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First Person Navigating my divorced parents got trickier when I had kids of my own

Rachel Wada/Illustration by Rachel Wada

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I sat with my dad, eating lentil soup. “It’s delicious,” he said. “Who made it?”

I panicked, then lied. “Oh, we get so much food, I can’t remember. Maybe Wilma?” Friends and family had filled our fridge with food to sustain us while we managed our newborn twins.

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I knew who had made this particular soup. The Tupperware lid had Mom written on it in marker. But my parents had separated a year before the twins’ arrival, and I didn’t have the energy to deal with a flash of my dad’s still-present anger.

Dad probably knew the soup’s provenance, though. He’d been eating my mom’s food for almost 40 years. Mom used to always tell my siblings and I that she’d won him over by cooking Cornish hens.

My dad clanged his spoon against the soup bowl as he ate. “What did you get up on the weekend?” he asked.

“We went to market and did some yard work.” My mom helped us do both activities; I constantly edited one parent out of the stories I told the other.

When the twins were a month old, Dad visited again. This time I didn’t try to hide the fact that my mom cooked most of our food. I wasn’t going to cook just to make sure he didn’t experience food nostalgia. Dad didn’t ask me any awkward questions. He just mentioned how good the cabbage rolls were and talked about how much work he had to do on the house.

He’d started cleaning out the family home to sell it. A storage locker held the furniture of my childhood. Dad also brought me quite a few bins.

Mom left behind a lot of stuff when she moved out, not wanting to empty the massive house too much. Flower pots and paintings, Christmas decorations and Indian table runners. She left behind the stuff she’d used to make our home beautiful. I shoved the bins in the back of the garage, hoping they’d magically disappear.

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When my mom saw her things in our garage, I cringed. Not having wanted the bins of stuff in the first place, I offered them to her. But then, I wondered: What would I tell my dad when he asked where the six bins of Christmas decorations had gone? I just hoped he wouldn’t notice.

On Dad’s third visit to see the twins, he brought his new girlfriend. Her name was Chris. This was unfortunate, because my Mom’s name is Crystle.

My two-year-old daughter was just starting to understand possession. She called every vehicle “our car.”

We told her, “No, that’s someone else’s car.”

She loved the expression and used it constantly. “Someone else’s rock. Someone else’s house.” She started finding Chris’s stuff around our house and using my mother’s name instead: “Crystle’s bag! Crystle’s coat!”

I cringed and corrected her. “Chris’s bag. Chris’s coat.” I didn’t even know when she’d heard my mom’s actual name. At our house, she is Nani.

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The next day, it continued: “Crystle’s shoes! Crystle’s book!” I gave up trying to tell her differently, and hoped my dad wasn’t listening or couldn’t hear.

My friend called asking me if I needed any help.

“No worries,” I told her. “My dad and his girlfriend are here.”

“His girlfriend?!”

“Yeah, I’ve known her my whole life! She’s great.”

“I’m so happy for you!”

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Her comment confused me. Was this a good thing that my parents were dating people again? I still hadn’t accepted that my kids would never see my parents together. On the other hand, my kids were young enough to not know any different. My sister’s kids were older when their grandparents separated, and it was pretty confusing.

The first time I tried to split my hometown visit between two houses, my five-year-old niece was perplexed. “Where are you going?” she asked, as we packed up to leave after lunch.

“To see Dziadziu,” I said, using the Polish term for grandfather.

“Why? Where is he?”

“He’s at the other house.”

Her face scrunched up, as though she had 20 questions and had to choose just one. “Does Nani still know Dziadziu?”

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“Yes.”

“Does Dziadziu like Nani?”

“Yes,” I lied. “They just don’t live together any more.”

She looked worried. “But my mom and dad love each other. They live together.”

“They do! They love each other very much,” I reassured her.

My parents’ refusal to be in the same postal code meant every special occasion was fraught with difficult conversations. Holiday planning became a game of broken telephone. Months too early, I started wondering how I’d decide who to invite to the twins’ first birthday.

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I made several ill-advised attempts to pass messages between my parents, to try to speed up the separation process. These efforts left me crying a lot and did nothing to move them closer to an agreement.

The silence between the two of them felt unsustainable. They still shared three children and six grandchildren. I resented their insistence that they not see each other, since they both were integral parts of our three-kids-under-2 survival plan. I also couldn’t understand the fiery animosity and stubborn silence between them, especially for two people who had been together almost four decades.

They didn’t want to meet face to face, but they often asked about each other. Someone reminded me that they shouldn’t be putting me in the middle, so I set limits for our conversations and let them know I wouldn’t be giving them updates any more.

For a while that worked, but after a few weeks they went back to doing it again, ignoring the boundaries I was too timid to enforce. I stopping cutting them off and resumed answering their questions. The kid in me wanted them to ask. I wanted them to care about each other, even in their separate lives. And I hoped that someday, for the sake of their family, they would find a way to stand separately, together, in the same room.

Meaghan Mazurek lives in Guelph, Ont.

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