"Your absence has gone through me like thread through a needle. Everything I do is stitched with its color." W.S. Merwyn
I feel totally complete and whole when my kids are with me. That means that when my kids are not with me, I feel less than whole. No matter how happy I feel about everything else, there is a part of me that is mismatched, fragmented, partial. And it hasn't gotten easier with time. On days that I don't have my kids, I'm walking around all busy and purposeful, doing all kinds of things, and with every breath I'm missing them. I'm actually carrying a physical weight of missing them. If you see me walking around town, I'm carrying it. I don't think you can see it. I can feel happy, fulfilled, and even carefree, and during each of these moments, I'm carrying it.
I have had a sense since I moved out on my own that some of my friends who are together with their families are a tiny bit jealous that I get so much time to myself. Some friends even said that my situation sounded "sort of ideal" to them. I totally get what they mean, because when you are with little kids 24/7, it's exhausting and you feel like you can't get everything done or catch your breath. I remember it. You crave "just a day!" to get a few things done around the house without little "helpers," and to read a magazine over a cup of coffee in a silent house.
Sure, it's convenient to run errands without little stragglers or schedule a meeting without having to arrange for backup. Yes, it's wonderful to be with your partner alone and to go out for dinner without watching the clock. Yes, it's amazing to be able to get away for a few days. But just so you all know, the emotional toll of not tucking your kids into their beds every night is enormous. It's enormous. If you are reading this thinking, "Yeah, I just can't imagine not having my kids all the time." Well that's what I'm thinking too. Not having your children all the time? Impossible. Unfathomable.
And although I know anyone who has said this only means well, please don't say to a divorced parent: "I just don't know how you do it." Because while you might mean: "I empathize with you" and you might even mean: "I admire you" what the divorced parent hears you saying is: "I love my kids way too much to ever be in a situation where I didn't have them full time, so you must be some kind of sub-par parent if you can tolerate it." Seriously. That is what we hear.
You may wonder (I do too) why I feel the need to write this, or what I have to prove to anyone about how fiercely I love my children. But I do feel the need to write this. My mom friends who don't have their kids every day? We are kind of a tribe. We understand each other deeply and loyally. All of us know that not one hour goes by when we don't wish things could be different, and we all feel a little misunderstood. Having the sun rise and set on a day that does not include your children makes a mother ache.
Obviously I had an amazing week in Montana. When I dropped them off after we got home, you'd think that I would enjoy the break and the time to unpack and tidy and organize for school. Yes, I got a lot done. I also cried off and on all day. I felt like I lost my arms or something. I washed and folded all their little summer clothes and it felt like the saddest thing in the world.
I can "look on the bright side" and "put on the happy face" and "make the most of it" like the best of 'em. I'm also careful to tell you the rest.
NOTE: The quote at the top is credited to a recent instagram post by my dear friend Meredith, who gets it.