Four months ago, my husband moved out of the house and into an apartment a few blocks away. Six weeks ago, I sold the home we had lived in for eight years and bought a house across town. It’s overwhelming to look back and think about all that has transpired in the last few months. So overwhelming, that sometimes I just can’t let my mind go there.
It’s funny now to think about how, when we decided to split back in the spring, there was a part of me that felt a huge sense of relief. No longer did I have to go on pretending that I was in love with him. No longer did I have to act like life was PERFECTLY NORMAL at home when, in reality, home felt more like a battle ground. I felt consoled by the fact that, though I had committed myself to a life in a loveless marriage, I would now be given the opportunity to find a real partner in life – someone I enjoyed spending time with and who adored and appreciated me. And then there was the anticipation of the new house I was moving into. I would be doubling my square footage and moving into a better neighborhood for a price that was well under the house we sold. My thoughts were wrapped up in the excitement of the all of the “new” on the horizon. I even felt a slight sense of anticipation for the “down time” I would be experiencing as we split our time with the kids 50/50. What would I ever do with all of this “free time”? Train for a marathon, have friends over for wine, maybe I’d even find time to get back into the Feng Shui consulting business I had started before having our second child.
Now, six weeks into the new home and four months into the 50/50 custody arrangement, I can tell you that I’m pretttty sure I was slightly delusional when coming up with all these ideas. Let’s first address this concept of “down time”. During the time that you are parenting two young children on your own, there is absolutely nothing getting done outside of playing, dancing, making meals, cleaning up, asking kids to clean up, wiping bottoms, asking kids to wipe their own bottoms, and giving baths. The laundry and the dishes pile up, the grass grows a little longer and all those little things on your to-do list remain left to be done. Which means that during this “down time” concept I dreamed up previously, you are feverishly trying to catch up with everything that piled up while you were parenting your kids solo. Between grocery shopping and errands, taking care of the house, trying to fit in a workout, maybe even attempting to have a social life, this whole “free time” concept gets diminished fairly quickly. Secondly, you come to the awareness that while you have complete faith that it will someday happen, you have absolutely no desire to find this elusive life-partner any time in the near future. And third, the novelty of a new home expires sooner than you might think.
And so, at times I find myself angry, resentful even, at my ex for forcing this to happen when he did. I often find myself telling my friends, “Anyone with half of a brain knows that you wait until your kids are out of daycare and can wipe their own asses before you call it quits. It’s not fair to us OR the kids to always be operating on this 1:2 ratio. They’re suffering far more than we are. We just can’t give them alone what we could together.” While I know that this is the right thing for us, I still sometimes question the timing when looking at the big picture. “Do you want to be 36 and single or 45 and single?” he would ask me when I would beg him to hold on a year or two longer. The answer? Quite frankly, I really don’t give a shit (see second point in previous paragraph).
Because of the new 1:2 parenting ratio and with our children still being so young and needy, they just don’t get the time and attention that they would with two parents in the house. Many nights after walking in the door at 6:00, while hauling a 13 month old, four bags of God knows what, and, if I’m lucky, some sort of food in any form, my daughter excitedly runs to the front of the house to look out the window at the park across the street. She sees dads playing catch with their sons, moms taking their baby for a walk. Moms and dads, together, playing on the playground with their kids. One pushing the baby on the swing while the other chases after the preschooler around the slides. While staring out the window at all the fun taking place just outside our door, she asks, “Can we go to the park tonight, mommy. PLEASE???”
I feel that ever familiar ping of guilt as I put my son in his highchair and tell her, once again, “Sorry, sweetheart. I have to feed your brother then get him to bed”. And then I feel PISSED. Furious and resentful that my daughter is innocently suffering yet another consequence of her parents’ inability to put on their big kid pants and figure it out. Some days I throw some packaged snacks in a basket and pull the kids across the street in a wagon and just let them play until the toddler needs to go to bed. It’s not the IDEAL dinner for them, but I’m learning to lower my standards and pick my battles.
So I find that, in the world of 50/50 parenting, there is no happy medium. You are either sleep deprived, stressed out and stretched so thin you don’t know up from down, or you are left alone. In the silence. Only to be filled with visits from nasty old friends like Gary, Steve and Rick (Loneliness, Anger and Fear, respectively). On the weekends that I have the kids, my mind is busy, but light, and my heart is full. As opposed to life pre-divorce, when I would likely have plans with some friends on one evening, maybe a yoga class and throw in an hour long trip to Target, my weekends with the kids are now 100% mom duty – just them and I with little to no interruption. I do not make any plans. I run only emergency errands. There is no skipping out to a yoga class or just heading out to run a few errands. It’s just the kids and I and whatever adventures we decide to embark on.
It’s incredibly exhausting, yet fulfilling in a way I never experienced before. With two parents, you can always throw the white flag when you’ve tried, unsuccessfully, to put the kid down to bed for the forth time. Or you can beg your partner to go check on the baby who has woken up for the eighth time that night because you have to be to work extra early the next day. There’s no one to fall back on. In 100% of the parenting that you now do, it’s all on you. You’re the protector, the care-taker, the cleaner-upper, the bottom-wiper, the chauffeur, soccer cheerleader, the cook, the tear-wipe-awayer, the disciplinarian and the teacher. Some days go by when it’s 3:00 in the afternoon before I realize I haven’t brushed my teeth or left the house, and I’ve microwaved my morning coffee for the fourth time. When you are the only parent, your coffee is ALWAYS COLD. Your hair is always a mess and your breath probably smells like shit. But your heart is so incredibly, so beautifully, FULL. During those days, you are all they have and you are all they need. Depleting yet fulfilling. Challenging yet gratifying. Terrifying yet empowering.
And then you have your “off” days. Days when you wake up well rested to an alarm instead of the fifteenth foot to the face, are able to take the dog for a walk and enjoy a nice, long shower. These are the days when you get to work on time and can stay a little later to be sure all the loose ends are wrapped up instead of leaving mid-sentence to rush to daycare pickup. And maybe you then meet a friend for some drinks and good conversation, so for an hour or two your heart forgets what waits for you at home. But, inevitably, when you walk in the door that night, the stillness and emptiness hit you like a boulder. You shed a few silent tears as you step over a sippy cup and a few random socks, and then proceed to clean up the tornado aftermath that is your house after a three day stretch with the kids. Tears fall a little harder as you begin to pick up the legos strewn about the living room, and then you’re crushed with an overwhelming sense of simultaneous pride and guilt as you notice the toy helicopter your four year old put together but never showed you. Likely because you were too busy putting her baby brother to bed.
And then the next day you wake at your leisure, enjoying a nice hot cup of coffee as you read through some morning emails. And it strikes you – just how long it’s been since you enjoyed your coffee while still warm in your own home. Which reminds you of the reason you have not enjoyed your coffee while still warm, and the absence of their precious little laughs, smiles and messes. And your heart feels small and empty. Your coffee is warm, but your heart is empty. It’s a “warm coffee” day, and you realize that you really don’t like the “warm coffee” days. As crazy and stressful and challenging as they are, you realize that you’d take the cold coffee day every day, if you could.