Around 7 weeks ago, the little guy was rushed to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children at Yorkhill. He spent the night there, and was discharged in the early hours. His dad naturally dashed over as soon as we needed him, and we sat awake all night, trying to ease his discomfort and follow the instructions of the staff to hydrate/dehydrate, feed/fast him, keep him awake or let him sleep appropriately. He was fine, but we’ve been waiting since then for a follow-up appointment with a surgeon.
When it came through, we both took the day off work. We made our way to Yorkhill once more – on one of its final fully operational days – and had our appointment. All was well, apart from the usual toddler tantrums during examination.
At surgical pre-assessment, though, things became awkward. The most invasive procedure of the day was clarifying our home arrangements. The nurse checked my name and address. I reeled it off. She checked dad’s name.
She chimed: “And the little one lives at…”
I repeated my address.
“Me,” I replied.
“And you are together or not together?”
I waited for my ex to speak but nothing came. It was only a couple of seconds of silence, but all three of us were keenly aware of the awkwardness contained within those brief moments.
It broke my heart all over again. I suddenly questioned whether this approach we have tried to establish – very fair co-parenting – was somehow still not as good as the traditional setup for my little boy. I had always said that we could make it work, but I felt like we were failing him.
The fact that the question was asked in a hospital during a pre-surgical assessment for a routine operation made things even worse: is the implication that my personal situation has contributed to my child’s medical one? If he was being counselled, or had a behavioural issue, I could see their point. These things can be relevant. But this was like blaming your tonsillitis on a career change, or your broken leg on your decision to stop smoking.
The fact of the matter is that even though my little boy’s mummy and daddy aren’t in a stable and loving relationship doesn’t mean that my little boy isn’t. He is. In fact, he’s in the same loving relationship that he was always in. He is my only son. He is his dad’s only son. He is the only grandchild for all of his grandparents. He is the only nephew of his aunt. He is completely cherished by everyone around him, even if I am not cherished by one of those people any more.
I respect his dad because he is a good dad. He respects me because I am a good mum. We are both doing everything we can for our boy, just not for one another any more.
If anything, we are more cooperative and fair than ever before.
And yet, it felt like we were wrong to say that no, we are not together. Saying it out loud will get easier in time, as most things do. Writing like this is part of that process for me.
In fact, the nurse probably didn’t need any words at all. She need only look at the little family in front of her to realise that it doesn’t matter what addresses we live at: when the wee one needs us, we are both there in a heartbeat.
In the circumstances, our split could have been acrimonious, but for his sake we have both bitten our tongues many times. I could still be as angry and bitter as I was on the day that he left our home, but I’ve tried with every fibre of my being to be as calm as I can. We still have friendly conversations, because before we were ever married we were best friends and that doesn’t just go away, even if love fails. We take the little one out for food sometimes as a family. We play with him, hold him and love him as much as we ever did as a couple.
We don’t do parenting “together” as a couple any more. We are “not together”, but we do parenting “together” as two individuals who cooperate, but who have their own time and their own lives too.
I don’t think any of that would have fitted in the box on her form, though, so the standard answer was going to have to suffice.
So I replied, “Not together.”