I had a young man in my apartment this weekend. Very young. Seven, in fact. My boys’ brother. The son of my former husband and his wife. They had planned a long-overdue weekend away for their anniversary, and she’d put together a network of friends to look after him while they were gone.
He arrived right after school on Friday, with his Mets overnight bag. We hopped right into my car and headed to the Bow Tie Cinema across the street to see “Beauty and the Beast.” It was delightful. We laughed and sang out loud together in the nearly empty theater and enjoyed elegant dining at nearby Jordan’s afterward. The waitress, who has known our family for nearly 20 years, said she couldn’t believe that my boys were “grown and flown” and how big and polite their younger brother was.
We snuggled up on the couch, after he’d snacked on Trader Joe’s cat cookies and chocolate milk, to watch the women’s Final Four basketball tournament, although neither of us could stay awake for the historic defeat of the U. Conn women. Before his friend’s father picked him up in the morning, he brought me out the Disney’s “Hercules” towel I reserve for his visits all folded up and asked if he should put it by the washing machine. He loves that towel because both of his brothers used it. It is frayed with their childhood, but it works.
He came back to me Sunday afternoon, and we repeated our quick getaway to the same theater, this time to see “Boss Baby.” He sipped a blue Icee while we chuckled at powder fart clouds and spit-up carrots. He rested his head on my shoulder, tired from his activity-filled weekend, and what I suspected was abbreviated sleep the night before. We shared pizza at Romanacci, where the barista made him an elaborate hot chocolate milk concoction topped generously with whipped cream. I chronicled our weekend in candid snapshots that I sent to his parents and my boys.
When his parents came to pick him up at my apartment, he hid under a blanket on the couch as I lamented, “I don’t know where he is! I remembered the leftover pizza but forgot to bring him home! Have a seat on the couch while I call the restaurant…”
His mom sat right atop him as he giggled with glee at the successful subterfuge. Happily reunited, they walked down the long hall, as he regaled them with tales of his adventures.
“Why,” people often ask me, “would you watch your ex’s son so they can go away?” Or, “You are so good to do that!”
Here’s the thing: bizarre as it may seem to some looking in from the outside, we’re family. Perhaps some odd, hybrid 21st century version, but we’re family. My boys and he are brothers. We don’t say half brothers. Maybe they’re brothers from different mothers, but they are full brothers. No qualifications. There are no official societal words for what his new wife and I are, but in simple terms, and at very least, we’re friends who care deeply about each other’s children. She has watched out for and nurtured mine as surely as I do hers.
We have collectively made this work because love, in whatever unconventional forms it takes, works better for everyone than anger and resentment. We celebrate birthdays and holidays together, not on some divisive, court-appointed schedule.
So, why do I do it? Because I got to hold someone’s hand in the parking lot again. Buy chocolate milk again. Crack up over poop jokes again. Have a little kid in the house—and be a little kid myself—again. And have a big, beautiful pair of brown eyes look up at me and say, “Diane, I love you!”
I am not so good. Love is.