My parents spent the past two weekends at their lake cottage. By themselves. Which is, undoubtedly, healthy for them and their relationship. What is also undoubtedly true is just how much I rely on their support . . . and how completely at a loss I felt managing 48 hours genuinely on my own with the kiddos. I made it until Sunday afternoon the first weekend, and only until Saturday evening on the second. And then I just lost it. Like, Oh. My. Word. I. Haven’t. Melted. Down. Like. This. Since. We. Separated. It was bad. B-A-D. Ugly bad.
I wish I remembered what triggered it, but the reality is that there isn’t an “it.” I think the first weekend’s meltdown had something to do with my daughter crawling into the dog kennel instead of getting into my car, when she wasn’t supposed to be in the house at all because we were just there so my son could pop in and grab his baseball stuff before we ran him (late) to practice. [Sigh.] The second one? No idea. I was in the kitchen — I know that much. But the thing that pushed me over the edge? It was barely two days ago, and I couldn’t even venture a guess.
I mean, I’m sure it had something to do with the fact that I’d just endured basically the first 36 hours of the summer that my ex was in town. The 36 hours that have been marked on the calendar for months, but for which he made no effort to coordinate a plan or schedule for the kids until the night before he arrived in town. [FN1: Our settlement agreement states that weekend times will be coordinated at least a week in advance. There are lots of reasons for this, but from my exhausted-mama perspective, the most important one is so that I have enough time to be able to plan my “free” time. But the settlement agreement doesn’t specify that I can withhold his time with the kids if he doesn’t comply . . . so . . . [Sigh.]] The 36 hours during which he made an appearance at (and, #dadoftheyear, volunteered to be the first base coach for) my son’s baseball game. The 36 hours during which he did figure out a way to take my daughter for a special trip to the Art Fair (and bought her several items of her choosing), but didn’t figure out a way to spend one-on-one time with my son. And the 36 hours, after which, he hopped on a plane and jetted off for an extended stay in the south of France.
I’m really, really trying to stay positive. I’m really, really trying to avoid doing or saying anything in front of the kids that could be even remotely construed as interfering with their relationship with their father. I am genuinely trying to internalize the idea that any positive interactions they can have with him are good, and that there are things that would be harder if he was actually completely out of the picture. But OH MAN. It’s SO HARD.
I don’t remember all of the things that I did or said during the meltdowns. I cried a lot. Sobbed, really. And the second I started sobbing, I started feeling guilty — not because I was having “feelings” — but because the weight that I was carrying was not a weight to share with either of the kids. To the extent that I was frustrated with their behavior, I’ve spent like gazillions of dollars on amazing therapy to learn how to respond. And I often don’t respond exactly the way I’d want to when I’m frustrated with their behavior, but I’ve also learned techniques to recover from that. But I knew from the second that I started to lose it that my “losing it” was only minimally related to anything having to do with them, and was maximally related to being angry that their father was on a plane to the south of France, and I just couldn’t keep it together. And I know that I said all sorts of things that I wish they hadn’t heard me say, mostly about how I couldn’t handle it, and how exhausted I was, and how I needed teamwork from them, and, well . . . just things that I knew in the moment weren’t things that I should say out loud (#mystrugglesarenotmykidsfault) but FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS — who else could I tell? And how could I tell them?
Because the last time that I was lamenting something about my frustrations out loud (to my dad, after one of my son’s baseball games, while my daughter was happily playing on the playground and my son was engrossed in messaging his recently-moved-to-China best friend from my phone) — right in mid-lament, my son pipes up “Hey Mom! Stop saying mean things about Dad!” [FN2: For the record, whatever I was saying to my dad doesn’t even come CLOSE to the grievances I air via rage-text to assorted confidants.] Still, I was positively mortified. I think I apologized to my son like a hundred times, and was somewhat placated when he confirmed that this particular interaction with my dad was the first time he’d heard me say something he thought was mean. Given the vast range of emotions I’ve felt over the past year, and the minimal amount of time I spend with my kids not within earshot, that’s actually shocking. And impressive.
So anyway, I was alone with the kids and my frustrations were boiling over and — did I mention I was alone with the kids? That’s the hard part about all of this. When they’re in the sort of moods that they were in (which tend to be predictably unpredictable after spending time with their dad), those are the times when it’s hardest to create space. It’s a vicious downward spiral . . . and I just . . . can’t. But as I’ve thought and said and written lots and lots of times, this just IS. And it’s hard. And I’m trying. And for the past two weekends, I didn’t do as well as I would have liked.
There are other things that have been hard, too. Layers of the grief that I’ve mostly processed alone — many related to sex and intimacy and vulnerability and trust; things that are hard to write about (but I hope to) and things that I’ve had the sorts of friendships over the years where it would be totally normal to have such conversations . . . and I still have those friends but they are far away and also I am hard to pin down (#socialanxiety) and also I am just sort of tired of being tired and don’t want to focus my limited time interacting with other non-work humans on things that are hard. But I can say that I have lots of not-fully-coherent, but still really strong feelings about this news about Joshua and Shannon Harris. [FN3: Joshua, if you don’t know, was the author of the famous-in-conservative-Christian-circles book I Kissed Dating Goodbye, a book that he has more-or-less apologized for writing, and a movement that he largely regrets having been a part of.] The feelings, to the extent that I’ve thought about them coherently, have much to do with how that ideology shaped my ex’s experience — basically, violently wrestling with the idea that I was, as best I can figure it out, a prop in my ex’s complex theatrical life production. The production during which he presented himself to himself (?), definitely to his parents, and very much to the rest of the world (including me) as the poster child for evangelical purity culture. Until he just . . . didn’t. And then he was gone.
And related to that is a layer of grief for me that comes from the fact that I did want a lifelong marriage. I wasn’t raised within the evangelical church, or with parents who had any expectation that I would abstain from sex until marriage, but it became a defining feature of my “courtship” relationship with my ex. It was a concept that I embraced before getting married, and fidelity within my marriage was an obvious no-brainer. More than that, I did want a husband who would father children with me and raise them with me and to be my partner for better or for worse. I don’t know yet — because, holy moly, I can’t even IMAGINE starting trying to date again — how I’m going to feel about sexual intimacy going forward (and that is complicated, of course, by the not-healthy-at-all sexual relationship that my ex and I had) but I do know that I am very much grieving the loss of the opportunity to celebrate, say, a 50th wedding anniversary. (Ok, so it’s theoretically possible. But highly unlikely.) And, when I’m honest, I’m still grieving the idea that my first — and what I wanted to be only — marriage no longer exists. It’s not because it was good. (It wasn’t.) But because I feel like I was totally cheated out of the possibility of just getting married once and staying married to that person for forever. I’m carrying a deep and totally un-evaluated wound that stems from the fact that my ex never wanted to be married at all.
I suspect there are some (many) of you who might find it hard to believe that he could pull off an act like the one he did for as long as he did. That somehow it’s not possible that he knew he never wanted to be married. And maybe he didn’t. But I really think that, in the evangelical culture in which he was raised (as an international missionary kid whose parents are still part of an organization that adheres FIRMLY to a conservative sexual ethic), the pressure to conform to a traditional man / woman / marriage / family model was essentially inescapable. And I’ve mentioned before that I have empathy for that. But I don’t know that I will ever quite be able to wrap my head around what that means for me, and for my children, given the enormous trauma wounds we carry.
So there you have it. Single mama weekends are hard. Purity culture has real-life consequences. I have lots of feelings but basically no answers. And tomorrow is another day.