I was when I went from a family of four to three? Will they understand how hard I fought to end up with a new role on a new train line? Perhaps it will go unnoticed because by then I'll be one of the group, able to talk about our kids and our family traditions and the raccoons on our lawn. This group of friends is something to covet and aspire to, but not to be jealous of, for sure: I ended up in a few photos in the slideshow after all. Maybe this new track is the one on which I belong.
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