First couple of weeks of September, first two weeks of school:
- Breakfast, lunches, dinners and much culinary improvising.
- Birthday party.
- Freezing and eight year old’s warts.
- Bizzarre (honestly, very bizzarre) taxman panic.
- Cold, cold sore and a migrane.
- Footwear and rain wear debacles, jackets misplaced, lunch boxes lost, forms forgotten et cetera, et cetera, ad adsurdum, ad nauseum, ad tedium.
A few old habits have been shed, new goals and ambitions. My daughter seems to have gone through a personality transplant over the summer in relation to school. All of a sudden she cares; “Shamai (sp?) and I decided we’re going to write our name and date on the top of each page, in every subject, just as Ms. H taught us — we’ve only got three years left before high school!”
The first week was heady with triumph; birthday party done and laundry is up-to-date along with the all the aforementioned bullets. (Well taxes… not quite. I blame the cold and the bank.)
I think I can reasonably proffer the opinion, tempered with only a modicum of irony — I rock! (digression here — key to 8 year old b-day party success — jello and pop-rocks candy.)
A week after the b-day party I’m coming down with a cold. It’s Saturday night. My daughter can’t sleep — she’s got a stomach ache. Also there’s the party a few houses down that’s still going late and very loud. The party my children, the Leaver and a whole lot of friends were invited to and I wasn’t. I’d be lying if I said that didn’t hurt. But I knew that was coming and I can’t blame them; they really couldn’t invite both of us after all. People have to chose sides, right? What are you going to do?
But at one in the morning, after finally getting my girl settled, the loneliness seeped in. Like one of those holes you used to dig at the beach as a kid — there’s a certain triumph when you get so deep that you get down to water level and a little puddle forms at the bottom. But you go deeper and the water seeps in, fills and the walls start to collapse.
So at one in the morning, when I’ve managed so much by myself and even, even handled the stomach ache with parental aplomb, the anxiety and loneliness seeps in. The void in your life is undeniable. You’ve got friends, of course, and family and acquaintances that are all really pulling for you and offering everything they can and all that. But that’s not the same as what you had and they can’t fill the void that is undeniable at 1 am when your kid has a stomach ache.
Because even when things were bad, as bad as they got, explosively, toxically, (even) scary bad — where once there was another adult in the house now… well there just isn’t. Is there?
The realization is in that’s everything, of course, not just the stomach aches. But the crying, the burnt toast, the flooded basement, the I hate him/her, the dead hamster (yeah that was this week), the what-does-it-all-mean, the I don’t want to go, and (probably soon but not yet) I don’t want to go and you can’t make me. From the profound, to the mundane, to the funny, to the spectacularly lovely to the horrible and the horror there is one adult in this house dealing with it all.
Too melodramatic I hear you cry. Or maybe more than a little jealously guarding the burden.
Yes, I can imagine myself jealously guarding it — there are signs I’m doing it already.
But be that as it may there is a wall that is crossed, when you walk out the door. Sorry, Leaver’s everywhere. When you walk away, if there is a primary care giver, there is a portion of that burden that cannot be shared. And also there are significant unimaginable treasures that are abandoned.
They are with the Leaver one overnight a week and two evenings.
That is apportioned parenting. That is visiting. That is occasional caregiving. It just isn’t the same thing.
It’s not just that the buck stops here legally. There is that tempered of course that the Leaver has to be considered in all major decisions to do with the kids. We’re raising them together and blah, blah, blah.
But she’s not there at 2 am when you’re wondering do I give her Pepto-bismal or just let her ride it out, because the smell of that stuff makes me want to wretch too.
For almost 20 years there’s been someone else to ask. I suppose she may allow herself to feel the loneliness too. I’m sure she misses the children dreadfully. Maybe she allows herself to miss me, too. Or maybe her visceral intolerance for me is not just in my presence but arises even at the thought of me (presently that is certainly the impression she conveys).
However, she carries that burden one night a week, not six. Ultimate responsibility — financial, health, emotional, housing, hygene, food what have you — all ultimately has to come to me.
The awareness of that responsibility is occasionally invigorating but mostly terrifying. It is now the single driving motivator of my life. I said before that right now the children are the most important thing in my life but with someone else in that bed there was a division of responsibility and labour that sometimes manifested itself in habits avoidance — (I got it? Nah, she’s got it. I’ll just stay here in left field, its clearly her ball.
Now the mind is very focused. The Leaver cannot compete for attention with my children as she did in the past. And I don’t have the luxury of letting my crap be indulged. This will not be the rest of my life. But they are ten and eight and are utterly reliant on me holding my crap together. So hold it together I shall.