Or, “How to Cope when your Kids are on an Extended Visitation.” I know what I’m supposed to do—be open minded and happy and supportive. Knowing time with the other parent is important for the children and good for them (when he is behaving well). (I wonder when the caveat, the fear will end?)
I know I’m supposed to be the grown up, concentrate on the fact that they are having fun. Because I remember that even in the bad times, when he was acting well, he was fun. Loving. Hilarious. And the girls adore him. I need to be the grown up and cherish the good parts, the funny parts, their happy voices telling me that they go to see Goofy!, and Pluto!, and Peter Pan! And even Maleficient! And giggle at the fact that DD1’s BFF managed to rendezvous with them at Disneyland—(the girls’ first visit there—his family lives down the street from Disney, and one of his aunties has an annual pass). That her BFF’s mom has been texting me pictures and I can see them riding the teacups and visiting castles and grinning their ears off. That I get to see a slice of their experiences on facebook and Instagram, because of that friendship.
I tell myself, think of it like they went away to camp. They are having fun. They are loved. They are happy. Be glad they are happy.
And most importantly: visitation is FOR THE KIDS.
There, I know it in my head. Pat my inner child that charades as a mature, working mom of two, on the back for understanding logically that this is always about the Kids, and not me.
Then, here’s the part that’s not so grown up and mature. I miss my girls with all my heart. I ache for them. I go to work every day and make plans with other grown ups and play with our dog and go to puppy class and go for walks with my hubby, but I still ache on the inside. I tear up. I miss their little faces and their little voices. My girlfriend sent me a video of our kids playing, three years ago, DD2 emerging from toddlerhood to preschooler, and her little baby face just kills me. Slaughtered.
Last week end, I went to the beach and surfed my little heart out, had some more grown up time with another mom-friend surfer of mine. We went to go sit in her gym’s hot tub afterwards and feasted on smoothies and salad and oatmeal (oh how times have changed since my grommet days of driving a 70’s hatchback jalopy that had to be pushed to get started!), trading and swapping stories of childrearing and career choices and just relaxing. I went home and took a nap (believe me, the wondrous ability to take a nap is not lost on me!). Then I woke up and cried, because I miss my babies so much.
Another single mom once told me that when you have to do the visitation thing, it’s like what older parents go through when you send your kids off to college or they move out. The empty nest syndrome. Only the separation comes up for us single parents so much faster. Often, and regular, and routine.
I finally called my therapist yesterday. I’m a mess. I miss my kids, I hurt for them. Help me cope.
Her advice? The pain of separation is so hard and complicated for you, and it’s triggered by your kids being away. But this really isn’t about the kids, this is about your separation anxiety, the deep-rooted fear of loss, the deep-rooted experience of loss.
Oh. Right. I have forever lost the people most important to me—my birth parents as an infant, my adopted fathers and stepfather, my favorite teacher, my childhood friend’s mom, grandmothers, grandfather, and let’s not talk about the destruction of my little family. Loss has followed me like a shadow, and because of it, it has left its fingers inside my very bones. On my more macabre days, I know I almost expect death before life, because it’s familiar, like a warm blanket. I almost expect loss over reconciliation or return, because they all died anyway. I’m a champ at memorial services and crying and holding that part inside you that will never go away, the big gap, like a black hole.
That black hole used to consume me. Anything that held promise, a seedling of hope, I would ruin it myself, turn it away. Perhaps that’s why I spent my early adulthood traveling thousands of miles around the globe, sending out tendrils of connection, enjoying maybe a year here or a few months there, never letting those tendrils grow into something stronger, never settling anywhere, until I finally grew up (after years of therapy), and settled down here.
Home. It’s a scary place, home. One full of loss and violence and fear and death. The one I grew up had lots of death and strife between my brother and stepfather and me. When I built the tools to make my own home—escaping to college, then after college, I kept building, destroying, and rebuilding my ramshackle homes as I traveled around, but even after I had “settled down,” living longer here than any other time frame of my life, I ended up making my two precious babies in a home half-filled with happiness, and half-filled with anger and violence.
And somehow, I figured out how to get out of there. I figured out and am still learning how to build a new home again, one that is filled with happiness and hope, because somehow, I never lost sight of hope, but also with “normal” strife, “normal” challenges. Like, it’s okay to argue with your husband and disagree. It’s not okay to throw and break shit, or threaten to murder your children in your sleep, or kick them in the stomach, or push them so they fall down, or choke the family dog in front of your four year old. To live in fear that if he might make good on “putting a bullet through your head.” That shit is not okay.
So the not grown-up part of me? It’s about the black hole. Yes, missing my kids is normal and okay and understandable. But the level of ache, the level of missing, that isn’t about my kids at all. That’s about me. And my damn black hole.
One that I used to fill up in unhealthy ways, not so great relationships, unreal expectations, thinking if I loved her or him enough, or if I did enough, or if I wished and hoped and prayed enough, they wouldn’t leave me. They wouldn’t die. They wouldn’t have abandoned me in the cold parking lot at night as an infant.
I don’t dare fill up that black hole anymore with anything but therapy and learning to cope. I must separate myself from my triggers. At least try.
And…I will count the days for when my babies come home to me, so we can resume our normal routine, so I can hear their sweet voices and to be truthful, their not so sweet voices when they’re arguing themselves or negotiating screen time or an extra dessert or just being annoying about brushing their teeth. Their laughter that echoes inside our house, their footsteps stomping on the stairs, chasing after our puppy.
Less than two weeks. Stupid black hole. I hate staring at you in the face, but I know I have to, sometimes. I have to remember that you are part of me, like the skin on my body, like the air I breathe, and not let you suck away my spirit. For whatever reason, surviving you helped me survive this world, helped me survive the very complicated births of my daughters and survive a terrible relationship. Surviving you every day helps me grow into my new life of late. Celebrating my one year anniversary as a blended family. Building a home that is no longer eaten away at the edges. I guess in that case, I ought to thank you, but I’m not that mature just yet.