During the day, you are non-stop. You charge about our lives with noise and movement, crazy colors and flashes of light. I can literally see the energy field that surrounds you. Feel the change in the air pressure when you enter a room.
You make me crazy. You say my name 4 thousand times … an hour. Your enthusiasm for life has not waned even a bit since the moment you were born. Your need for my attention, while different, is still as intense. I am on call to view colored pictures, watch creative dances, look at videos you’ve made, and view your latest city on Minecraft.
I am ‘company’ while you shower; sitting outside the bathroom door, ready to answer any and all questions that occur to you while you cover yourself in soapy bubbles. I am the referee that keeps your brother from selling you on eBay. Your personal shopper, keeping the fridge stocked with popsicles and apples. I am your candy monitor, your itch scratcher, your hair comber and your reminder to brush your teeth (or else…). I am your alarm to get up in the morning and your (not so) patient bedtime countdown. I am your back rub giver, the recipient of your “I need 18 kisses and four hugs” love fests and the sounding board for all your adventures in life. The answer to all your “what ifs”.
Your laughter is a ripple that shatters the calm – like a rock thrown into a pond, those circles getting bigger and bigger, spreading your happiness to every corner of our home, to every corner of my heart.
You “borrow” my phone and I am gifted with a new farming app, a video of the grass with you singing “Let it Go” in the background and 25 new selfies… each one only slightly different from the last –but all magnificent.
I am your fashion buyer and consultant, making only minor changes to your outfits based on weather or destination, reminding you its best to wear underwear when wearing a dress…at least to school.
I watch you bounce (and bounce and bounce) on the trampoline and marvel at the intricate differences of every permutation of the same jump. “Yep! I loved that one WAY better than the last one!” You ask me to watch your “I almost have my” back walk over, your cartwheel, a cheer routine designed for 20 performed by one!
I hear ”Watch me, Mommy” a million times a day and though I watch a million times a day, I sometimes forget I’m blessed to be the one you’re asking.
I wish I spent every day remembering to keep your balloons fully inflated, never stomped on. But I don’t.
I get tired. I ask you to “give me a minute” hoping it will be more like 30. I ask you to be quiet so I can think, talk to another adult, finish a phone call or just clear my head. I yell. Walk away. Lose my patience.
I let you down.
I get overwhelmed by your noise, your mess, your movement, my name. I pray for quiet, for play dates, for cheer practice, for bedtime – and I know I’m cheating you…failing you, failing me.
I’d catch up at night, recharge… but you insist on sleeping with me, falling asleep every night tightly holding my arm or leaning against me. I get in bed thinking I will read, but I don’t need to because you fill me with stories better than anyone else could tell, I put the book down and listen while you talk as you slowly fall asleep.
While you sleep, I find I can’t take my eyes off you. You are so beautiful and your sass and moxie shine through even when your eyes are closed! You reach for me all night long, keep that connection, hold tight from the depths of slumber – it warms my heart every time… you still need me even when you dream.
I find myself wanting to wake you up to tell you something I’ve just thought of, something I want only to share with you, something I know you will find as funny or as important as I do. I want to wake you up to play UNO or paint a flower pot, make a cake. But I know I need to let you dream.
While you sleep, I tell myself I’m a horrible mother, I don’t fully soak in your wonderfulness, am pissing away these years and losing precious time. You won’t be little forever, won’t need me like you do now. I tell myself I’ll miss you so much when you’re gone, when you’re not here with me every day and I know I’m right, I miss you now and you’re only asleep. I miss you now and you’re right here next to me.
While you sleep, I recharge and wake up each day ready to be your mom. Ready to watch you flip and turn and create and astound. While you sleep, I anticipate…. I look forward to you, to your crazy, your noise, your smile, it’s a wonderful smile that goes all the way to your eyes, making them shine and sparkle and letting me know it’s on! While you sleep, I, too, sleep preparing for your ‘awake’, gearing up for “it’s on!”
While you sleep, I remind myself to do my best – my very best – to never make you doubt yourself, to build you up, to fill your bucket so full that nobody can ever drain it. Blow up so many balloons, it would be impossible to stomp on them all.
While you sleep, I forgive myself for the times those balloons have popped while on my watch. I remind myself I have today to continue to protect you while helping you learn to protect yourself. I have today to build your fortress so strong the world will only dent you, never break you. And, I cry for those dents. DAMN IT!!! I don’t want anything or anyone to dent you.
I remind myself to help you to see yourself as I do – amazing, beautiful, smart, funny, vibrant, sassy, crazy, perfect….. valuable. Wait…did I say amazing?
So, while you sleep my little girl, I want you to dream. Dream of all the places you will go, the people who will be blessed to know you. Dream of all the things you want to try, the things you want to create, the colors you will paint your world and where you will sprinkle your glitter. Dream of whatever makes you happy and all the ways you will make others happy.
Dream your journey.
Like all journeys, you will have to leave me and go to far-away lands, meet far-away people I don’t know, people I didn’t pick to be in your life. You will sometime fail, sometimes cry. Sometimes feel alone. Others will fail you, make you cry. You will encounter situations where you must rely on yourself, on your wisdom and strength. Must rely on what I’ve tried so hard to put in place, what I could only lay as foundation, leaving the bricks and mortar to you.
I know you can do it, of that, I have no doubt, and it’s only my efforts I worry about. Worry I didn’t do enough to prepare you for those “sometimes”, enough to make you always feel my love so you never feel truly alone.
On your journeys, I ask only that you remember how valuable you are and never listen to anyone who tells you different. Your journey doesn’t end at someone else’s opinion, someone else’s design. A journey doesn’t listen to those that don’t deserve you, who try to change your path for their own gain. A journey has wrong turns and rainy days when you’d planned for a sunny one. That’s ok, baby, because wrong turns can lead you to hidden treasures and rainy days possess their own beauty and potential. Your journey will find a new path, one that is brighter, one that makes you smile all the way to your eyes.
I ask, also, that you send your Momma lots of postcards along the way –share the scenery that is your life, allow me to savor the postmarks of your days. Share your stories, your ups and down and show me the all the products of your “WOW!”
Oh, and one last thing, Maddie. Please don’t EVER hesitate to ask me to “Watch this, Mommy!” Go ahead, ask me a million times, I will watch you a million times, I promise.
I’ll watch you while you dream.
I ran errands alone last weekend. Usually Maddie is my faithful companion. Her mouth, running a mile a minute, keeps me from getting too deep into my own thoughts. She’s so much fun with her stories and antics but, she was with her dad for the day, I was on my own. While the prospect of grocery shopping alone, at first, sounds amazing, I have to admit, I missed her. The car ride was quiet and I was feeling a little melancholy.
I’ve always been a people watcher, I love to figure out the story of those I’m watching, put together who they are and what they’re doing. Like others watch a movie, I watch people. Its one of my indulgences, watching other live. Those close to me are often entertained by my sharing that the couple dining at the table next to us just got a new puppy or that the teenagers behind us at the movies are on their first date.
Today was no different. I pulled into the parking lot and immediately noticed what appeared to be a mother and daughter coming out of the store. The daughter was older than Maddie, maybe 13, and they were clearly enjoying their time together. I felt the familiar pull and turned off the car to watch for a few minutes before I went in.
The mom pushed the cart full of grocery bags; the daughter skip walked along side her. Their mutual affection seemed genuine, they talked and laughed all the way to their van and, once there, continued chatting while they loaded the groceries into the back of the vehicle. The young girl, though a preteen, was fully interacting with her mom, no iPhone or iPod in site. I smiled. They seemed so happy.
As they were piling the bags into the back of the car, one fell out dumping groceries on the ground and, at the same time, the one the daughter was holding broke, dumping those groceries on the ground, too. The girls looked at each other and, surprisingly, they both started to laugh. The mom mock screamed and jumped up and down while the daughter clapped her hands. I watched in awe as they bent down and worked together to pick up the spilled groceries, still chatting, still laughing.
I think what surprised me the most was that it surprised me. I was shocked that they seemed to be having fun and that, though they dropped groceries all over the ground, they didn’t let it get to them, they made the best of the situation.
I started to think about Maddie and me, and the time we spend together. And, while I think Maddie and I have a good relationship, I still felt bad. I admit – I wouldn’t have laughed if everything fell on the ground; I wouldn’t have been able to keep on bantering. I might have snapped at her…. maybe not…. but I wouldn’t have laughed. I would have instantly been worried about what was ruined, money that was wasted. I would have been annoyed at the additional headache of picking up the spilled items. Maybe my reaction is normal and maybe I just caught these two women on a particularly good day…. maybe…. But it tugged at my heart, made me sad for Maddie and for me.
My whole life I have felt like I was somehow watching from the sidelines. Not in the game. On the bench. As far back as I can remember, I have felt a sense of watching others to see how they were doing things, what reactions they had during life events like the first day of school, recess, birthday parties or when our team got a touchdown. I didn’t think I was feeling what they felt, so I watched what they did, tried to do it the right way. I mimicked their actions but never fully internalized the emotion, went through the motions but without feeling what I thought I was supposed to feel. I didn’t join sports teams or clubs because I didn’t feel like I fit in, felt like I’d walk on the field or into the room and be asked to leave, labeled a fraud. They’d somehow know and not want me amongst their ranks. Every day it seemed like everyone else was having “fun” and somehow I was there, but wasn’t having that same fun. I smiled, laughed, cheered, copied the actions of those around me but I wasn’t living it, I was only watching. To this day, I still have trouble entering a room that is already full. I expect everyone to turn and point at me, realizing instantly that I am an interloper and have me escorted out.
I didn’t eat lunch in the lunchroom for four years in high school. I bought pizza and a milk every day, and ate the pizza walking down the hall heading outside when it was warm enough and to the library when it wasn’t. The high school cafeteria, to me, was a horrifying place and I could not find a way to conquer that fear. No one was being mean. I wasn’t disliked or mistreated, I just wasn’t there.
I don’t blame my classmates. It was me. I didn’t know how to be a friend, how to fit in with the groups of girls: laughing, giggling and gossiping. I felt alien next to them but it was in my own head. They weren’t mean or dismissive, in fact, if I did find myself in a social situation with them, I was included and they always laughed at my jokes. It wasn’t them, not at first; early on it was me, only me. Then, over time, it WAS me. It became who I was, the distinction being it was no longer conscious, it just was. A comfortable pair of jeans, but ones I could no longer take off.
As I got older, I found I functioned much more easily with the back and forth of friendship when it was just one on one. I could better navigate the waters when I was the only captain, and though I wasn’t bossy or controlling, I made friends who were happier being in smaller groups, better suited to having just me in their lives. I have been a serial monogamous friendship girl most of my existence. Some of my friends stuck around longer than others, but eventually each moved on to a BFF relationship inside a larger social group. It tends to be how society operates and it hurt every time, but I couldn’t find a way to feel “normal” within the confines of the larger group. The more people involved – the more restricted and isolated I felt.
Somewhere along the way my intake of situations, how I processed interactions, was so different or so it seemed, than that of my peers. It was almost as if the way it hit my brain wasn’t how it actually happened. The simplest conversations felt HUGE. The slightest misunderstanding tormented me for days; I’d replay what I said, what others said, over and over. I’d also miss actual problems, find out someone was mad over something I had no idea would upset them. I couldn’t find the balance and the rules seemed so murky.
Over the years, I developed a quick wit for which I was appreciated, but with that came a quick bite, for which I was not. To avoid the torment or hurt that came with being so at odds with my inner voice, I snapped out when negative attention came my way, crushing whoever dared cross me or make me feel uncomfortable. It was my protective covering and it exists to this day. It’s not something I’m proud of, but its something I’ve come to believe I need and something I know I need to let go.
There were bursts of normality along the way and I do have friends and fun. I attend events and enjoy myself a good bit of the time. As I have aged, it has gotten easier on many levels. But I’ve always felt different than what I thought others felt. Even now, there are times when I am truly just going through the motions.
I watch, therefore, I’m not.
To that end, Facebook has been a good medium for me, allowing me to reconnect with people from the past and to realize I was not disliked, more that I was considered aloof and disinterested. I was shocked to learn that they thought I was funny, figured I had other friends and just assumed I didn’t want to be friends with them! How sad. I wish I had known.
With Facebook, I have been able to keep in contact with people I’ve known only on a surface level like parents of kids I’ve coached, former coworkers and friends of friends. I’m even friends with a few ex-boyfriends. Its great! I can make these people, my online friends, laugh from the safety of my couch and not have to actually interact with them. I can quickly strike out with a funny or a kind comment and then hide again, waiting for their response. It’s a great match, most live too far away to expect me to attend their parties, share their real lives. It’s been perfect!
Well…. maybe not so perfect at all.
Because of my perceived inability to feel like others feel, I also tend to treat each situation as something I have to get through – not enjoy, not live…. just endure until its over. I don’t know why I do it, but I guess it’s the same thing as not being able to fully be in the moment. I plan my kids’ birthday parties with the same level of enthusiasm as I do planning a trip to the dentist. Unlike the woman and her daughter at the grocery store, I treated life’s errands as hurdles instead of allowing that special time alone with my daughter to let me smile and laugh. Instead, I just do my best to get through it. How hard is that to admit.
Don’t misunderstand, I want my kids to enjoy themselves, want so much for them never to feel this emptiness I have always felt, I want balloons and cake and presents for them…. I want them to feel the spirit of these special – and not so special – events in a way I never could. I want them to feel happiness in every day things like kittens, sunny days, the beach, sledding in the backyard, camping and, most importantly, friendships. I want them to have real friendships, oh how I want that for them. I want them to have joy….
Shit. I want so much for her to have a mom that feels joy: joy in her, for her and because of her. A mom who feels….
By living in my dissociative state, I’ve missed out on joy. Happiness. Gratitude. My life. I’ve missed out sharing their joy: Her. TJs. I was there, but I wasn’t. That’s not ok.
Sunday was Easter; it was also my 48th birthday. 48 years of standing on the sidelines, not feeling (and yet feeling so deeply) is more than enough. I may never figure out what made me this way, but I must figure out how to get it “unmade.”
Missing the highs in life is no longer acceptable. I think of the little girl I was and of the little girl I’m blessed to have. I owe each of these girls to live my life to the fullest, to enjoy what I have while I have it. I once felt hope and though, at some point early on it died, it was there and I let it slip away, failing that little girl Elizabeth, failing Maddie, failing me. I won’t let those little girls down anymore and, equally important, I won’t give up on me. Won’t live half a life when I have no reason to do anything but enjoy, to find joy.
I made a promise to Maddie on my 48th birthday, though she doesn’t know I did. I vowed I’d tune back in, let go of my fears and find joy in every day events. I promised to feel the both the ups and downs and to allow myself to laugh when my first instinct may be to hold back. I promised to be someone that could be observed in a parking lot, laughing and loving life with her beautiful daughter.
I promised I’d be the one living while someone else watched from the sidelines.
Sitting here watching a movie and I look around the room at the sleeping animals that surround me. Loved animals. There’s Abbe and Aoufe: two sweet doggies on one couch. Snuggling like always, so close together. The kittens sharing a sunbeam. Henry, king of the flowered chair and Frankie on his favorite window sill.
You arrived in our lives late one October afternoon, dumped in the front yard by a well-meaning friend of a friend who knew I would help once I met you. It was after 5pm and I was looking forward to a quiet evening when a car pulled erratically into my driveway, lurching to a stop. The driver, (the friend of the friend) got out, dropped a cat carrier on the lawn and frantically started telling me your story: You’d been roaming her neighborhood for over a year being fed by her and her neighbors but recently you appeared injured and seemed to be very sick. She told me it looked like you’d gotten caught in something and that your tail was very infected. She said she was certain you were going to die. She couldn’t take you in and she begged me to help. Inwardly I groaned, I didn’t need this right now….
Maddie had, by now, joined me outside and was curious to see you. I thought I’d better look first. I peeked in the carrier and my breath literally caught in my throat. Oh sweetie, you were the most dirty sad looking cat I’d ever seen. Your pads were worn down, bloody and raw, your face crusted with…well, I don’t know what but whatever it was, it was in your eyes and nose and matted in what fur was left on your face, your eyes were dull, there was very little life in them. You were skinny, so malnourished and had no hair down half your back. But the worst part was your tail. You had a rotting ball of skin and fur at the end of your tail. There was dried blood and skin mixed in and it smelled so awful, it looked beyond infected. Your actual tail was only bone and I literally gagged at the sight and smell of you. Maddie, not to be held back, got down and looked in, too. She gasped when she saw you and I questioned whether this was a good idea to let her meet you. It was so clear you were just too sick and would not make it.
But the strangest thing happened when she bent down to talk to you, the strongest raspiest purr came from inside that grimy cat carrier. You were purring? You had been homeless for who knows how long, were hungry, hurt and had a myriad of infected areas on your body, ones that HAD to hurt, you could barely lift your head….but instead of shrinking from Maddie, baring your teeth or hissing, you leaned into her hand ready to accept her love and you purred.
You had me. I was going to do what it took to help you get better.
My vet was already closed and, since I didn’t know any other vets in the area, I just called every one of them until someone said I could bring you in. I put you in the car and off we went.
When I was about 8, our cat was attacked by the neighbor’s dogs and, as Mom was leaving for the vet, she gently explained Sweet Pea might not come home, her injuries were very severe. She let me say goodbye and that left an impression on me. Thankfully our Sweat Pea did come home but I’ve always remembered that my mother, during a very stressful time, bent down to help me understand and to respect my feelings. I did the same, softly telling Maddie you might be too sick to be helped and that, while it would be so so sad if you died, you had us and we were going to do whatever we could – even if that meant helping you to cross over the Rainbow Bridge peacefully and without any pain. She seemed to understand. My Maddie is a spit fire, but, like me, like her Grandmother – she runs very deep, cares very much. I knew I’d made the right choice to allow her to share this with me, to be a part of your journey. As we drove the 30 minutes to the vet who we hoped would be your savior, she asked many thoughtful questions. I love her mind and I did my best to answer her questions with honesty and compassion, though I felt inadequate trying to explain to a 6 year old how anyone could have treated you so poorly, let you become so skinny, so sick.
Then….”If he lives, can we keep him?” I guess that was inevitable. I couldn’t even think about that, it seemed impossible you’d live but her spirit let her believe you would. My sweet girl was rooting for you – you had a cheerleader.
When we arrived at the vet’s office, the kindest women I’d met in a long time gently took you out of the carrier. Her intake of breath confirmed that it wasn’t good, it didn’t look promising for you, pretty boy. As she was lifting your mangled tail and checking your injuries, again, you purred. She looked at me and we smiled. What a beautiful purr from such a destroyed body. That purr reminded us you were more than your injuries, more than what met the eye and you deserved to be given a chance. She asked me if I wanted her to treat you and, though I didn’t know how I would ever pay for it, I told her to do what it took. Maddie and I kissed you good bye and headed home without you.
On that drive back, I started feeling angry at the woman who had dropped you into my lap, making you my problem. How dare she do that to us, bring that chaos into our lives. I worried what it would cost to help you, even if the help didn’t save your life, worried how it would hurt Maddie to lose you even though she’d only just met you. But that little heart in the backseat was filled with happier thoughts. Was planning your life with us, telling me how Abbe and Henry would love you, was already naming you. You were to be Frankie after Anne Frank – the current literary obsession at our house. You might not live, weren’t even home with us but you had a name, were already loved, a member of our family. I let go of my anger and realized that woman had given us a gift, even if it was to help you be safe and warm through your last days, it was still a gift. I realized what it must have taken to bring you to me, to ask for my help. I apologized to her in my head and thanked her for trusting me with you.
The vet called the next day. Surprisingly, you were free of all disease but gangrene had set in to your tail and it would have to be amputated. You had been skinned with a serrated knife, someone had meant to hurt you, and your skin issues would take a while to heal. You would need intravenous nutrition and fluids. lots of medicine and sleep and it would still be several days before we knew if you’d recover. She said you were a favorite in the office, you purred whenever you had a visitor -even when you were still too weak to sit up – you purred with your eyes closed, letting everyone know a very good boy was doing his best to heal.
A forever week later, you were ready to go home. You were a miracle kitty and everyone who knew you was so glad you’d made it! Being malnourished for so long had left you with mild cognitive damage and your balance and gait would be slightly off while you adjusted to having no tail, but no one here cared – you were coming home and we were thrilled. The vet and her staff were so moved by your journey, they graciously wrote off over $1200 of your bill and thanked me for allowing them to be a part of your story.
My mom always says “They know.” meaning rescued animals know they’ve been rescued. She believes they understand. I agree, all our babies are a rescue of some kind and they do all seem so happy, I believe they know they have had a second chance. I watch them play with a new toy, run in the yard, eat their special snacks and sleep snuggled with me and my children and I think of what their other path may have been, how different it could have gone and I am thankful to give this path to them. But Frankie, though I know you know how loved you are, what you also need to know is that you have rescued us, too, taught us so much.
A year and a half later, you’re a fat, cherished tail-less boy who loves nothing more than to watch the birds and cars out the window. You like to find quiet places, always just outside the fray, but always near by. Your purr is part of our chorus, the one that makes us a family. Strong and still raspy, its a daily reminder not to make quick judgements, get angry when an unexpected problem arises, not to write someone off based on their outward appearance, and most importantly, not to give up when it would appear there is no hope.
You taught my children to listen for the purr, that every living creature has one if you’re willing to listen.
Thank you, Frankie. We hear you.
Looking out at the yard, I saw what looked like a squirrel tail stuck in our fence – I called Kate over and we stared at the tail. Maddie joined our group and we tried to figure out how the poor squirrel had gotten caught in the wiring of our fence. Dear dear squirrel, how long had he suffered? Maddie was concerned for his mother and brothers.
We stood there for a few minutes, showing final respect for our fallen hero. Maybe we’d make a grave and cover it with…..well, all we had was cereal, but we were certain squirrels would love Honey Nut Cheerios.
Kate put on her shoes with dread and marched out into the cold morning. She would transport the innocent squirrel baby to its final resting place. Maddie and I looked on with tears.
Kate reached the fence and looked back at us and smiled. She said something but the wind carried it away. WAS HE ALIVE? Maddie and I jumped for joy.
I yelled out to her, “Will he be ok? Should we take him to the vet?” She shook her head and laughed at me.
RIP Rhododendron leaf. We will miss you.
Thanks for all you did to keep me and my family alive last night while we slept. Just a little feedback:
While it may seem necessary to launch yourselves off the dresser while I sleep, that thing that moved under the covers – that was my foot. I have known my foot for 40+ years and trust her immensely.
Thanks so much for finding that candy wrapper in Maddie’s room – I’m so grateful you batted it around for an hour to be sure it was dead before you dropped it on my head. I am happy to dispose of the body for you.
I also very much appreciate you knocking things off the shelves – I understand now that you feel we are safer with those dangerous picture frames on the ground.
The plant NEXT to the pot….interesting. I’ll try it your way for a while. I’m sure you know better than I.
And your pure joy at killing all things perilous in our home – I hear it in your purr as you both climb all over me at dawn. Wow, do you have plane engines in your chests? No…no, no – no need to turn it down, the alarm will go off any minute. Go to sleep little ones….you must rest after such a harrowing evening.
Well, I’m off to work – enjoy your day of sleeping and eating – see you at 4am.
Alive because of you, Mom.
I’ve been addicted to Facebook since I was introduced to it several years ago. I was able to virtually reunite with friends from high school, old boyfriends and a variety of players who have had starring or walk on roles in my life story, people who would have otherwise been only memories now update me regularly on their day to day activities. Not only do I get to talk to them again, but I know what they had for dinner! I’ve been exposed to great pictures of cats, pigs, birds and babies and I’ve learned a lot, too…no really, I have. There is no doubt Facebook has made my world bigger by making it smaller, making what once was simply inaccessible…accessible.
Facebook has also become a forum for anyone with a cause, a story, or a gripe. Hey! If you need to get 1 million likes so your mom gets you a puppy, then here’s a like for you. I’m all for animals getting homes and, for the record, follow several pages dedicated to just that. Doesn’t matter the cause, if you have a Facebook page, you can get some attention. I applaud this method as, while every cause may not matter to me, it does to someone. Some of the causes are funny or educational or inspiring…and some…some just break my heart. I got pulled into a page a mom writes every day updating the world on her 3 year old son, Tripp, who was gravely injured when a tree branch fell on him on the playground. I faithfully read her posts, cheer for Tripp’s progress and feel true sadness when he has a setback. My friends ask why I torture myself, but in this now smaller big world, how do you turn your back once you know? I’ve struggled with that and try to be sure I balance the sad stories with the inspirational ones. I cheer when a pig is rescued, a friend’s child wins their championship and I laugh at all the political jokes no matter my personal view. I rejoice when my friends get a new couch and try not to be too jealous when they go to Puerto Rico for two weeks. Facebook can make me smile and make me cry….I guess that’s why I like it.
Recently, a friend liked a post from a Facebook page called “Team Laney”. Curious, I checked it out. A seven year old girl fighting cancer. I started to read and then started to shake and, then, I cried. This is when I hate Facebook. I was having a perfectly pleasant day and now I knew about Laney and her battle and the sadness and hope and fear and joy that is her journey.
I know she likes alligators and has beautiful eyes.
I know, like Maddie, she is in second grade.
I know her parents have a strong faith and pray for her every day with a belief He will do what is best. I know their faith moves me and reminds me of how powerless we are. I know that scares me.
I know she’s had a transplant and that her Daddy paints beautiful murals on her hospital room window. I know he loves his little girl fiercely. I know how that feels.
I know there have been benefits and “THON”s to help defray the medical bills. Its overwhelming and I know I’m lucky that I can’t even imagine.
I know she loves to play Uno. I do, too.
I know she had hallucinations and its so scary for her. I know her room is covered with cards, stuffed animals and things to make her smile.
I know her sister shares her birthday and they are the best of friends. I know their birthday is coming up and it might be their last together.
I know she’s had a nice Thanksgiving and that there is hope. I pray this little girl gets better. She has to.
I know I keep reading even though it hurts my heart….
I know the battle is over, there is no more hope. The cancer has won.
I know she’s home with precious little time. I know her family is there for her and she is loved and cherished and safe.
I know, when I scroll back and look at her journey and her pictures before she was so sick that it breaks my heart and touches too close to home. My daughter, too, has dark hair and beautiful eyes, loves all things glittery and pink and is the light of my life. I know I am lucky today and that another mother is not. I know life isn’t fair and it makes me angry. Little girls should not get sick. Little girls should not be facing death.
Christmas Eve, I kissed my babies good night and prepared for bed with the same level of excitement I have every year – somewhere between relief, exhaustion and anticipation for the next day. I mentally went through my children’s lists and hoped I had hit on the presents that were the most desired. I know Christmas is about more and I cherish the time with family and friends, but, as a Mom, its important they have a nice holiday, create good memories and get that special gift. Just shy of midnight, I snuggled in for a much needed sleep before a day of love and chaos. I said a prayer of thanks for my children, for family, friends, my furry loves and another, new prayer….one for peace for Laney and then I turned off the light.
At about 3:15am, I woke up feeling panicky.. I have had these attacks before so I knew to relax and walk myself through what might be causing me to feel this way. Maddie was asleep next to me dreaming of a mini-fridge and TJ slumbered next door. My children were safe, sleeping. I let the dogs out, checked on the pig and got back in bed. As the initial panic started to dissolve, I got my computer, checked Facebook and started to crush candy. That usually helped me clear my head enough so I could sleep but that night I played until I ran out of lives, went on to backgammon and then, crossword puzzles. Hours later, I just couldn’t sleep.
At about 5:45am or so, I checked back with Facebook, anticipating some of my friends with younger children might be starting to stir. My eyes scanned across a post and I froze.
“My heart breaks right now. Our little angel on earth earned her pink glittery angel wings in heaven. She took her last breath at home in her bed at 3:10 surrounded by all her family and friends. I miss her so much already.”
This was the reason for my anxiety … I had gone to bed realizing on some level she wasn’t going to make it through the night, wasn’t going to celebrate Christmas with her family. I laid in bed and, again, I cried.
Big tears rolled down the sides of my head, filling my ears and soaking my pillow. When we cry, we are vulnerable, not only to what is making us cry but to every other sad thought that is hiding in dark corners of our hearts. Tonight was no exception and I laid in bed and felt bad that one mother had lost her child when I clearly didn’t fully cherish mine. I wasn’t offering to switch places but I beat myself up believing, in the wee hours, that I didn’t deserve the wonderful gift of my two children.
I went over the previous day in my head – remembering getting annoyed at Maddie for her ridiculously high energy level, remembered asking her to please go away for a little while so I could get a few things done. Remembered telling her I’d watch her cheer routine (for the millionth time) later, remembered telling her I was too busy. I realized I’d let TJ play video games most of the day because I wasn’t tuned in to him and had gotten frustrated with him for minor things, things I should have let go. How could I be so horrible, so selfish, what the hell was wrong with me? Another mother was grieving and I had been “too busy” to be there for my daughter, had asked her to go away and had been cranky with my son. I was a monster. In the dark, in my panic, that was all I had. I was failing them.
As the panic started to dissolve and my tears to dry up, some level of sanity returned. I was able to think straight again and I had a thought so clear it was like someone had quietly whispered one word to me in the dark. I wasn’t selfish or mean to my children, wasn’t failing them and I wasn’t unaware of how lucky I was…not at all. I was blessed with normal.
It made so much sense.
Because I was blessed with healthy children this holiday season, I was also blessed with being too busy, feeling overwhelmed and the time to put off watching the cheer routine until “later”. I had “later” and I had taken advantage of it. I had budgeted my time the best I could, had spent time away from my children, in a distracted state of “crazy to get things done” so I could make their day special, filled with presents, good food and family. Normal allowed me to be happy, tired, frustrated, excited, joyous and a good mommy. I remembered, lying there in the dark, I had also spent several hours with them making and decorating cookies, wrapping presents and watching a holiday movie. I HAD cherished the day. And…”later” when things had calmed down, I had watched that cheer routine. Had watched my healthy happy little girl dance.
Laney, I believe you whispered to me that night. With just that one word: “Normal”, you showed me its okay to live normal, to enjoy normal and to sometimes wait for later. That’s what normal is. Mommies get frustrated and Mommies make cookies. They yell at you to brush your teeth but they also love to watch you dance. With one word, you made me remember my children have my love and my support and that makes them luckier than so many. “Normal” reminded me to relax and not be so hard on myself. Thank you, little one.
I want you to know, I’m both sorry and relieved your journey is over and I know you understand.
I know I will miss your updates but am peaceful in the belief you’re in His arms now and no longer in pain.
I know your beautiful smile is back and I know you’re medicine-free and can run and play and dance. I know that brings your mommy peace. I know I wish I could hug her.
I know your angel wings are pink and glittery and you’re playing Uno with your new friends. I know there were others there to greet you and keep you safe until you see your mommy again. I need to know that.
I know your journey and strength touched me and I am better because of it. I know this is why I ‘torture’ myself with these Facebook pages I follow.
I know I will think of you often and the lesson you shared.
I know, tonight…tonight I will sleep.
40 years of dreaming
2 years of trying
12 positive pregnancy tests just to be sure
1 elated Mommy, 1 excited Daddy and 1 older brother to be
2 Great-Grandmothers, 2 Grandmothers, 3 Grandfathers, 4 Uncles, 1 aunt and 2 older cousins
9 long long months, 9 ultra sounds and 9 gifts of a glimpse of you
1 C-Section scar
10 fingers, 10 toes
1 of your names for your Grandmother, 1 special nickname from Daddy.
3 special days alone in the hospital
1st step! 1st word!
1 broken arm, 8 visits to DuPont and 1 tiny cast in a memory box. 1 year we’ll never forget.
1st ‘pee pee in the potty’, 1st temper tantrum, 1st time out.
1st day of Preschool, 1 talented and gifted teacher and 1 Graduation
1st of Kindergarten, 1 amazing school, 1 caring, loving and patient teacher, 1 “Friends in Nicaragua” song, 1 bracelet made on the first day, 2 years later still on my wrist. 1 Graduation.
1st day of 1st Grade, 1 teacher who had your brother, too, 1st time being compared.
1st time with no training wheels, 1st sleep over, 1st time letting go
5 big trips: Disney World, Chicago, and South Carolina
2 shores to swim every summer: Jersey and Delaware
3 camping trips, 2 visits to Knoebels, 3 aquariums, 2 baseball games and 1 season of T-Ball.
1 spelling bee, 3 school plays and 3 field trips
1 Feis and 4 months of Cheerleading practice 2x a week
1 bad ear infection, 100s of scrapes and scratches, 5 million band-aids and 100s of kisses to make it better
439 “watch me”s (a day)
3 dogs, 6 cats, 5 stray cats, 1 fish, and 2 pigs – 1 animal lover in the making
100s and 100s of “I love you, Mom” drawings, 1 of me wearing a “makini”
7 million snack wrappers hidden around the house
100s of “proper” handstands
4 years of funny Facebook statuses, 100s of my friends who look forward to them
0 Gray hairs attributed to you…..yet.
100s of books read, 100s of games played
1 crush on a celebrity: 2 posters, 100 tattoos, 1 notebook, 1 pencil, 1 pocketbook, 100s of YouTube video viewings, 3 “I love Niall” pictures hanging on the wall, and 1 action figure Niall sitting on the couch
100s of giggles in the dark, 100s of whispered “good night, Mommy”s
1 amazing laugh, 2 beautiful brown eyes, 1 engaging smile
1st “I love you, Mommy” and 8,456,300 more
8,456,301 “I love you, too”s
10,563, 226 kisses and hugs given and received
100,000,000 laughs and smiles and tears, both of us
6 birthday parties, 6 birthday cakes
100s of people that love you and think you are amazing
1 incredible Kate and 4 years of her love, 1 very special friendship
1 thankful and devoted Mommy, 1 Daddy wrapped around your finger and 1 proud brother (who pretends not to be)
1 amazing, funny, adorable, dramatic, talented, awesome, happy, silly, warm hearted, beautiful, caring, energetic, friendly, goofy, magnificent, overwhelming, quirky, snack loving, super duper, talkative, huggy, kissy, loved, adored and cherished little girl.
My friend Jenn sent me a message this morning saying “Happy Father’s Day – you’re doing a great job on your own.” Her words were so kind and sweet. I am touched she thought of me today.
But, I’m not doing it on my own. I know what she meant, I am technically not part of a marriage any more and so, in the eyes of the world, I am doing it on my own. The truth is, from that standpoint, I’ve been doing it by myself for years. Mike was in the house, he brought home a paycheck, but he was emotionally removed from the kids and me, not really a part of our day-to-day routines.
An amazing thing has happened since I moved out on my own. I’m not on my own at all, in fact, I feel far more supported, loved and part of life than I did just 8 months ago. Jenn said I’m doing a good job – and I sure hope so – but my friends and family are doing a great job of being here for me and they have been a huge part of my starting over, my healing.
Jenn helped me find a house I could rent the day I told her I was looking. She knew someone, made the connection and, because of that, it was so much easier to find that perfect place to live. Because she worked there, Jenn was able to talk to the kids’ school, helping me ease through the registration process and allowing me to quickly, quietly and smoothly transition the kids to their new school. She drove TJ to and from school every day since we moved. She goes right by our house on her way every morning, and though it’d be so much easier to just keep going – she stops every day to get him. She’s been another mom to my son – reminding him (and me) of important things that are going on or needed for that day. I often get a text saying “Don’t forget today is….” or “Does TJ have his…..” She will then ask him again when he gets in the car. She understands and accepts our flightiness. When he first moved to the new school and I so desperately needed to know he was doing ok emotionally – she was able to talk to the assistant in TJ’s class getting better answers than I would have as a parent. This meant the world to me because TJ so needed to start to heal and it gave me comfort to hear first hand he was doing fine. Jenn loves Maddie, too, and takes great joy in her craziness, acting as her number one cheerleader when that little girl is driving me insane! She loves my children and truly cares about their well being, adding to our family with her warmth and humor.
Jenn’s been amazing and, because of her, I’m not doing it on my own.
My parents have been so supportive. When my mom said the words, “You need to get out of there.” I knew it was go time, game on. There was no turning back. She sent money – and that was beyond helpful – I could not have done what I did without her financial support. She continues to fund things now – her most recent gift: a trip to NYC because TJ loves history and wants to see all the exciting things NYC can share in that regard. Maddie can’t wait to visit the American Girl Doll store with her doll she named Emily, a gift from my mom. She sends the kids clothes, books and games. She send the dogs toys and they’ve learned to love the FedEx man as much as the kids have. She’s made it so so much easier financially than it could have been, but most of all, she has provided emotional support, even when she probably didn’t realize it. She listened when I told her things no mother wants to hear – and she listens now when I share the stories of how we are all doing, listens as our lives slowly take new shape – the old falling away and the new stretching out before us. She didn’t condemn me being a ‘divorced woman’ when I expressed it was sad to think that was now my title – instead my funny mom told me half of all marriages end in divorce and I should be proud to be in such good company.
Because of her and my dad, I’m not doing it on my own.
My friend and coworker, Tamara has been beautiful to me, too. She listened for over a year to my stories that often started with, “Tell me if I’m crazy….” I had lost site of what was fair and what wasn’t and needed a voice of reason that would tell me not what I wanted to hear but what I needed to hear. She would stay on the phone with me during Mike’s rants so I didn’t feel alone and so, the next day, when I’d try to tell myself it wasn’t that bad, she could remind me it was. She’s the one I called when I had a panic attack after switching the kids’ school. I left the school that morning after signing the paperwork and realized I could not function. I pulled over, unable to breathe without gasping, called her and barely got out a hello before I started sobbing. I was shaking so hard and I was covered in sweat. I was beyond scared and overwhelmed after taking that first step. She stayed calm, talked me right of that ledge and confirmed I was doing the right thing. She was the first person I called when I drove away from our home for the last time, my car packed with Sammy Pig and the parts of my world that did not fit in the moving van. It was much the same, I barely said hello before falling apart. She told me for about the 8 millionth time I was doing the right thing. She was so good to me, so receptive of my fears, she understood sometimes I just needed her to listen and so she did. She listened. She still lets me vent, no longer needing to tell me I did the right thing, but I know she would if I had to hear it. Like Jenn, she loves my children and has become part of our family.
Because of her, I’m not doing it alone.
So many people are the reason I’m not doing it alone – My friend Deb who reads all my posts and provides such wonderful feedback giving me the confidence to keep writing and to get these feelings out, my friends Heidi and Laurie who shared their stories with me and made me realize I was not alone, strong women just hide it better. My brother, my landlord, my doctor, my cousin and many of Mike’s friends have been there with their kind words. Everyone who knows has been so incredibly supportive.
Because of them, I am not doing this alone.
Kate defies words, but I will try. She came to live with us to help me with the kids a few years ago. She quickly became my best friend and the kids’ favorite person. She stayed even after Mike had one of his episodes the night she moved in – she not only wasn’t scared off but seemed to grow more determined with every angry word to shelter us from his jabs. She lightened the darkness that had descended over our home and made my children laugh, a lot. She played water guns, baseball and basketball. She was silly and loud and made messes. She painted with Maddie and loved to cook us dinner. She slept in a tent in the yard with the kids (and let me stay safe in my bed inside!) and took TJ fishing. She spent hours and hours sitting on my deck playing cards with me, talking about anything and everything. She coaxed me into doing things I didn’t think I could handle -I was so shut down – forcing me out of the house to the beach, camping, Quizzo – you name it, she got me to do it. She took 100s and 100s of pictures of the kids smiling and laughing and living, she gave me tangible proof that good things could happen and there was nothing to be afraid of. She showed me it could be better – we could be happy and healthy. She started to open my eyes. It wasn’t easy, but because she was willing to share the load, she made it seem possible. She, like Tamara, listened to me cry, and, slowly over time, helped me see I needed to leave. She didn’t push, was supportive when I’d back down yet again from accepting that truth and she never said, “I told you so.” when the same things happened over and over again, despite promises they would not. She helped me see how wrong things were and how my perception was so off – that house and what went on inside it had become my only reality no matter how warped and sad – she slowly started painting me a new reality with the colors only loving us could create.
First she forced me to live…. and, then, with her friendship, she made me want to.
When I finally stepped off the roof, ready to learn to fly, Kate flew beside me and kept me in the air. She came with us when we moved. She helped me pack up our whole lives in one morning and put it in a truck. She helped unpack it on the other side, at times on her own as my energy would flag – I was so overwhelmed. She endured my moods and tears and she kept coming back with a smile on her face – ready to make me believe it was going to be okay. She provided stability to the kids – they love her so – and her presence here was such a gift to them during all that change. She loves us in every day ways – making lunches and doing laundry, driving the kids to karate and Cheer, remembering our favorite things and surprising us with little gifts just because. She always manages to find something fun to do and is up for anything we suggest. She has worked so hard to help me make a home for them, for us – everywhere I look I see evidence of her love.
I love her so much for all she’s been to us and because of her, I am most certainly not doing this on my own.
But most importantly – TJ and Maddie are the best thing I have ever done. I took the time to create them, to love them, teach them to walk and run and live. I couldn’t let anything destroy their spirits.
It’s because of them I left and it is because of them I am not doing this alone.
Growing up, one of my favorite things was when an adult would tell me a story about when I was little. It didn’t matter that I was four and my grandmother was telling me about something that had happened in the past year: it was in the past, I was littler when it happened and, by telling me the story, she was telling me how important I was to her. The history of me and how I came to be never failed to enthrall me. As an adult, I love that I have little trinkets from those that came before me: a glass bowl from one grandmother, her engagement ring that I wear to this day, my Uncle Tim’s Navy Jacket, Uncle Bill’s baby picture, letters my other grandmother wrote me – ones where she sent me an article from the paper and highlighted the parts I especially needed to read, a very large painted portrait of my Aunt Mary who, though she died before I was born, was alive and much-loved in many stories my mother told me of her childhood. Uncle Andy makes fun of me, saying my house looks just like my mom’s – It always makes me happy to think I’m turning out like her. My history, though nothing exotic, is something I am proud of and I want my children to feel that same pride. They are special and their stories unique.
I have started to tell the kids stories of my past – different players making their appearance and giving shape to a time they would otherwise have never known. Like me, they both love to hear about times when they were little or when I was and I love sharing my memories with them. I have started writing them down so the kids can have them whenever they want to pull them out, to feel loved, cherished and wanted. To know how they came to be.
Maddie, this one is for you.
When you were ready to make your appearance, things were so different from my first time having a baby. Because of the difficulties with TJ’s birth, this time around, I scheduled my C-section and knew the date and time you were going to be born. I was prepared emotionally, more settled and knew what to expect in the operating room and during recovery. I was much calmer this time. I was a pro!
I was so excited and happy to be having a baby girl. Having a boy had been amazing so far… to be honest, I had wanted a boy first and a girl second. It made sense in my brain and I was glad you’d have an older brother. I’d so enjoyed all the boy things he brought to my life and was looking forward to the girly ways you’d bring with you. I knew, long before I met you, you’d be quite the character, I just knew. Because I was 40 when I was pregnant with you, I got to see a picture of you in my belly once a week. While the doctors made sure you were growing right, clicking buttons and taking measurements, I’d just stare at the screen watching you move – you were always moving – and you always looked like you were talking to us. I’d laugh with the technician that you were going to be a talker – we’d pretend we knew what you were saying and we’d talk back to you. Kiddo, you didn’t let me down! Your voice rings through our house and is a part of the landscape that makes it home.
Like my love of stories of the past, I had always loved the idea of family names going on through generations. I’m named after my great grandmother, Elizabeth and my Aunt Mary (yep! The one in the picture) and TJ was named after my two grandfathers (John) and after my uncle and brother both named Timothy. Naming him Timothy John – the only name I ever had on my boy name list – meant so much and, for me, it thanked those men for being part of who I was and who he would be.
Little one, I struggled with your first name. I knew your middle name was Kathleen after my mom, but first names eluded me. I could never stick with one, nothing seemed good enough and the girl family names left a lot to be desired….Because of this, naming you ended up taking the full nine months, I wasn’t sure until I saw you that morning that you would be Madelyn. I will say, Madelyn suits you.
Nine months is a long time to wait to meet someone you’re dying to meet. I had TJ to keep me hopping and I put a lot of energy into letting him know I loved him and that my feelings for him wouldn’t change. I wanted him to be happy you were coming, too. I also kept busy by doing things moms do: buying your clothes and toys, car seats to keep you safe, a new crib and changing table and by decorating your room. That was a pure labor of love, Maddie, a room I saw in my mind as just for you.
Your room was so beautiful, Daddy had worked so hard to make it look like the one I had in my dreams. Beautiful light purple walls and carpet and ladybugs everywhere. Mommy loves ladybugs – they remind me of my mommy – and boy, I loved your room. I had a special pillow hand made and painted with your name and a ladybug and a I hung a print I’d had in my room as a little girl of (you guessed it!) a ladybug. It was perfect and, with that done, I needed you to hurry up and get here.
Soon it was the day…..August 16th.
Daddy and I got up so early that morning, we had to be at the hospital at 6am! I know you know me well enough by now, I am NOT a morning person, but I was up and dressed and ready to go – I wanted you here!
I also knew something else, something I had learned from my time in the hospital with your brother. When TJ was born, the nurse asked me if I wanted my baby in the room with me or down the hall in the nursery. She was well-meaning and told me I’d need to rest up to take my baby home. To this day, I regret that I listened and let her wheel my baby boy down the hall to spend those first hours without me.
This time I was ready.
When they asked me if I wanted my baby in the room with me or down the hall, I told them to leave you with me, I wanted you with me at all times. I wanted the alone time with my girl. Just me and my girl. The world would get you soon enough, but this was our time and I was going to be selfish about it.
They rolled your bassinet into my room and I asked them to put it right next to me. The nurses thought it would bother me and wanted to put it across the room so I could sleep and they could come in and check on you without waking me up. I didn’t like that idea at all. I didn’t mind waking up, I wanted to see you and to hold you and feed you myself.
That first afternoon, I put you on my chest on your tummy. You were all swaddled up and you smelled so good. You and I laid there for hours, I talked to you and told you how happy I was that you were here and that I couldn’t wait for you to come home. I told you about your room, Daddy, Maggie Doggie and Abby and our kitties. I told you about your uncles, your aunt, two cousins and your grandparents. I told you so many things – You seemed to understand. You were such a smart baby. I told you all about your older brother, how cute he was and funny and so sweet. I thought you were so lucky to have him ahead of you in life, to love you and protect you. I know it doesn’t always feel that way now, but he’s your first best friend and I hope your life long best friend, no matter where your roads take you.
I will always cherish those days alone with you. It was our time – just us – and it means the world to me that we had it.
Now you’re six, its your last day of 1st grade today, my baby is not a baby anymore…but wow, what an amazing young lady you are. You are so funny and quick-witted and your observations on life amuse not only me, but so many people. I sometimes post your funny comments on Facebook and my friends tell me they look forward to my “Maddie Stories” – you’re a source of so many smiles.
During the days, you are a whirling dervish – always busy and active and asking questions and sharing your opinions. I hear at least a million times a day, “Mom, watch this!” as you fly through the room doing your round offs or hand stands. Your energy far exceeds mine and I often find myself exhausted by you, but in a good way. Its the kind of tired you feel after a day at Disney World or a really great party. At night, however, you like to sleep with me in my room, you started insisting when you were only 18 months old. To be fair, I’ve never discouraged you because again, those moments alone with you are very special with me. You get in bed and you’re a crazy wiggle worm and still chattering and laughing and singing. I try to read or play around on my computer and you just lay there and chatter away. You start to slow down and you ask me more sincere questions (you told me the other night that when I die, you will attend the Day of the Dead in Mexico in my honor.) and your eyes start to get heavy. You always snuggle into my arm, and you fall asleep mid sentence, holding on to my arm. Every night.
After you fall asleep, I always give you kisses and rub your back and tell you how much I love you. You are a bit of a bed hog and I wake most nights with your knee in my ear or your hand smacking my cheek as you turn over, I gently move you over and sometimes you talk to me in your sleep….you love to talk! Much like our first days, this is our time together and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. One day you’ll come to me and you’ll tell me you’re going to start sleeping in your own bed. That’s ok, because you’re getting older and you should. But for now, I will cherish our chatty wiggle worm nights together, happy to read with only one arm because you’re holding the other, risk life and limb from your night thrashings…..because its our time, just me and my girl.
I love you, Maddie Kate – heart and soul.
Let me start out by saying, I don’t regret leaving my marriage – not one second of regret. It was an awful place for me to be and I made the right decision. This isn’t about that – it’s not about regret or revenge. It’s about inequality, anger and finding acceptance.
One of the issues I had with Mike while we were together was his seeming inability to understand the perspective of others – it was a constant source of friction for us. I first noticed it with his relationships with fellow fire fighters but it quickly became a driving force in our interactions and it was devastating to realize my side was intangible to him. He just couldn’t see it. Over the years, while I still expressed my side, I gave up on having it be received or respected.
Living free of his daily influence has gifted me with additional perspective that further saddens me. Mike’s selfishness is also a driving force in his relationship with the kids, in fact, they appear to be only extensions of him, of his needs. So, if he needs it, they can have it, but if it’s not on his radar, it doesn’t exist. If it makes him look like a hero, he’s in but if he won’t get any kudos or credit, it’s not going to happen. In therapy, I learned its part of his illness – just not being able to understand others feelings when they don’t mesh with yours – not disagree, just not even realize or believe they exist.
One of the ‘ah ha’ moments I have had over the past seven months came over our housing fall out. When I first started talking to Mike about moving out, I wanted him to go. It would be easier for him to find a place to live than it would be for me to do so factoring in kids, schools, pets and Kate. He would not entertain the notion of leaving the house he had (apparently on his own) paid for. He couldn’t see past what he wanted even to what was best for the kids.
I stopped asking and started looking for a place me and the kids could call home. It wasn’t easy to think of leaving the house where they were babies, Maddie was born there. Their swing set, neighbors and fenced in yard on a quiet private street were a perfect place for them to grow up. I was so angry but could not dwell on it. I found a place with enough bedrooms, yard room and a landlord who would not only allow pets, but was ok with a pig. Sammy could some with us….I signed on the dotted line. I cried when I signed and I cried when I drove away from our home but I was determined to drive toward what would be our NEW home….not the same, but a home where we’d be comfortable and happy and suffer the least amount of sucker punches at how different life was going to look. I spent so much time making sure it would look like a place where they’d feel wanted, settled, secure, loved and safe….. home. You can ask Kate (no, really…you can!) – I agonized over everything – were their rooms going to be big enough, was the neighborhood ok, their commute to school too long, was the yard ok for them, for the dogs, for Sammy? I wanted them to be happy – for us to heal and move forward, not because we had no choice, but because we were all those things: safe, secure, happy and loved….home.
For the first three months after we left, Mike talked non-stop about how broke he was. Every conversation was about how little money he had. He never brought up my leaving, never asked about how the kids were doing with the change, never about us going to therapy or how we could move forward – just how broke he was. I tried reminding him once that he made twice what I did and I had taken approximately 90% of the family and expenses with me – but he didn’t seem to understand I was in the same boat – he only cared that he was suffering financial strain. After three months, he announced he, too, would be leaving the house and moving to an apartment and putting our house into foreclosure. He called me and graciously offered the house back to me. I had paid a lot of money to move, changed the kids schools and settled into life in our new surroundings and he was now saying I could have the house back if I wanted it.
He found an apartment right near his fire house. According to him, it had been difficult to find a place that would meet all his needs, and this was the best he could do. His new home, one he’d share with the children every other weekend: A two bedroom apartment that didn’t allow pets. What this meant was that TJ would not have a room, but would, instead, be in the dining room on a love seat. The child doesn’t have a bed. No door, no privacy: no space he can call his own. No, TJ would be in the dining room, but I was not to worry because TJ liked the couch, according to Mike. He doesn’t hear me when I tell him TJ is angry that Maddie has a room and he doesn’t. Can’t see why she deserves one over him. Mike acts like TJ is being difficult.
This ‘arrangement’ will be home when they are with dad. I know, I know, they’ll be fine. Kids are resilient….but I want more for them. I don’t want them to be resilient with their father, I want them to be …..damnit! I want them to be comfortable and loved and to feel wanted, like they live there, too….. He’s comfortable, he’s home…but they are visitors. He can’t see that.
Since Mike has moved, he has a bit more disposable income. He pays far less in rent than I do and doesn’t have the daily upkeep of two kids and five animals. He pays support, but its on the low-end and he is enjoying his new-found lifestyle. Makes sense.
Facebook has been Mike’s forum to show he’s a great dad, wonderful status updates that make it sound like he’s doing so much with them and on his off weekends, oh the fun he’s having at bars with his friends. He’s going places and spending money – I don’t think he shouldn’t – I really don’t. But it’s so “Mike centered” that it makes me sad for those kids. Maybe I expect too much. Maybe that’s it.
The other day, he posted a picture of the new leather fire helmet he had purchased and had hand-painted. It wasn’t needed but something he commented was something he’d always wanted. That same day, Maddie and I were shopping for new school shoes. She wanted a pair of pink sandals, glittery and with a small heel. She’s such a girly girl and she was in love with these impractical shoes. I had to talk her into a more practical toe covering pair of rubber sandals she could wear both to school and to play outside. She’s a sweet girl and she understood, I just could not get them both. I felt heavy-hearted leaving that store.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that, for him, life has greatly improved financially. The kids and I have had to scale back and I worry about finances all the time… whether we can get sandals just because. I get angry. I get so damned angry. He checked out on us, forced me to make decisions that were so hard and so scary. Forced his family to pack up and move because he wouldn’t leave his home – never seeing that home was where his family was and I took “home” with me when I left. I’ve had to be strong and smile when I wanted to scream. I have to encourage a relationship between the children and him when I worry every day what the long-term effects are – and I can’t always pay my bills. He’s having the time of his life.
Our quality of life has improved yet we’ve paid a price. I want to say he’s paid a price, but it just doesn’t seem so. He doesn’t seem to miss them. He seems happier, freer – and, for him, I’m glad. We all deserve to be happy. I’m happier – I’m coming back. But I have taken on worries where he has been able to dump them. Maybe that’s what it is….I’ve got more worries and he’s got less.
But then I think of how summer is coming up. I think of a little boy who will test for his orange belt in karate, I’ll be there. A little girl who will dance her first feis up on stage all by herself. Mommy will be there. Of field day, swimming, cartwheels, impromptu sleepovers, camp fires in the back yard, cookouts, swinging in the park and sun freckled noses. I’ll be there.
Where ever he is on those special days – I hope he’s getting his money’s worth out of that helmet.
As for me……I’m on my way to buy a little girl some pretty pink sandals. Just because.