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It Takes a Village

By Randee Bergen

It was Amy’s idea to make the hats.

“I was at Wal-Mart getting poster board, mom, and I saw some plain white hats. I thought it’d be fun to get a bunch and write TEAM ADDY on them.”

Not only would it be fun to attend graduation in matching white caps, but the slogan—TEAM ADDY—was perfect.

So, using fabric markers and puffy paint, we made enough hats for Amy, me, a few friends, and the others that would be coming over from Denver—Addy’s dad, his girlfriend, and his mother.

I wasn’t sure if the Denver group would sit with us at the ceremony, or with me, I should say, as I would encourage Amy to sit with them since she doesn’t see them as often. I couldn’t predict if they’d like the hat idea and agree to wear them. To be honest, I was surprised that Addy’s dad was taking the time off work and making the trip to attend her graduation at all. It’s not that he wasn’t proud of her, and supportive, it’s just that he’s never had any use for ceremonies.

It’s been more than six years now since the separation and almost five since the divorce became final. It was a contentious affair. In the middle of the process, the girls’ dad quit his job and moved across the state, taking a new woman/old high school girlfriend with him. And shortly after that he announced that he wanted the girls to come live with them.

I won’t get into the particulars, but the girls did live with their father for a few years. One wanted to–to give him a chance–more than the other, but they had to stick together. They’ve always stuck together. Their relationship is the heart and soul of TEAM ADDY.

Eventually, the girls made their way back to me. Their father was busy working most of the time; he always had been and that did not change once he took custody of the girls. It was his girlfriend who ended up caring for them.

Initially, I was angry. Hurt. Incredulous that the court said she would be the one to raise my daughters instead of me. But rather quickly that anger turned to gratitude and appreciation. For if she was not there, not in that household and not available all day, every day, as she was, then I’m not sure what would have become of my daughters.

She transitioned them into a new home, new schools, and through some tough teenage years. She didn’t parent exactly how I would, but she did parent. She parented my children.

It was the beginning of the teamwork. The village. On the first Mother’s Day that rolled around, I sent her a card, thanking her for all that she did for my girls, thanking her for being a good mother, explaining how grateful I was for the village.
She called me immediately upon receiving it and thanked me profusely. The team became stronger.

We became friends.

Not being their real mother, Addy didn’t feel that pressure from her to be like mom, to go through childhood and high school the way mom did it, the way mom would want you to do it. I credit her presence, and the lack of mine on a daily basis, for Addy discovering her true self—her free spirit; her hippie style; her creativity with music, writing, and art; her brash humor; the eschewal of the high school experience that I had in mind for her. The girl knows herself better than I have ever known myself. And she’s only 17.

The power of the village.

There were tough times in that household, as there are in most. There were several occasions when she was on the verge of leaving him. I prayed she would. Get out. Get a better life for yourself. She was a friend, a fellow woman. I cared about her. But I prayed harder that she would stay. Oh, please stay. Find the strength to stay. And she did. She stayed. Addy–in her honesty and boldness and love for her–told her to leave. Go to a happier place. She explained to Addy why she couldn’t leave; she loved them both and she did not think their dad could handle raising them on his own.

She stuck it out for the team.

I’ll never understand Addy’s father’s style of parenting, of loving. But I will say that he is a critical player on the team. He works hard, he earns good money, he pays his child support. He teaches different sorts of lessons. He does what needs to be done, in a business sense. He has been cordial and cooperative.

Eventually—slowly but eventually—he and I became friendly again, too.

The strength of the village.

And then there is Jim. My Jim. My Jim who is patient and understanding and embraces that I am first and foremost a mom. He loves my girls and has always been there for the three of us. Another pillar in the village.

I remember, five years ago, hoping that we would all get to the point where we could come together for graduations, weddings, births, all the important things that might come up in our daughters’ lives. I imagined us in the same room, being cordial, the anger long gone, the hurting all healed. I wondered if that could ever be a reality.

We are at that point now. And it feels good. It feels healthy.

Recently, Addy was diagnosed with depression. We’ve all been supportive and tried our best to learn more and understand better what she is going through. We’ve teamed up to figure out how to parent a teen with depression, as it is no easy task, perhaps harder even than parenting a teen without depression.

And I cannot leave out the extended family members—grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins—who are also on TEAM ADDY, as well as friends, teachers, coaches, bosses. The village extends beyond all understanding.

Though we split apart years ago and live in separate cities, we’re one village.

So the TEAM ADDY hats mean a lot to me. I know mine will be around for years to come.

COMMENTS

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A beautiful example of the “new normal.” The idea that a family is a mother and father living together with their biological children is antiquated. Love, caring, support, compassion ... those are the things that make a family ... and a village. Congrats to your daughter and I wish her well on her future endeavors.

Robin, thank you for your comment. Divorce doesn’t have to be terrible and I hope as it becomes more common people will accept it and fight it (and their spouses) less. There are lots of benefits to having four parents instead of two.




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