The family dinner that’s most important in our house is not the typical weeknight meal where my son, Javier, mumbles something about his day after an onslaught of questions from me. The one we treasure is the monthly meal we share with my ex-husband, Ed, who lives in another state.
After his job lured him away shortly after our split seven years ago, Ed and I settled into a comfortable routine that made the most of the distance. Javier talks to his pop every day, sometimes twice, and Ed and I also talk, text and email at least that much. Sometimes the conversation bears no mention of our son. I met Ed 14 years ago, and since then we have survived the death of a parent; our son’s premature birth; several moves; job losses and promotions; health scares; military duty; and of course, divorce. It seems insufficient to say we know each other well. For better or worse, we are friends—true, honest-to-God, lifelong friends, a title you earn.
Unlike other couples who can’t seem to shake the bitter residue that remains post-split, we both silently decided shortly after our divorce that we would always be kind to each other. We did it for our son, sure, but truthfully, we also did it for ourselves. Who wants to carry that kind of burden around for the rest of their life?
Before you go handing us the award for Divorced Parents of the Year, let me be clear that we certainly disagree (we both maintain the other is way too stubborn), but we never argue irreparably. Perhaps the distance facilitates that, but I still think we deserve credit. In a world where so many exes play lip service to getting along for the sake of the kids, I know that Ed and I are extraordinary. We just wouldn’t have it any other way.
So when Ed is in town and he packs the schedule with fun things to do with Javier, we almost always carve time for family dinner. It’s usually just the three of us, even though we’ve both moved on to other relationships. Sometimes it’s at the dining room table with a home-cooked meal, other times it’s takeout while sitting on the sofa, or a trip to a local restaurant.
Why is this so important to me? Because there is nothing more intimate than breaking bread with someone. Sure, we could meet for coffee, or at the park, but neither of those hold a candle to sharing a meal. It’s impossible not to look someone in the eye when you’re seated across from them. You can’t help but engage, and soon an impenetrable ring of family superpower surrounds the table. You start with the small stuff—weather, travel details, Jav’s latest stories from sports and school. But soon you migrate to deeper, more meaningful exchanges: I ask how his mom, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s, is really doing. He asks how I feel about being laid off from a job I loved. As the chatter unfolds, our 8-year-old son is witness to genuine empathy volleying from one side of the table to the other. Jav knows that his parents may no longer married, but love and care are still very much there. Those meals nourish our son in ways I’ll never be able to put into words.
Recently I took my son and two pals out for a play date, and one of the boys arrived armed with questions about our divorce. They came at me in rapid-fire format: “Why did you get divorced? Do you not love each other anymore? Why don’t you want to be together? Do you not like each other?”
I was caught completely off guard, but I had nothing to worry about. Before I could answer, Javier chimed in with an answer better than any I could have come up with. “They are friends and love each other, they’re just not married anymore, geesh.”
“How do you know they like each other?” his buddy insisted.
“Because we always have dinner together when he visits.”