“Where is your favorite place?” my 7-year-old daughter Vivian asked Dan, my forever-fiancé, over sandwiches at Chick-Fil-A this winter. He could have listed off the many cities he had traveled to, but then I felt those butterflies when he said, “in your mom’s arms.”
It was spontaneous and sweet — and immediately my son Phoenix, 9, rolled his eyes, and my daughter let out an on-cue “Ooooohh!”
“You can sit together since you’re in love,” she said, and smiled at me.
After a divorce and restarting my life from the ground up at age 38, I didn’t expect these feelings of love and affection to swoop in, and that someone would wake up my soul ever so gently and open my eyes to a life with care at the core.
Before, I had accepted that when it was my week with my children, I would raise them solo and wholeheartedly, us three. I would look at the metal wall decor of three trees I had nailed into the wall to see how my future would look. When it wasn’t my week, I would walk laps at a nearby park and pass the family of turtles at the pond and hear frogs calling for each other.
I didn’t wear a ring anymore, I was alone half the time, and I was settling into my fate, but sometimes it took a few more laps, as families took portraits standing side by side against the wildflowers, as the isolation really sunk in: the time in my life for falling in love had passed me by.
With my kids, I accepted that playing the board game Life would mean forcing a smile as I spun the wheel, because I knew that real life could fling and unravel, you could land somewhere unexpected, plans were fragile, and dreams could break apart.
Only I didn’t know love would be on its way to me.
“When did you meet?” Vivian asks.
I first met Dan 19 years ago, I explained, but we had parted ways as college kids. Considering her age, my daughter doesn’t need all the details right now — like that we reconnected through social media, and on the phone he told me everything he remembered about us in college. Things I had put in the past while moving through the years as a Manhattanite and budding author, then a mother of two pushing a double stroller, and now a communications manager.
He had followed his dream to become an airline pilot, and his voice was the same. We talked about the years in between then and now, the loss of parents, the places we had lived and left behind, and apologized for our missteps back then. We clearly clicked, and something told me to keep my heart open.
We spent the next year dating long-distance, traveling back and forth whenever possible, hiding notes in coat jackets, and sending little packages. His comfort warmed me; his hugs felt like home. He kept my love light burning, and in his calmness, his relaxed way of being, I could see my future becoming brighter.
While the end of my thirties is on the horizon, I feel youthful and free, energized and giddy like the young mom I used to be. It’s as though I’ve gotten years of my life back, being adored and appreciated like never before. Receiving love and being in a relationship that is built on truth and honesty provides a place to be real, raw, and unfiltered, and Dan’s patience always comes to mind when I feel overwhelmed or the day is a circus, and my kids are restless.
I introduced my new love to my kiddos over rounds of Uno and Domino’s pizza slices, through frisbee tosses and drive-thru dinners enjoyed at my kids’ favorite playgrounds. Soon, as we merged lives, Dan’s speakers, better pots and pans and toaster oven arrived; vacuum, artwork, and cacti settled in with renewed energy among soccer practice, basketball games, the hamsters, devices to charge, visits to the zoo and aquarium, art projects galore on the dining room table, and dishes to clear.
I explained our commitment and endearment to my children by saying that I’m “cared about”. I worded it something like, “Your dad will always be your dad, but your mom has someone who cares about her.”
Dr. John Vincent, professor of psychology at the University of Houston, agrees that it’s a good thing for kids to see their parents’ happiness, and the wonderful euphoria you feel when you’re in love. “Kids want to see you happy, and kids see that as a good thing,” he explained on the phone.
I think about how my kids will see someone helping with the load, taking the trash out, refiling the water bottles, helping with homework, making dinner together. Holding my hand, caring about my thoughts and my day. Dr. Vincent explained anything that lightens your load is seen as a plus, and it adds to the child’s life.
Of course, spending my life with an airline pilot means some weeks there’s more “mom and me” time, which has also been a pleasant way to keep a balance and quality time with my kids — and, in a way, have it all.
Being in love has also brought me gratitude, good thoughts from our companionship and connection that help me live a satisfied life. I didn’t know life could shift in this way, and that I would be restarting this chapter carrying warmth all around me. Now being older doesn’t seem so terrible. The years ahead are like getting a second chance — a real chance — to be loved. And it would be hard for my kids to miss the dainty diamond ring on my finger.
“What does forever-fiancé mean?” my daughter asked when she noticed the sparkle. I tell her it means we care about each other, and we trust each other, and although marriage isn’t the plan at this time, the ring is a symbol of love. It means sharing our life together equally — and soaring.