When I found out that I was going to be a mother, I changed the course of my life. I quit thinking about what was best for me, and began thinking about what would be best for my child. I went from being 100% self-centered to being 100% child-centered. I spent the next 14 years of my life putting my children first. I spent my days revolving around the universe I built with them- I was the sun that warmed, fed, clothed, nurtured, bathed, entertained, scolded, hugged, loved, and cuddled their small, growing celestial bodies. Oftentimes it was frustrating. Often times I felt alone with the weight of our little universe on my small shoulders. But every day I found joy. Every day I found at least a moment of pure bliss with my wee growing children. It sometimes was found in a giggle, a hug, a pat on my cheek, or a stolen moment of my three loves reading to each other on the couch.
The point is that every moment, every day, every year was spent on growing my children. Their projects were my projects, their successes my success, their bedtimes my bedtime, their waking hours were my waking hours. And it worked. For 14 years, we lived in our beautiful universe. We lived through storms and hurricanes and breezy, summer days. For 14 years, I was a full-time, 100% mom- and it was everything I was meant to do.
After five years of divorce and their father asking at various points along the way, my children decided they wanted to live with their dad 50% of the time. No matter how it broke my heart, I knew there was no holding them in orbit around me forever. It was I who had allowed their father to leave our universe, and I could not ask them to stay with me alone any longer. I let them go. Now, I get to have them every other week. Every other weekend. Every other holiday. Every other riding lesson, and every other Wednesday night dinner at Grandma's house. I thought that- with time- it would get easier. I thought that the grief would lessen and I would adjust as time went by. I thought as we worked the kinks in our schedule out, everything would be okay.
My children say they like it. They say they are adjusting well. They like the day and time we switch. They want things to be fair. Oh, the double-edged sword of teaching my children justice! My children are happy- so they say, and who am I to know if this is best for them? I want them to be happy. I want them to know we are all here- holding them in orbit between us. They are always held up in the gravity of our love, they just rotate around us now, instead of us around them. They absorb my love and my strength as they circle around me, and then they fling out further than I ever wanted them to and grow from the strength and the love of their father. Their world is bigger than my world now. They have grown and continue to grow with such a galaxy to explore, and I cannot deny them that.
But I am not okay. The grief does not lessen, instead it grows.
I have my children for one week. On Sunday, their father brings them home at 7:00 pm. Jason and I are anxious. We have made a late dinner because they are always hungry when they arrive. The house is clean, our arms are open, and the children come banging in- scriptures, backpacks, helmets and all. They pile it up and we start talking about the week. My butterflies begin to fade as they settle in and I hear about the week. They show me their tests, their papers, and share the details of a church lesson, an event from school, or a list of all the things we have to do this week. Within an hour, I am overwhelmed with chores, and lists, and schedules. My mind is frantic with all the work there is to do, but my heart is full, my arms are full, and I can smell the warm and sweaty smell of my babies as I snuggle into them and say, "oh, how I am glad you are home with me."
I run myself ragged through the week. I feel guilty if I try to take a moment to myself. If I want to read a book, or write a blog entry, or hide out for a moment of peace, I instantly berate myself, "how could you want to be away from them? How can you waste one single, precious second of your time with them? You have only half the time now, you cannot waste it!" There is no rest. I run until I literally can run no more, and then I collapse into a dreamless sleep and begin again with swim at 5:30 am. Exhausted, but contented, I live my week 100%. When a child wants to go to a friend's house, I have to overcome the desire to say, "No! I only have you two more days," and let them go without an ounce of sadness in my voice.
On Saturday before they leave, I wash all the clothes. The laundry must be done and folded and put away before they go, or I will have to look at it, and fold it, and put it away in their empty rooms. Rooms are cleaned, beds are made, and all their rubble is picked up and put away. It hurts too much to find that errant shoe on Tuesday night. I unplug the nightlight, or I find myself looking into the room where my son should be each night. Their doors are never closed, or I would find myself peering in, half hoping that a child is accidentally behind. And so our last day ends in chaos, with mom stressed out about everything being done. We try to play one last game, or watch one last show, anything to keep me from looking at the clock- but I always do.
On Sunday before they leave, I begin counting down. I look at the clock, "5 more hours." I look at the clock. "Only 2 more hours." And I start to get shaky, and nervous, and my stomach begins to churn. I can hardly sit through dinner, but we will eat this last meal of the week together before I send them off. We load them up in the car- scriptures, backpacks, boots and helmets. We drive them over and I squeeze them each one more time before I send them off. "I'll see you Wednesday," I feebly say as I kiss their little heads and send up a silent prayer that they will be at church on Wednesday night.
The week rolls by- quietly, peacefully, painfully. I work late every night. I clean the house, or go to my mom's, or write in one of my blogs (obviously, the kids are not here tonight). I get so much accomplished, but the emptiness is never quelled. I cannot seem to fill it.
This week, I cannot be a mom I try to shut off the worry, the concerns about homework, the desire to hug and kiss and say I love you to each child every morning and every night. I turn it off, or I go crazy. I turn it off, or I annoy them with persistent messages and frustrate their dad with a gazillion texts and emails about everything they should be doing. I am a 0% mom this week. I think to myself, "this is not what I was born to do." I think to myself, "this is the price I pay for divorce. This is the price I pay for my children to have the life they want," and that is enough to shut off the selfish voice in my head. It is a busy week- full of all the things the childless woman does to keep from remembering she is childless. Is it bad for me to say that this is worse? Because I have children, but I am not with them? They are out there playing, eating, learning, smiling, laughing, and I am not there to witness it- is this a failure beyond the inability to conceive?
The worst- the very, absolute worst feeling about all of this comes on Sunday night before they get home. This is the part, the secret, hidden, evil part that I don't want to write, but it is a part of this cycle, and I must. Before they get back home, even as I anxiously prepare, a little, evil part of me is overwhelmed and frightened to become 100% mom again.
And so the cycle goes. I bounce between 0 and 100- and average out at 50. I feel such feelings that I never thought were possible in motherhood. I ache for that feeling of safety and routine that comes with the motherhood of my early mothering years. I remember each time I wished for a break from my babies- and I cringe. I yearn for my children to be home with me every night. All the time I took for granted, all the minutes I wasted or wished away, I want them back. All those moments I will never have- they are already lost- lost before they even are.
I think sometimes I am a failure, but I know sometimes, when I see my kids in action, that I have succeeded somewhere along the way.
Joy and Pain. Full and empty. 100% go. 100% stop.
This is my life- the life of a 50% mom.