Greg invites me into his new house. The carpet is white, spotless -- clearly, the former owner didn't have twins.
Our 5-year-old boys run to greet me and give me a tour. Other than the carpet and equally clean appliances, the house looks a lot like mine. It's a small three-bedroom with an attached garage -- in the subdivision next to the one my house is in, the house Greg and I bought together seven years ago.
Gabe and Dylan point out their new plaid sheets, then run to show off the rest of the house, still full of unpacked boxes.
For years I refused to consider divorce, or even separation, mainly because I didn't want my children to have to shuffle between houses. I wanted them to know where home was -- one address, one phone number, one master bedroom where they could find two parents any time of night. So even after our marriage crumbled, I clung to the hope that by some miracle, things would work out. Finally, there came an August evening when we had to tell our 4-year-olds that Mom and Dad were going to live in separate houses.
Gabe yelled "No!" over and over. He made sure that one part of his body was touching each of us as he sobbed, his head on my lap, his ankles hooked onto his dad's legs.
Dylan said nothing and went into the backyard to play with his toy golf set. It wasn't until late that night that he looked up at me and said, "But now we won't have a dad."
"Daddy will always be your dad," I told him, but I couldn't deny that all our relationships were changing.
Greg moved out to his folks' place, and I marked calendars with M's and D's to remind the boys and me which house they would go to after school and whether it would be for dinner or overnight. I hated the calendars. They represented instability. They reminded me of our failure.
Dylan grins as he takes me to see the dining area that looks out onto the patio. I recognize the palm plant that used to sit in our living room.
"We have four chairs," he tells me. "Someday you can eat dinner here." It's true. I might. Not everything has turned out as I feared.
Greg and I spent too much time in lawyers' offices last year, dividing up bank accounts and summer vacations. We spent more than an hour just on Christmas, trying to find time for the kids with my family in Chicago and Greg's in Boise. The discussion disintegrated into a fight the same way most had at home or in front of marriage counselors. We both felt hurt, scared, angry, and misunderstood.
The mediator suggested we decide holidays later, so we rode down the elevator together in silence. I felt fed up with both of us. How were we ever going to do right by our sons?
That night, Greg called. "The boys love being with your folks and all of their cousins," he said. "I think they should go with you."
I don't know which was more remarkable, Greg's selflessness or the fact that I noticed it. I knew how difficult it was for him to offer to spend Christmas away from his sons. I was reminded of how much he loves them, how committed to them he's always been. And something began to change: I started to trust Greg in a different way, to recognize that when it came to our children, his intentions were always good.
Over the past year, each of us has watched the other make many similar decisions. Some were big, like agreeing to live near each other, and others small, like changing nights for dinner. And each time, the trust between us has grown.
By the time the legal documents deemed the marriage officially over, I'd come to see that a part of our relationship lives on in our sons and in our mutual love for them. Gabe knows he always has access to both parents. And Dylan never questions whether he has a dad.
When the tour is over, the boys run out to my car in their pajamas, hair smelling of an unfamiliar brand of shampoo. Greg kisses them, tells me to drive carefully on the "long" trip home. We both smile at this.
On the way, Gabe and Dylan chatter about the house, the fireplace, the cool workroom where their dad will build them furniture. Then their other house comes into view, the one with more established foliage (and carpet stains). They climb out of the car and run to play at the basketball hoop they received for their fifth birthday. I realize that they see their homes in terms of what each has to offer. One is on a cul-de-sac; the other has a jungle gym. Both have what the boys need: safety, warmth, love.
I have learned that there's a more important question than one house or two, and that is: What is life like in those houses? Our sons have learned that they can find home in two places.
Laura Stavoe Harm also writes for BabyTalk magazine.