Updated: Apr 5, 2022
We told people it was a “trial separation,” but we had no idea what that really meant. We found a mediator who specializes in divorce with young children. His office was in an old Victorian house, up a creaky flight of stairs, in a large room with bay windows and etched-glass doors out to the waiting room.
We sat across from him, on opposite ends of a couch, just like we did in couples counseling, except now the choice felts more obvious than ominous. The mediator explained that he used to be a child psychologist but now he only does divorce mediation.
“Why?” I asked, struggling to imagine choosing to spend my days with bitter, heartbroken adults over children.
He shrugged. “I realized I can help kids so much more this way.” I understood what he means. I tried not to take it personally.
We explained that we plan to keep the boys in the house as long as we can. We will be the ones who switch off nights, sleeping out in rented rooms or at friends’ houses on our off nights.
“That’s called nesting,” he said, looking up through his glasses.
“Nesting?” I thought. It felt like the wrong word. The only other time I’d heard the word nesting used is to describe the tender way mothers prepare their homes for a new baby. This felt like the opposite of that. In that kind of nesting, you are building a home for your family. In this kind, you are getting ready to tear it all down.
“If you do get divorced,” the mediator says, “the best time to do it is when your children are very young, or when they’re out of the house. So, it isn’t the worst time. If you do it now, they won’t even remember when you were together.”
His words knocked the wind out of me. For a moment, my breath disappeared. He wasn’t wrong, I knew. But things sound different coming out of a stranger's mouth. And it was still dawning on me how hard we’d worked to get even this far; how little we’d have to show for it, one day. A few photos and stories, maybe the kids will have a couple shadowy memories that will no doubt morph into something else entirely, given enough time.
I look over to my left, and hanging on the wall, there is a photo of a polar bear sitting in a jeep, peering out the driver’s side window. I may not have taken note of this, except that just the night before, I was reading the boys a book about bears, and there was a story about a photographer in Alaska who left his jeep to take pictures, and when he returned, he found a polar bear sitting in the driver’s seat.
Is this a photo that man took that day? And if so, why is it showing up here again, hanging on the mediator’s wall?
Is this some kind of metaphor for divorce? I thought. One moment you are going about your life, and the next there is a wild animal in the place you thought was safe, the place you thought was yours.