I never expected to live with my parents at age 30 with my 4-year-old daughter in tow, but we had nowhere else to go after my boyfriend dumped me.
After clearing customs on the way back to America from my volunteer trip to Haiti, I called him. “This isn’t working out,” he said. “I had your stuff moved into storage.”
It wasn’t the "welcome home" I'd envisioned after spending the week in Haitian communities distributing shoes to kids in need. But I'd envisioned this day for several months. I’d known for a while that we had to go our separate ways, but for the sake of my daughter and his two sons, I wanted a plan of departure to ensure the smoothest transition possible.
I had one flight left to gather the composure to tell Lexi her surrogate family was no longer. I pictured her big blue eyes filling with confusion. She was expecting me to pick her up from a “mini vacation” at Nani and Papa’s house. Now, I had to explain I’d be joining her there for an indefinite sleepover.
To outsiders, I knew that moving in with my parents might sound like the best option considering my single-mother status. But pride, age and child aside, there was another reason I was apprehensive about returning home. The house I grew up in is also home to an abused family member who has been living there since she was almost 2.
Raising a child who suffered abuse is full of hardship for everyone involved. After my divorce a few years prior, I temporarily moved home, so I knew difficulties were ahead. Since Lexi was no longer an infant, I’d have to be prepared to explain why there are times when her troubled relative wants to play and times when she ignores her or refers to her as “it” or “that thing” or “stupid” in passing.
Still, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my failed relationships, it’s that children can live stably amongst instability. Sure, there would be times Lexi and I would have to hibernate in our bedrooms, or even get in the car and leave if our relative yelled, cursed or banged on walls as she struggled to cope with lingering demons. The unpredictable behavior forced me to be two steps ahead, keeping a keen state of awareness. But I did this because I was Lexi’s rock.
Living at home was the truest test of patience I’ve ever encountered. And aside from child support, I had no income, which made me feel helpless and dependent. Months prior, the ex-boyfriend had talked me into quitting my high-paying job in marketing to pursue my writing. After some lengthy conversations, I did quit. And the following week, I learned about the two-year relationship my boyfriend was having with a younger, married neighbor. For the next four months (until he put our stuff in storage), I tried excusing his behavior -- I still wanted a “family” for Lexi. In hindsight, I valued the illusion of a family more than my own self-respect.
During the first few days following the breakup and my return from Haiti, I wallowed in self-pity. I recall sitting on the porch at our family's “camp” (aka a small cabin on a lake), a place that has always reminded me that paradise isn't just an island with white sand beaches. And on that summer day, as I hid behind sunglasses with swollen eyes, I got another reminder -- from my mother.
“You know, Erinne,” she said, “you keep saying you don’t want Lexi affected by this breakup. If that's true, you need to model how people deal with changes: with strength, with confidence. As long as you’re happy, she will be happy.”
I looked down to the shore where Lexi was wading in the water, splashing and laughing with her cousins. She was happy now, but my mom was right. I took her advice to heart.
Society puts so much pressure on how people are supposed to act, what we should be doing by a certain age, what a "normal" family should look like. We’re so busy thinking about how to get to a better place that we see our downfalls more than our joys. I think back to Haiti, where even some of the orphaned kids seemed to have an admirable sense of belonging; their struggles almost seemed to strengthen them.
That’s the thing I’ve learned about struggle: It’s necessary to propel us forward. When my mother suggested I push my worries aside for Lexi’s sake, it made sense. But I also learned we can't just let our troubles linger there in silence. We have to sit with them. Unravel them. Ask them questions.
Living with my parents at 30 obviously wasn't my dream choice, but it gave me the time to figure out how to use silence productively. When I stopped letting the complexities of life overwhelm me, I found great beauty in spending time alone -- without feeling sorry for myself or angry at my ex-boyfriend. I eventually forgave him for exiting Lexi’s life, and I forgave myself for seeking a man to complete us.
After two months at the same childhood home I grew up in, I re-enrolled in the University of Maine to finish my English degree. In another two months, Lexi and I moved into our own apartment -- just the two of us. And I finally understand: no matter where or with whom we live, we are already whole.