when you know she’s the one

It is strange to me when Marco asks if Daddy ever lived with us. And I have to remind myself that Daddy moved out when Marco was 1. Granted, he was just a few months away from his second birthday, but he was, in fact, only 1. And he is amazed to think that I have been to the place where he and his brother and sister go each summer in the north of Spain with their dad. He can’t picture me there, even though there are pictures of me, clearly, there. Marco has grown up in a home that is slightly different from those of his friends. We live in a community where divorce, though not uncommon, is not really all that common, either. Catholic country that it is, Spain has more unhappily married couples than divorced ones. So it was strange for Marco when he started kindergarten last year, his friends all talking about what they did over the summer, and Marco fielding hard questions like “why do you spend part of the summer with your dad and part of it with your mom?” and “if the guy who lives with you isn’t your dad, who is he and where is your dad?” I realized at some point that because his dad was gone by the time Marco was 2, we hadn’t ever really had THE talk. I finally sat down with him one night as he was getting into bed and I asked him if I had ever told him why mommy and daddy don’t live together. When he shook his head, I knew that the talk was way overdue. When it was all said and done, Marco’s attitude toward a lot of things started to change. He went from acting out in confusion (throwing things, for example) to talking about things and asking questions. I also think he slowly began to realize that he could actually have a relationship with his step dad without jeopardizing the one with his real dad, and this made a huge difference for us at home. He became much more affectionate with both of us, and he went from being hot and cold with Dave so much of the time to being mostly warm, and for Dave, warm has been a whole new world. Marco’s take on life and love has been a little different than most six year olds at school, and he is a special young man for it all.

This brings me to Abby. Abby is this beautiful, sweetheart of a little girl that Marco has known for the last couple of years. Since they first met, Marco somehow just knew in his great big little heart that Abby was the one for him. I think Abby may have noticed Marco before he noticed her – boys can be a little slow in these things – but on his 5th birthday, Abby arrived at the party place wearing her most beautiful dress, and smiling her most perfect smiles, and really, who could blame him? She was a vision. Not long after that, he came home one day from school and said in a very matter of fact way that she was his girlfriend and he was going to marry her. And that was that. Abby became a part of our everyday conversation. “How’s Abby today, Marco?” “Oh, she’s fine. We played at recess.” Marco insisted on buying her a present last summer and we invited her to the pool so that he could give it to her. She played with Marco’s big sister the whole time, but he was content just to have her there. See, he just knew. He didn’t need to work too hard or try too much, because it was very real for him – he would marry Abby. She was the one. Kindergarten got a little exciting – mommy got a note one day from Marco’s teacher saying that he was caught kissing a girl just around the corner from the playground (of course, we knew who the girl was). Both Marco and Abby were given a little bit of a talking to about more appropriate playground behavior, and Marco came home a little bit shamed. Abby’s dad joked with Dave about how we needed to keep our little guy on a leash. We told Marco that he probably wanted to cool it on the kissing thing, that he had plenty of time for that, and he was okay with it. He stopped talking about Abby all of the time, but when I asked about her now and then, they were still “together“. It was for better or worse, even surviving the drama when another little girl wanted to “befriend” Marco midyear. But Marco resisted the little temptress and stayed true to his Abby.

And then about a week ago, we got the news that Abby is moving away. Abby’s mom told me at a birthday party. I casually thought, that‘s awful, but Marco is little, his friends come and go all of the time, he’ll be fine. So I threw it out there over the dinner table a couple of days later. I have never so wished that I could take words back as I did when I saw the look on Marco‘s face. Complete and utter shock took over , and when he realized his eyes were close to tearing up, he smiled, embarrassed, and changed the subject. It was only a couple of days later that he started asking questions. I knew he wanted to talk, because I heard him pacing outside my bathroom door, whistling and tapping on things to make himself known. I had just gotten out of the shower, and when I dried off, I asked him if he was okay. He pushed the door open and said he had two things to ask me. The first: “will Abby ever come back?” to which I answered “I don’t know, sweetheart, but I’m guessing probably not.” The second: “does this mean that I have to get another girlfriend?” I explained that he doesn’t have to right now, and that maybe he would rather wait for a while and just enjoy all of his friends. This confused him. He answered, almost with tears in his eyes, “will I have to live alone?” When I realized he was talking about when he grows up, I sat down with him and explained that in life, many strange and wonderful things happen, and that having a girlfriend now doesn’t in any way mean that he will be alone or not when he is older. He might find that he is really happy without a girlfriend one day, and suddenly someone that is really special comes along and knocks him off of his feet. I told him that maybe even someday he will be a grown up and he’ll come across Abby of all people on the street. He opened his eyes wide and said quietly, “she won’t remember me”. I said “Marco, are you worried that Abby will forget you?” and he nodded in response.

We will see Abby one last time this coming weekend. She will come over and play with Marco and they can say their “hasta la vistas”. And Marco has prepared for her the most beautiful picture of himself in an adorable little frame of a car so that it looks like he is in the driver’s seat. Down the line, when she is in her new home, in her new room, we hope that every now and then she will look at that picture of Marco, driving his car toward her, and know that here is a little guy who loved her about as much as any 6 year old can. It may be that Marco decided somewhere along the line that if Abby was “the one” then he would never have to go through what daddy and I did. I don’t know how to feel about that, other than to wonder in amazement at how deeply things affect us in ways we never even dreamed they could. I will say this – though it hurts his heart to know that she is leaving, I suspect that Marco will have left his mark on little Abby, just has she has on him. If there is a lesson to be learned in this, it is to never – despite the confidence you have in your love, your future, your fate, your life – never take anything for granted.

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Even as a child, I would study the unexpected turns in my life and try to find the lessons in them. I am nothing if not reflective. As an American citizen raised in Sao Paulo, Dallas and Madrid, I am a classic adult TCK*. Perspective is key, and I look at everything through multiple lenses. It used to make my son crazy when as a boy he would press me for a firm stance on something and I would often answer “well, that depends…” I am a thinker and learner, writer and story teller, counselor and coach. After almost of quarter of a century in k12 education, I am now on sabbatical, taking some time to breathe, reflect, dream, explore life’s many gifts, and write. When I was around 8 years old, I starting writing down my dreams and these turned into stories. I have been blogging since 2010, have published several articles about the need for change in how and what young people learn, and I am currently working on a couple of manuscripts. One is a collection of motivational essays for women leaders in international education which I am co-authoring with my friend and colleague, Debbie Lane. The other is more of a memoir, a personal story about love, sacrifice, and hope. Hope and gratitude are common themes in my writing, my work, and in my life in general. Everyone has a story to tell. Thank you for taking some time to explore mine. I hope you’ll come back. *A TCK is a third-culture kid, someone who has spent a significant number of their formative years outside of their passport country. It is an experience that typically has a profound impact on the development of self and identity.

2 thoughts on “when you know she’s the one

  1. This is sweet and sad at the same time. Ebb and flow. What a thoughtful and sensitive little man you have raised, my friend.


  2. how tender and warm that was, Kim! Loved every minute of it and couldn’t help remember Matthew at 6 with his buddy Krisin Cholewa. Precious Marco…you have a real little heartthrob there! Love you all!


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