So, another summer is upon us, bringing with it mostly excitement. But I must confess, there are some mixed emotions. Wrapped into the sunny summer afternoons ahead are all the logistics of shared-custody-parenting: schedules, vacation, and “how-to-make-this-work” moments.
This past weekend was no exception. From the outside observer’s perspective, I’m sure we looked unremarkable: a mother with a couple of kids in tow ready for a lovely afternoon. And it was. My daughter, now 10, had a friend along for the day, I was the lucky chauffeur, minding my own business.
Listening from the driver’s seat, the conversation went like this:
Daughter: “What are your plans for next weekend?”
Friend: “I don’t know.”
Daughter: “What did you do yesterday?”
They moved on to some usual grade school banter, including the merits of decimals over fractions, summer camp plans, and ice cream of choice. But then the conversation circled back to plans. Daughter seemed way more interested in this topic than Friend. Fine. No big deal (even for those of us parents who can make a mental big deal of anything). And then, I flashed back to earlier that day.
Over lunch, the mother-daughter conversation had circled around to plans. This summer. When she would be where. Mommy week. Daddy week. What we would have for lunch en-route to the cottage. Not so strange—other than the fact that we are going to the cottage in August. And this is the beginning of June. It might be a little premature to plan our en-route lunch menu.
Suddenly, I got it: It is all about the schedule. Plans. The cognitive container of divorced-co-parenting. I’m no rookie to this. Neither is my child. She has been shuttling between homes since she was an infant. Mommy days. Daddy days. Two homes. One child. Before she could read, I would color code a calendar for her (mommy got pink, daddy got blue). What I didn’t realize was the shadow all this planning would cast on our reality. Permeating our consciousness is the ever present need to count the days, plan the time, and account for where we are. Leaving little room for spontaneity. No wonder “Friend” had no interest in circling around plans for the next several weeks: This is not her language, this is not her life.
Then, it struck me. All this timing. Counting. Figuring out. It’s wired into the Jewish calendar. It’s actually where I’m meant to be. It’s where we are now: counting the 49 days from Passover to Shavuot, the time we receive the Torah. Given that the point of getting out of Egypt is to receive the Torah`s wisdom for living, we might think we count down (as in “I-can’t-wait-mommy-are-we-there-yet”).
Instead, we count up, we name the days, and collect them on our way. Each one is important. Each one is necessary. The hours we spend preparing are what make the meeting point so valuable. Without enumerating how we are getting from one place to another—we can’t truly arrive. This is not a countdown where we wish the time away. It is a “count up” where we say “yes, this time is precious because it is building me into who I am.”
Maybe all the scheduling and planning is not so different. Just as counting is wired into the calendar, perhaps it is also etched into God’s plans for shared-custody-parents and our children. We are time bound. We get that there is never a simple Sunday afternoon. There are the ones with child, when we scramble to “make it count.”
And then there are the sometimes-lonely-sometimes-lovely times without child. They likewise build us into who we are. The questions will remain: How and when? Where? With who? These will forever be the questions that pepper my daughter’s life–and mine–but maybe that’s a gift. To know that there is never a day too mundane to count, never an hour too short to use, or a time too far off to dream about.
If planning has cast its shadow on our lives, we are stepping into the light. As for lunch on the way to the cottage in August? We are debating between sushi and pizza.