“Alright honey, have fun at daddy’s! I’ll call you later to say goodnight!” I kiss my son and he gives me a big squeeze back. I’m always thankful that even at close to age ten Carter hasn’t grown out of giving his mommy kisses, even when I drop him off at school and his friends are watching. Seeing him run down the stairs two at a time past his dad, it’s very evident that he’s growing at a pace I haven’t gotten used to yet. Last week, before the first day of school, I asked him to try on all his clothes so we could figure out what we needed and low and behold – he’d grown out of a small garbage bag worth of pants.
“He’s getting so tall,” Carter’s dad said as if reading my thoughts. Travis was here to pick him up for the weekend. “Hey don’t forget I might have to go away next Thursday. I’ll let you know if we have to switch up the schedule.”
I roll my eyes at him and smile. He looks so different than he did ten years ago when we first met. Travis was rarely seen without a band t-shirt and jeans back then. Dressed sharp in a button down shirt, black trousers and loafers, he was thinner now. Going to the gym had diminished the soft little beer belly I used to tease him about. I remember being at the back of the dingy basement bar I worked at downtown to get through college, watching him belt out songs for hours. I loved how he was on stage. He was so passionate about his music and he was talented. His band played there two nights a week. Travis was cursed with bouncy curly hair which he wore long back then. You’d never know it looking at him now.
I lean over the railing on the front porch and watch Carter and Travis hop in the car with Travis’ wife Amanda. The gray Volvo turns down the street but I barely notice the wave Carter gives me as they drive away. The car, the hair, the wife. Travis was hardly even the same person he was with me.When I look back at those times I remember feeling like I was part of something bigger happening. I felt lucky to be his girlfriend. His friends became my friends. We spent so many nights at the bar after his shows just talking and laughing. We had so much fun. Even his family was wonderful. I felt like I had found what people look for in life. Like I was where I was supposed to be and with who I was meant to be with.
I found out very early in our relationship that I was pregnant. Before that, Travis knew I was sick but only from what I told him. He had witnessed a few bad days here and there but nothing as serious as how scary things got when I was pregnant with Carter. I found out I was pregnant at 11 weeks along and at 15 weeks I was hospitalized. At one point the doctors and a counselor sat him down and tried to explain to him that there was a very strong possibility that he might not be bringing both of us or either of us home from the hospital.
We loved Carter so much that we loved each other for making such a perfect miracle. Soon after the baby was born things got really lonely for me. Travis was always at work or at band practice or playing shows, always touring or in the studio. When he was home I tried to reconnect with him but was always met with a gaping hole separating us. Eventually, it started to seem like we were just two friends raising a baby together. I wasn't the cute nineteen year old girlfriend anymore. I was Carter’s mom. The one asking him to help with diapers and feedings, whose body could no longer be looked at as more than a mechanical food source, with tired sunken eyes from being up late with the baby. I was so jealous that he was able to have a separate life outside of the apartment. The more distance between us, the uglier I felt. The uglier I felt, the uglier I acted. We fought and cried until finally I had to leave. We both wanted our son to grow up in a home surrounded by love and affection and we couldn't give him that anymore.
It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Travis is a great guy! You don’t leave the great guy. When Carter was baptised I remember my mom asking me if I was sure I wanted the baby to have his father’s last name, just in case things didn’t work out with us. I told her that no matter what, I knew Travis would always be an amazing father. Every day I know how lucky I am. He's the best dad. He’s with Carter three days a week and I can't remember there ever being a single night in the nine years since we split up that Carter has gone to sleep here at home without Travis calling to see how his day was and say goodnight. Plus, he’s been an amazing friend to me. I hate to even think about how I would manage if Travis wasn't so dependable. Especially when I'm sick. He's always willing to change his schedule or keep Carter with him if I'm in the hospital. I appreciate it so much. I know far too many women my age with babies whose dads aren’t even in the picture, let alone calling every night and sending extra money for sneakers. We somehow managed to find a way to parent together even though we aren't "together". We talk daily and things are easy between us. We go to parent teacher meetings together. We go to the elementary school Christmas concert together. We do it right. I’m proud of us for that.
Travis doesn’t have long hair anymore, doesn’t play in a band or party at clubs until four a.m. He has a nine-to-five job, owns a lovely home, a nice car and takes vacations to Jamaica with his beautiful wife. Sometimes I wonder if had I stayed, would that have been my life right now?
One night about nine months after Travis and I had split, I was dropping Carter off at his new apartment for the night. My date waited in the car as I got the baby all bundled up out of his car seat and I went upstairs. When I knocked on the door Travis asked me if I would come in to talk. He asked his roommate to watch Carter for a second and took me into the bedroom.
It was so odd to see our things jammed into this tiny room. Our bed with our blankets still on it, the few paintings we’d bought together and Carter’s crib. He sat me down on the bed and took my hand. He looked tired and nervous.
He said all the things I worried about every day. Was this the right thing to do? He misses us, he wants to get back together, he wants to be a family, things will change. Can we really forget that it all happened and go back to the way things were? I started to get caught up in all the emotion and then I realise he hasn't said a single word about me. Downstairs waiting for me was a nineteen year old college boy with washboard abs who saw me as more than someone’s mother. I was visible again. I was Jane again. I was still Carter's mom first and foremost, but I also had an identity that someone was interested in. Travis wasn’t mourning losing me or our relationship. He was mourning the fact that we might feel we failed our son if Carter was going to grow up in a family whose parents weren’t married.
When I see him looking so handsome, with his grownup life all pulled together, I often wonder what my life would be like now if I had said yes. What if we had gotten back together and married? Honestly, I believe that we were meant to be together – to be parents together. We both got what we wanted. I wanted Carter to grow up in a family where he sees love all the time. Travis and Amanda are happily married for five years now. My parents, who have been together 36 years, live right downstairs. My brother and his fiancé are in the fuzzy glow of love and planning a wedding. In the end, he has so many examples of happy love around him. I have the most amazing bond of strength and love with my son that comes from us being our own special little team. And if Carter is any example of how far a team of loving parents can go – I think we’re doing a pretty great job.