I wake up missing my kids.
Co-parenting and joint custody with a shifting and never set schedule that sometimes works out to two days on and two off has been much harder than I anticipated. I never go more than a few days without seeing them but on the mornings I don’t get them ready for school and make eggs and sometimes turn on My Little Pony and help put on a princess dress or pull out art supplies are hard.
At night I fall asleep listening for them, convincing myself they must be there, resisting the urge to go downstairs and check. I even miss the fights over getting teeth brushed and the request to delay bedtime a little longer. It’s hard to resist reading just one more bedtime story.
Right now my daughter throws herself into my arms, kissing me, not a shy bone in her body as she tells me how much she loves me. My son is a little more reserved, he’s getting older and working on being as cool as his eleven year old cousin, and mostly tells me he loves me after I’ve said it first. But there are still lots of Saturday mornings tucked under blankets on the sofa, eating cereal and watching cartoons, when he says, “Mommy will you hold me?”
Yes baby, always.
I felt very alone in being a parent at first. Overwhelmed. Adrift. So much so that I struggled to find the woman I’d been before. I thought if I could find her, I could follow her back to the point where she’d become me, the woman in the moment where everything inside had been distilled to one word: mom.
Something that no one said to me was postpartum depression. What I do remember is the word blue, as in feeling, and a prescription for an antidepressant that didn’t even make a dent in my day to day life. It seems so strange now, looking back and seeing it clearly. There were other factors though, outside the New Mommy Blues, that complicated things and worked out along the lines of he said, she said. But the end result was that my marriage ended and the divorce was in motion before my second child turned one.
The life changing point, going from not mom to mom was the birth of my son, my first child, the one who made me. It was a difficult birth and he was rushed to the neonatal intensive care unit before I got a chance to hold him. The six year old he is now seems so removed from his brand new baby self. I can’t imagine what life would have been like without the change they brought.
But even before the birth of my son I’d been searching to find the mom inside me. I don’t feel like one of those people born to be a parent; a person that really comes into their own when a brand new and delicate life is gifted to them. I struggle every day and worry every second that I’m not good enough or that I’m not doing enough and the guilt can be overwhelming. Because those two tiny beautiful souls deserve the absolute best.
And it’s made even harder because I’m not with them seven days a week. We try to navigate with grace four households — mom’s house, dad’s house, plus two sets of grandparents — because our situation is one without outside daycare. It’s truly taken a village to get them to this point and it continues to. A lot of the time I don’t feel like I get to be their mom, I’m absent, and it’s been hard to let others step into the mom shaped hole I leave behind.
And while my proximity doesn’t change the fact that I’m a parent, it does change a lot of the things that go along with parenting. I can’t help them with homework if I’m not there. I can’t cook dinners or read stories or kiss them goodnight or tell them to put their shoes by the door or put their toys away or to stop yelling at each other. I can’t hold their hand, marveling at how small their fingers are, as I rock them to sleep. I have to put those things away, set them aside, until I’m with them again.
Half the week is spent being a present and in person mom and the other half I worry about them and work at passion projects, mainly writing and photography. Sometimes I wonder if it’s only mom or creative; one or the other. Or can I be both at the same time?
But more and more it feels like there are two different women. Sometimes it’s layered, like looking through a person who is transparent to someone standing just behind them, and at other times there’s just the one.
When you have children the focus of everything changes. Hearing it from other parents a million times before it happens doesn’t prepare you for the reality. Everything is about this little person you’ve carried for nine months and rocked to sleep and tried to convince that a toilet is better than pull-ups and that broccoli is really tasty. No, it totally is, I promise.
There are sleepless nights and uneaten dinners, lots of afternoons spent discussing why stupid is not a nice thing to say about people. I’m shocked at the amount of homework my kindergartner brings home and all the toys never really get put away even when the kids insist it’s happened.
It’s easy to get bogged down in the day to day parenting. And most of the time there isn’t room for writing/photography when I’m with my kids because they occupy 100% of my attention. When sleepless nights have piled up I start to wonder if there is anything inside me beyond just plain old mom, if there’s a woman under it all that’s still capable of being creative and driven. And that thought is instantly followed by an overwhelming wave of guilt. Shouldn’t being a good mom be my only goal?
I’m in a balancing act — neither one or the other — trying to be it all just a few days at time.
What I’m coming to accept is that it’s okay to be a woman outside of motherhood; it isn’t my only defining characteristic. And for me it took becoming a mom to discover exactly what I wanted in life and to reach for it. The world focused when my children arrived; the infinite became finite and precious.
What I struggle with the most is the fact that they aren’t with me all the time. Would all of this be easier? Would it feel less like living two different lives?
I try to make my time with and without them count in different ways. And I’m learning to embrace all aspects of myself, motherhood included. For me it won’t stop the guilt, maybe that’s just always going to be part of it. I will always wish to be with them while also wishing for a break or a moment to myself. Because while I do treasure each snotty kiss it’s also really great to be able to use the bathroom alone.
I’m giving them all that I have; grain elevators full, miles high, city blocks long. I hope it will be enough.