A Parallel Life

Have you seen the film Sliding Doors? It follows a character in parallel lives, the stories decided by one moment in time when Gwyneth Paltrow either does or doesn’t jump on a tube train.

Last weekend I had my own Sliding Doors moment. It was the teen’s birthday (sweet sixteen, more of that to follow) and she had chosen to have ten friends over for a birthday dinner party. I was head chef, the tween was maître d and the role of waiter was to be played by teen and tweens father. This was quite a big deal. Due to the geographical distance between us, a sighting of the lesser spotted ex-husband on our patch is quite rare, however, on this occasion the stars aligned and the teen was able to have her wish of having her father at the party – albeit in a waiter-ish sort of way.

We adopted our Upstairs Downstairs/Downton Abbey roles with alacrity. The party guests munched on smoked salmon blinis, roast chicken with dauphinoise potatoes, salted caramel profiteroles and birthday cake. They laughed, danced, sang and played games around the table. Meanwhile, on the other side of the green baize door the three of us chopped, stirred, sweated, washed up and grazed on leftovers whilst keeping an eye on the rugby on the kitchen TV.

It was amicable and comfortable and fun. It felt as if no time had passed and the years since the separation did not exist. It was how it should be, a complete family having a celebration of a special birthday. Somewhere between making the gravy and lighting the birthday candles I realized that for that one evening I was having a parallel life moment. This is how it would have been if divorce had not got in our way. This would have been our life had infidelity and poor communication kept their noses out and left us alone to navigate our marriage.

In the cold light of day I do realise that nothing is that clear cut. Our lives could have gone any number of ways, had we not failed at the hurdle we did it may have been another further down the line. But for that one evening I felt happy that we could genuinely re-create a happy family tableau for the teen. I felt cheated of the family life that I always assumed I would have. And, most of all, I felt furious for letting the whole situation make me feel so sad.

Even when you have completely moved on there are still little blips waiting in the wings to trip you up, especially where the children are involved. I guess that the life skill here is to recognise the blips for what they are, acknowledge them and float forwards. It’s not living in the past, it’s just a passing thought of ‘what if’.  A personal Sliding Doors moment, nothing more.

Millie Bday 16

The Birthday Girl

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The Rise of the Second Time Superdad

When I was planning this piece, in honour of Father’s Day, it was an embittered rant at the injustice of a partner who has moved on to a second family and embraced his role with the verve and enthusiasm that I never witnessed when he was part of our family.

Even after years of being divorced and life having moved on considerably, I still harbour a tremendous feeling of injustice that another woman and two other children are getting the husband and father that we should have had.

Why should we have been the practise models? How utterly galling that the man who never got up to a crying child in the night, never went to a parents’ evening or school fete, had no interest in swimming classes, ballet lessons, family picnics at the beach – this very same man has now risen from the ashes as SUPERDAD. Superdad A quick straw poll of same-boat contemporaries tells me that this is not an unusual phenomenon. The man who re-invents himself for his second wife and family can be found all over the place, holding the tape at sports day, pacing the floor at a colic-o-clock, spending hours browsing the lists of GCSE choices.

When his superdad activities are finished for the day (or should I say, in a lull – his work is never completely done) he turns his attention to his partner. Cup of tea? Lie in? Night out with your friends while I stay at home with the children? No problem, her wish is his command.

Light years away from the diffident egocentric hedonist who demanded a totally quiet house until at least 10.00am every weekend lest his sleep be disturbed. Eons away from the reluctant ‘babysitter’ who invariably broke up a girls night because the baby ‘won’t stop crying’.

Why should it be that this group of second time rounders have finally honed the skills that were so sadly lacking the first time? It could be the simple fact that they were so unhappy that they had no interest in that family. It could be that they had not grown up enough to actually be a grown up. It could be that the various pennies took a while to drop, and, had the partnership lasted for longer, then the learning curve would have flattened out and family number one would reaped the benefits.

I think, in my case, it is probably a combination of all these things which is sad. Annoying too, but mostly just really sad.

But, and here is the sugar chaser to my bitter introspection, in planning and writing this post I have realized something that makes it all feel quite a lot better. Although I may feel hard done by and cheated by the rise of superdad, my children do not. They have only happy memories of the time he was with us, because they had no expectations and just took what they could and loved it. Also, they are now benefitting from his re-incarnation because I am very fortunate that they have regular contact and so he not only superdad to his two new children but also his two older ones.

So, even though I wince at every tale of their familial bliss, and still feel a physical pain in my heart to know that they are living the life I had planned, I need to channel Idina Menzel and ‘Let it Go’ because my children still love their superdad, second time round or not. And that is all that matters.