Ok, so I am aware that you can just take first letters from words and make anything an acronym, but I assure you that this is actually worthy of its own acronym. Single-parent-long-distance-dating. We did this for 6 months and many people asked us why. Why choose to date someone far when dating as a single parent was already going to be a challenge? When you have been through the kind of life experiences that we have been through, you begin to view dating quite differently. You grow very aware of the types of qualities you are looking for and even more aware of the kinds of qualities you are not looking for. You become unwilling to spend time on someone who doesn’t fit your lists, and you focus even more on what you want for your children than you do for yourself. You have so many fears and reservations, that finding someone who makes you feel like you again and makes you feel safe and willing to put your heart at risk again is rare. For David and I, we had spent countless hours talking, connecting, and asking the hard questions and had come to the point that we knew this was worth investing in. We were willing to put the work in to continue getting to know each other.
Rather than recount a 6 month long story about SPLDD, I have gathered some highlights about the experience.
1. Meeting the kids, family and friends.
Whenever you start to date someone, meeting the friends and family is always a bit nerve wracking because you are aware that their opinion matters to that person you are dating. There is already a self-imposed pressure to act normal and make a good impression, and then you realize you want your kids to make a good impression too and you only have so much control there! David met my kids first. It was unplanned (he was going to head back to Palm Coast before they came home), but I had a moment of just feeling ready to share him with my kids so I asked him to stay a little longer. He ran to the store to get them some jelly beans and came back to make his appearance. While he was gone I told the kids not to pick their noses or come out the bathroom with their pants down, but I had a feeling they would fail at those. Before he came in they all decided to hide so David came in and immediately began to seek. He ended up staying hours longer. He played with them and helped with dinner and even helped me tuck them into bed before he started his drive home. By the end of the day, I was becoming even more sure about this man. The next week was my turn. I would be meeting David’s three girls and his parents at the same time-no pressure! I’m sure I wasn’t fully myself that night, but I remember feeling more comfortable than I expected. His girls were so excited that it took no time at all before they were pulling me around the house to show me things and battling for my attention. His parents were welcoming and kind. I know they were worried about their son and wanted the best for him, but they didn’t make me feel like I had to earn their approval at all. It was a wonderful time. My side didn’t take it quite as easy on David-there were a lot of questions, and watching closely, and maybe even a background check, but David handled it like a champ and it didn’t take long at all for those who mattered most in my life to start to see what I saw and believe that this man really was all he seemed to be. I should also recount the day I met some other very important members of David’s family-his fleet of Starship models. That day was a big step forward. An honor.
2. Long Drives
When David and I first decided to make the commitment to put our all into this, I was worried he would feel like he was more committed than me. I had so many commitments here, I wasn’t sure how I would fit these trips in. I was determined to show him that getting to know him more and more was a priority for me. It didn’t take long for us to find our routine: I would drive to Palm Coast after work on Tuesdays to have dinner with his family and spend some time with him then drive home late that night and he and his girls would come to spend the weekends (that were open) here. I already considered myself a Dunkin girl, but Dunkin and I really became besties during this time. When I would leave the bakery on Tuesdays, I would stop at Dunkin before I hit the road. I functioned most days on very little sleep so this was a necessity. On the way home, I would hit Dunkin again! If it was closed David would make me a coffee for the road (and check in often to make sure I was alert and safe!) About three months in, his parents started blowing up an air mattress for me so I didn’t have to make the drive twice in one day (yay!). I would wake up early and drive straight to the bakery from Palm Coast, and of course save time to hit Dunkin on the way in. David would make the drive on either Friday night or Saturday morning. We had people spread all over the house when they came. My mom would joke that it looked like we were all camping inside on the weekends. The kids of course loved this. We would spend Saturdays doing something fun, Sundays we would go to church and then spend time just connecting at home, and they would head back after dinner. This would be my turn to check in on him and make sure he was alert and safe. We had many conversations about how old this all made us feel. And friends, it was worth it.
3. Bathroom Dates
Yes, bathroom dates. I’m aware this doesn’t sound great, but let me remind you how small my house is-small. Pretty much all of our time was spent around other people. While we knew that all of us connecting was important, we also knew that we needed to be able to connect without an audience sometimes. Our first bathroom date came at the end of a weekend visit. We had just been in the kitchen talking only to be interrupted by “mom”, “dad”, “mom!”, “dad!” every couple of minutes. I laughed it off and walked away yet again to see what someone wanted. As I passed by the bathroom on my way back to the kitchen, David grabbed my hand and pulled me in. He sat on the floor and asked me to sit with him. I just kind of looked at him, and he smiled and told me to trust him. I sat and he held out his hands for me to take them. I did, then he put his head down and began to pray. We sat on that floor forever praying-about our hearts, about what we were attempting, about being on the right path, about our children’s heart, about our fears, about wisdom and clarity. We just kept bouncing back and forth. At one point, a child came to the door and said “Dad, is Ashley in there with you?? What are you doing??” We answered back that we were praying and heard a quick, “Oh! Sorry!” From that day on, every time went into the bathroom we would hear from one of the older kids, “Alright, Dad and Ashley are having a date! Stay away from the bathroom!” Sometimes we still go in there just to hear it. Cracks me up every time!
George is the gentleman at the gate for the community that David’s parents live in. Every time I would go, I would have to stop and check in with him. The first few times it was just the routine, but before long he learned I was coming like clockwork. If I was running late, he would joke with me about being late. If David forgot to call and let the gate know I was coming he would tell me David was in trouble. If I came twice in one week (like the week of Hurricane Matthew) he would ask “Back so soon?” The last few months he would have jokes every time I pulled up. I would arrive at David’s parents and he would ask me, “So how’s George?” I always told David I was going to bring him some cupcakes before my last trip there, but I never got to. I still owe George some cupcakes.
5. Long Walks
In Melbourne we had bathroom dates, but in Palm Coast we had walks. Almost every Tuesday, after David’s kids were in bed, we would go on a walk through the neighborhood. His parents lived in a beautiful community right on the beach. It was a short walk to the beach, or we could walk the streets with canopy trees, or there was a street with large beautiful houses. The first walk was the most memorable! David wanted to show me the beach. We walked the streets that led to the beach and walked over the boardwalk that took us to the sand. We stood on the end of it and just looked out over the water, but we didn’t walk out on the beach. David had told me on his last visit to Melbourne that he loved me (an adorable story for another time), but I had not yet returned it. I was still skittish and fearful. That night, at the end of that boardwalk, I told him I loved him too. Right about the time he leaned over to kiss me, we were quite suddenly joined by a security guard. David jumped about 5 feet in the air! The guard apologized and said he needed to confirm that one of us lived there because sometimes at night people can try to enter the community from the beach and they saw us on the night cam. We laughed so hard, confirmed, and he left. On the way back down the boardwalk we saw the camera so David dipped me, kissed me, and then waved at the camera! He said they needed a good laugh and he was just helping. So kind of him.
Can I just say how thankful I am to live in the age of FaceTime? I wish there was a way to see how many hours of FaceTime you have logged over time. I can tell you ours would be HIGH. Keep in mind we would see each other (on a good week) Tuesday night, Saturday, Sunday and maybe Friday night at most. The rest of those days, FaceTime was our friend. In the beginning we would get on the phone and sit and dedicate time to talk. As time marched on, we started to fall behind on the life lists (started-who am I kidding-I was behind before I met him!). At this point, we started going back to doing all the things in the evenings, but we would do them together. We would fold laundry together and complain. We would pay bills together and, well, complain. We would wash dishes, and pack lunches, and clean, and work-together. We even tried working out together, but after Shaun T almost killed my boyfriend, I did my DVDs while he ran on the treadmill. Let’s also call these exercises in overcoming self-consciousness! It wasn’t uncommon to hear any of the following if you listened in on our conversations:
“Be right back, I gotta crier.”
“Ugh…that was the sound of throw up.”
“You pooped? Ok….come here….”
“Hang on, I hear yells of injustice. Let me make sure no one is killing anyone else.”
“Where is your brother? Is he locked in the bedroom again?”
“I’m going to mute my side for a minute. I need to yell at my kid.”
7. Morning calls
At a some point we decided to start our mornings with a quick call to start our day. Somehow I envisioned this as us saying good morning with coffee in hand and smiling. Not quite. It was all kinds of chaos. We still never gave it up, but is was not a sip of coffee together in the morning kind of call. How about another list of things you may hear if you listened in:
“Don’t lick your sister!”
“Did you hide your other sock? Did you really hide it?? Mommy is already losing her mind, don’t help it along.”
“You did not brush your teeth. Look! I can scrape it right off! Do it again.”
“Mommy lost her coffee. Help her find it.”
“Is that Davin?? Hi Davin! Hi! Hi! Hiiiii!” (not a typo, that’s how they said his name.)
“Daddy….I missed my bus.”
“Troops! Fall in!”
8. Kissing in front of the kids
Ah yes. Something every parent enjoys when it evokes a reaction. Even more fun when the kids are just getting used to it! We have gone from “Ewwwww!!” to “Oh gross, they are kissing again” to “I’ll come back later”. Letting them catch us has become a sport!
9. Parent Talk
We have said on many an occasions that if you really want to get to know someone-watch them parent. For starters, it is a good way to see someone’s patience level, the way they handle frustration, and what they value enough to instill it into their kids. You also can’t hide anything when kids are involved. They will call you on it! They will make it known if you handle something different than you usually would or try to cover something up. The honesty of a child plays in your favor. Our kids being a part of our dating process helped us know each other on deeper level faster. It also served as fodder for many conversations. We discusses parenting methods. We discussed fitting punishments. Sometimes it was a game of “Whose kid did a crazier thing today.” We talked a lot about their hearts and how to protect them from the parts of the ashes that still affected them and how to protect them in what we were building. We talked about what scared us, confused us, and made us feel like failures as parents. This gave us the chance to encourage each other, and combat each others negative thoughts, and pray for each other. And also just to laugh-single parenting=lots of laughs (well, and some crying)!
10. Fears, Insecurities and Lots of Prayer
Trusting someone with your heart is scary. Trusting someone with your heart after it has been discarded by another is even more scary. Trusting someone with your children’s hearts is terrifying. Trusting God is key. He holds my heart. My heart is safe in His hands. Even when I am learning to let someone else in, He still holds my heart and loves me more than anyone else ever could. These truths helped me in my steps forward. We both had a lot of scars. These scars led to fears. These fears led to insecurities. These insecurities complicated things. We had to learn all over again to open up and be vulnerable and be ourselves. We have prayed a lot-with each other, on our own, for ourselves, for each other, for our kids. I used to pray in the car on my way home from Palm Coast pleading with God to give us a big red light early on if we weren’t supposed to be moving in this direction because I didn’t want to be hurt again and I couldn’t bear being the reason he ever hurt again. I would pray for wisdom and eyes to see. I didn’t want to put my head down and rush forward in the wrong direction, but I also didn’t want to let fear rule and possibly push away a good gift. “It takes courage to listen to the tick of God’s timing rather than march to the beat of our own fears.” (Love me some Ann Voskamp!)
SPLDD was an adventure. It was complicated and messy. It was fun and exciting. I dare say it was another form of beautiful chaos.
But, I am SO very glad the long distance part is behind us. Thankful to have these four hearts I love here with me. My David and my three more children-because who doesn’t need a little more Grace, a little more Hope, and a little more Faith?