Poking the Bear

When you are a widow or widower, and you’re dating, It truthfully doesn’t matter how “good” you think things are going. There will always be some aspect of your new relationship that becomes amplified quite simply BECAUSE you are a widow/er.  It may be a perceived slight in comparison to how your pror person treated a situation, or it may be an observation that your “second chapter” (I hate that term, by the way) actually does something better or more desirable than your first.  It can be good, or bad; it doesn’t matter, it’s amplified.

Each time one of these moments arises, one can’t help but think “well, it wouldn’t be this way if my first person hadn’t died”.  It can bring up emotions that are deep seated, yet hidden.  Emotions that you did not know even existed, and perspectives that you had never thought about.

One of these moments occurred between Sarah and I on Sunday night, where we both were trying to explain ourselves clearly and with love, yet emotions only continued to rise.

I had just returned from an overnight camping trip.  Both of us were excited and happy to see each other, and to tell one another about our weekend up to that point.  We discussed how my trip went, and how Sarah’s time alone (Shelby was staying with grandparents) was spent “nesting” into the house, enjoying a quiet night watching a movie with some wine, and taking herself on a “self-date” to a few places.    

The discussion progressed to me mentioning that there was another trip planned in a few weeks with some friends, spending a night or two in the Pennsylvania woods.  Naturally, I casually mentioned that we would need to determine where Shelby would be that weekend while I was gone.  At no point did I assume or expect her to stay home (the grandparents tend to play the “take a number game” with Shelby...they want her staying with them as much as possible), but for some reason, my mind flashed back to Megan, and how she would think of nothing else but having her stay home so they could have a “girls weekend”.  

I projected this onto Sarah.  I don’t remember exactly how I said it, but I’m sure it was something to the effect of “Don’t you want her to stay home with you once in awhile?”.  Big mistake.  Not because Sarah doesn’t love and care for Shelby...she honestly does more to take care of her than I do because of logistics.  Shelby adores her, and I would trust no other person as much as Sarah to be the one taking care of her, and giving her a loving environment.  

That statement signaled the beginning of an evening, overnight, and morning filled with emotion for both of us.  We discussed for hours the intricacies of Sarah being a mother figure to Shelby, versus being her mother.  We discussed Shelby’s perceived desires to stay home, rather than go to grandparents.  We discussed how I may be off in the woods, unable to be contacted, while Sarah is left at home with a little girl, unable to do her own things as she sees fit.  

Sarah has known Shelby less than two years, yet they have a relationship with each other that seems as if it’s been much longer.  I tried my best to reassure her that I am beyond happy with “where they’re at” in that relationship, and I’m honestly astonished that they’re this close already.  Unfortunately, I can tend to “over-explain” my stance, and make it seems as if I don’t think she’s doing enough, because Megan had a different bond with Shelby.

While it’s totally not the case, I know that it felt as if I was saying “if you don’t want Shelby to stay home with you, then you don’t care for her enough”.  It is highly likely that I may be an idiot.  Sarah didn’t birth Shelby.  She has never had a child of her own, and realistically, may never have had one if Drew hadn’t died.  A 9 year old girl was never in her plans.  She’s known her, again, less than two years.

Most of all, she doesn’t have her own mother to talk to about it.  I forget, unfairly, sometimes, that when it comes to Shelby, it doesn’t matter that Sarah is a widow.  She doesn’t have the experience, nor even the examples her mother would have set for her.  When I explain my stance on child care and bonding between a mother (or mother figure) and daughter, my own experience comes from seeing Megan and Shelby through the years.   

It took hours of emotional investigation before I realized how unfairly I was approaching the situation, and how poorly I had explained myself.  Because I’m a widower, I don’t have any of the “baggage” that often comes with a divorce.  All I know is that Megan cherished Shelby as her finest accomplishment in life, and would have went to the ends of the earth for her.  However I tried to explain it, it always seemed as if I was saying there’s a problem, when there unequivocally was not, but again, I can be, well, stupid sometimes.

The thing is, Sarah cares for Shelby beyond any of my wildest expectations.  She simply approaches it differently, and from a different outlook than Megan had.  It’s scary for her to think about the possibility that this little human may rely on her, when she doesn’t have a “playbook”, but it doesn’t mean that she wouldn’t do it anyway.  I know that.  Megan and I didn’t know what the hell we were doing, and were scared as well when Shelby was born.

By the time we reached a stopping point in the conversation, it was past midnight.  I had determined that I had only ruined the evening trying to resolve something that didn’t need to be resolved in either of our hearts or minds.  I had also brought new realizations of my own into the light, such as the opinion that Megan, as much as she cared and loved for Shelby above all others, may have easily become a “helicopter mom” as she got older.  There are facets of her relationship with Shelby that may have honestly, been detrimental to her daughter becoming an independent adult.  I was less likely with Megan to speak my mind and argue a point when it came to a decision about Shelby.  I don’t know why...perhaps I saw her as “super-mom” or perhaps, subconsciously, I was thinking that “you won’t get her for as long as I will, so I defer to you in all peanut-raising decisions”.  

I expressed this realization to Sarah, but by this point, I had already poked the bear.  My oftentimes ridiculous debate techniques brought not the fact that she's a widow, but an orphan, to the surface.  I was not asking for more from Sarah, but I surely made it seem as if I was.  

To be clear, I could not ask for more from the woman that raised Shelby to age 7, and I could not ask for more from the woman that is part of raising her now.  They are different, yet equal.  As a widower, it is very hard sometimes to remember that.  

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  • Kelley Lynn
    commented 2017-01-18 18:16:02 -0800
    Awww mike, this is so well written.. and please, give yourself a break. I think its great that when things like this come up between you and Sarah, you can talk about them and break them down and figure them out, even though I know how exhausting that process is. Its also important, and youre doing it, and because you both care so much about how you treat the other , you WILL come through those tense discussions and you will be more than okay.