I remember a perky-school-mom introducing herself to me as we waited outside the classroom to pick up our girls. As women do, she was sizing me up -- where do you live, what does your husband do, etc.
I said, "I live in a little bungalow downtown and, um, no husband. I'm divorced."
Her smile more plastic, her eyes opened wider as she took a step backwards while ever-so-slightly scanning my body up and down. She didn't turn around, she just skated her feet backwards and away from me (picture a frightened version of the moonwalk) like you'd do with a wild animal maybe -- holding your eyes steady on the thing that might eat your head off.
Before the divorce, I was a welcome member of book clubs, mommy+me playdates, group camping trips, dinner parties and potluck gatherings where the kids played in the backyard and the parents took refuge. After the divorce, invitations were "accidentally forgotten" or I was explicitly uninvited or someone would insist that maybe my cell phone was glitching because they were sure they called me. The message was clear: you need to be paired up so that you are not a threat. Stag was simply not okay.
A modern-day Hester Prynne, that's how I felt. Newly divorced and a single mother, it was as if I had caught some terrible virus. As if I were a virulent contagion that married people needed to shield themselves from so they wouldn't catch what I was carrying.
Stitch a scarlet D on my chest for Divorced, I was now a pariah.
Carrie, one of my well-meaning, yet completely clueless neighbors at one point asked me what school my daughter went to. Her kids were at the posh little charter school in the neighborhood and I told her that my daughter was now being homeschooled. She said, "Oh that's good, because we don't really have many people of your kind at our school and she'd probably have a hard time fitting in."
"What kind are we?" I asked, completely baffled and wholly curious to see what was about to come out of her mouth.
"You know... broken," she said, shrugging her shoulders and smiling apologetically, "We don't have any broken families at our school."
I remember the first Thanksgiving that Isabelle and I had together post-divorce. I felt exactly the way that Carrie saw us: Broken with a capital B. I felt hollow and lost and worthless. I felt like I couldn't possibly make the holiday mean anything real. I didn't know how to do holidays as just the two of us. It didn't match what I'd seen in movies or in Hallmark commercials. I didn't know how to just be a mom with a little girl and how to make that feel like home. I didn't want to lose the dream of the white-picket fence and the dog in the yard and the husband and the extended family and the fireplace and the cute boots and the colorful mittens. I didn't want to lose the idea that someday I'd have a family. A real family. You know, like the ones you see on TV.
Not knowing what else to do, I let my little seven-year-old girl plan our first Thanksgiving. So we drank root beer floats and ate spaghetti on our homemade paint-your-own pottery plates with placemats that she'd made as an art project. I have a snapshot of that Thanksgiving. Her little cardboard turkey with glued-on feathers and Isabelle's sweet half-smile. It took me years before I could look at that picture. See it. I would try to skip over it. I wanted to delete it. All I could see was how guilty I felt and how broken I felt and how far from the mark I felt as a mother. All I could see was a first attempt at our own holiday that was sad and empty and heartbreaking for both of us.
Now I look at that picture with nothing but love and compassion. And most of all, pride. Because I am proud of me. I am proud of us. And I am so very proud of who we've become.
I want to go back in time and tell younger me, "You did good mama."
I want to go back and sit at that table and revel in how cute we were. How innocent we were. How hard I was trying to be a good mom. How much I loved my daughter.
I want to go to back to all of the holidays where I felt Broken and Not Enough and I want to take my past self by the shoulders and shake some sense into me.
Because it took me too many years to realize that the family that I had always wanted had been sitting at the table with me all along.
A real family. An un-broken family. Me and my little girl.
This year, we celebrated Thanksgiving at the Palace in San Francisco -- a little bit fancier than our original Thanksgiving (you know it's fancy when there are ice sculptures). There was an entire room of desserts, but not a single root beer float to be found and no cardboard turkeys on the table.
But it was us. Us as we've always been.
Midway through our dinner, I realized that I no longer have that crappy Broken feeling anymore. I looked across the table at this beautiful girl and felt so lucky to have her all to myself. We spent the entire dinner telling stories, talking about our weekend plans, friends, boys -- you know, the important things. And it didn't occur to me, not even once, that my family should be bigger or better or larger or different in any way.
Don't get me wrong, there are people who I adore that I would've loved to have had at our table. And there will be plenty of time for that in the future. But for now, I am overwhelmingly grateful to soak in the last few minutes of her childhood.
And so profoundly glad to be un-broken.