Husband and daughter of DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley Hale read a book together

Parent 2 (Part 2)

In the early days of widowhood, sometimes the smallest things would make me cry. In fact, I have a very vivid memory of sobbing the first time I filled out a form for one of the kids and realized that there was no father to go in the “Parent 2” slot. Obviously, I had to do this a number of times over the next few years, and it did get easier. I started writing “No Parent 2” in the slot, though sometimes I’d get auto-replies that said things like, “Hello Marjorie Brimley and No Parent 2!”

I mean, you can’t make this stuff up.

That fall after Shawn died, I decided to start putting my dad in the Parent 2 slot. I mean, technically, he wasn’t their dad, but he was living with us for the school year and I felt like it was appropriate. Here’s what I wrote about it in the post “Parent 2“:

There’s no Parent 2 anymore. But there’s a Parent 1 and a (Grand)Parent 2. This school year, we are going to make damn sure that those forms always get filled out and the lunches always get packed and the homework always gets done. More important, I know that my dad will always have my back when I have to do the much harder stuff of comforting my kids and reminding them that they are surrounded by people who always love them.

It was a rosy view of what I was facing at the time. Yes, I was getting a ton of help from my dad – he took my kids to doctor’s appointments and picked them up from school and made cookies almost every day. More important, he loved them in the in-between moments, like when someone was cold and needed a snuggle on the couch or when someone else had forgotten their hat and he let them wear his. He was – and is – amazing.

And yet, I was still the primary parent. I was the one who did all the forms and made all the appointments and went to parent-teacher conferences and called the school when there was a problem. I was Parent 1.

I figured I’d be Parent 1 until the day I died, because for a long time, I couldn’t imagine getting remarried. Even once Chris was in my life and he was wonderful with the kids and I knew I wanted to marry him – even then it was hard to conceptualize that we were going to truly share parenting. But at some point, I started to wonder something incredibly exciting and scary: maybe there was going to be a Parent 2 again, one who wasn’t my dad.

Of course, if you’ve been reading this blog for some time, you know that Chris legally adopted our kids back in March. I’d been putting him in the Parent 2 slot for months at that point, but after the adoption I was able to change all the official forms at the pediatrician and the schools, for example. It was really nice to know I had a partner right next to me on the paperwork.

But I was still in the Parent 1 slot. Obviously. I’m the mom! There was no question that I’d be Parent 1 forever.

Or at least that’s what I thought, up until a few weeks ago.

Moving to Colombia has been an interesting experience in about 1000 ways, but one of them is that the mom is almost always the point of contact at school. (I have no idea what happens with same-sex couples or single father households.) Our kids go to a bilingual school, where much of their day is in English, but we found out early on that Chris needed to handle the communication with school-related stuff. I’m not great at speaking in Spanish on the phone, and since he’s fluent, it made a lot more sense for him to manage everything. I did almost nothing with the school – he enrolled them in school, ordered their uniforms, and got access to the online grade systems – so I figured they’d just start communicating with him. I’m honestly not even sure how they got my information on any of the forms, except that Chris added it at one point. Obviously, he was the parent they should contact.

The school still continued to send almost everything to me first, anyway.

It was almost hilarious. I say “almost” because we actually missed more than one event because I misunderstood what was happening and Chris didn’t get the information. In the beginning, it was a constant battle to get various staff, administrators and even some of the teachers to contact Chris instead of me.

But slowly, everyone seems to be catching on that Chris is not just my sidekick. He’s much more than just Parent 2 at this point.

For starters, he’s the Spanish speaker but it’s so much more than that. He’s our coordinator-of-life here in Colombia, he’s the person who understands the culture, the one who deals with things like health insurance and dammit, he’s their father! He’s the one who talks to the volleyball coach when she texts my phone and (maybe more important) he’s the one who’s been practicing volleyball with Claire in the evenings after dinner. He’s the one who’s also helping get Claire through the classic Colombian novel Maria, which she has to read in Spanish even though she doesn’t really speak the language. He’s the one who gets Tommy on the bus for school every morning and he’s the one who taught Austin to play squash since our apartment complex has a squash court and he’s the one who actually knew the rules of the game. He’s the parent who knows all the security guards at school because he’s the parent who has visited the school most often and he’s the parent who made all the kids doctor’s appointments last week. Yes, the paperwork is all him, because of the language issue. But here in Colombia, for a variety of reasons, so much else is on him as well.

It’s been a bit strange to let go of so much control. I mean, I am the mom! I’ve been Parent 1 since the moment Claire came out of my body. I’ve been Parent 1 when there was no Parent 2. Being Parent 1 is a big part of my identity. For seemingly all of my parenting life, I was the person who dealt with all the big life stuff. That’s me. I’m the in-charge, mama-bear, number-one parent. Or at least that’s how I’ve always seen myself.

But now, life is different.

It was actually pretty thrilling that Chris got an update last week about something at school….and I wasn’t copied on the message.

Do you know who responded to that email? He did.

I’m getting used to this new role. Of course, there’s still so much that both of us do. But I’m realizing that right now – and maybe for a long while into the future – I won’t always be the parent who responds to every single thing from school and doctor’s offices and even from playdates.

I haven’t had to fill out any forms in the past few weeks, but I think the next time I’m asked to put my name somewhere, it might be in a brand-new spot:

Parent 2.