Advocating

Saturday.

Friday was a day filled with tears, with a wedding to perform smack dab in the middle. Oh, the terrible irony of working as a wedding officiant while my crushed heart struggles to keep beating. Channeling years of stage training, I got dolled up, wore killer heels, and got through the wedding like a boss. Then I headed to Hamilton to the safety of my parents’ sofa and my work. I just couldn’t imagine anything else, so I cancelled plans and hid away.

Saturday morning I slept through the yoga class I’d scheduled, but I awoke with a clear sense of direction. A decision that was reinforced first by a long overdue visit with my closest women, and then by a gathering of my Coquettes tribe. I won’t leave my home. The lease is in my name, and that lease is a form of security. I can’t work and live between two cities and be so far from my kids. I consulted the internet, which proved that my morning revelation was also the typical right afforded to traditional couples. In the shock, the pain, and the numbness of all of this unraveling, it hadn’t occurred to me to be clear on my own rights in this situation.

I never wanted anyone to leave our home in the first place.

But I’m not leaving. In the eyes of Canadian law, within this polyamorous relationship my legal rights are fuzzy. I’ve been promised a separation agreement, but until all of those details are sorted I deserve a home, and by rights, I should have one close to my children. So I’m staying put until that’s a possibility. From the safety of my familiar space, close again to my kids, I can heal all of this loss that I couldn’t control. I’m not willing to lose everything in one fell swoop, or put myself in a position to be neglected. I don’t think anyone could bear that kind of grief.

Isn’t it tragic when a love you once thought was unshakable has been reduced to contracts and numbers? Reduced to rights you must insist upon and advocate for, from people who feel like strangers? This is the part that everyone warned me about, and it’s terrifying.

But this is day three without crying.

 

Lilac Wine

My grandmother had twelve children, eleven of whom survived through infancy. She lived with an alcoholic husband, and dealt with all of the hardships that come with such a life; poverty, violence, heartache, fear, before finally realizing her power. Each May, she’s in my thoughts. Her birthday was the 17th and her favourite flowers were lilacs. Even after the polar spring we had, the lilacs are bursting forth, and my heart is full of Grandmaman.

What would she say to me if she were here right now? She’d tell me to pray, because her faith was her shield. She’d tell me to take good care of my heart. Grandmaman would give me a crushing hug and her glasses would dig into the side of my face. She’d smell like garlic and brown sugar, Sunlight laundry detergent and that rich, earthy smell that was uniquely hers. She would tell me to never be sorry for trying to love someone.

There’s a shift in my turmoil. Each day presents a new version of moving through this pain. Now, when I’m suddenly hit with a wave of panic or despair, I take a moment and remind myself to breathe. I hold on to my love. I feel it so deeply and completely, and even though it’s not reciprocated, it’s mine. I am full of love. I don’t have to be ashamed of that, or try to stuff those emotions away. I feel love, and that love will shift and change. If I don’t bury it with anger, with questions I can never answer, with fear of what I do not know, it will remind me of all the reasons why I tried in the first place. It will heal me. It’s okay that I continue to feel this love. I just have to accept that it belongs to me now.

I can do this. I can put one foot in front of the next and re-invent myself. My grandmother got up again every time she got knocked down by life. What other choice do you have when you’ve got eleven kids? We are strong stock, the women of my family. We are survivors. I don’t pray, but I can accept that this is where I am right now. I can take back my power and move forward with grace.

I can sit in the food court of a sunny mall with my bestest besties and recognize the appreciative glances I receive. I can imagine a future me, sipping drinks on a patio with a handsome stranger while my shoulders collect more freckles. I can almost feel what it’s like to breathe and not battle tears.

After my grandfather died, my Grandmaman bought herself a new nose (she’d always hated hers), rented a tidy little apartment, and had a string of boyfriends to take her dancing until her dancing days were finally over. She wore heels until it was impossible, had her hair done every week, and never stopped flirting.

And each and every May, she filled her home with lilacs.

Single Mom, Day 1

Wednesday.

My first day back in the house, solo with the kids.

He was there. I hadn’t counted on that, and so I sat at the breakfast bar, head in my laptop, churning with a mixture of adoration and devastation. I held myself together until he walked out the door.

Then, after my second cry of the day, it was quiet. The house was spotless and this was nice to come home to. I threw a frozen pizza in the oven so lunches would be covered in the morning. I worked steadily until the bus came, and went to meet the kids at the stop. I even told the neighbour about our separation, and I managed not to cry.

With the kids home we settled into a peaceful after school routine. There were some simple chores, some games. I set aside my deadline so I could just focus on them. The girls retreated to their rooms for a bit. Noodle and I played cards and then we all worked together to get dinner on the table. We sat and shared a meal, with A as DJ on a quest to find the perfect iTunes dinner music mix, and I checked in with them about how they were feeling. My eldest daughter talked about the difficulty she was having telling her friends about the changes in our home. School felt normal still, and she just wanted to keep it that way for a little while longer.

As the girls loaded the dishwasher, I finished making lunches. Then we went for a walk to pick up the mail. We played some games outside together. I got creamed twice at red light/green light and then we headed home. Noodle showed the girls a new card game, and I watched them play together peacefully. I couldn’t have asked for a better homecoming. Then it was time to FaceTime daddy to say goodnight.

That was when it fell apart.

Noodle grew agitated and emotional. He seemed to want the phone all to himself, until we realized what he actually wanted was his daddy, at home. I realized he’d been waiting for everyone to come home from work, or shopping, in just the same way that I unconsciously was. He sobbed for his daddy to come back, and I tried to keep my own tears in check with little success. This isn’t what I want. How can this be better than the difficulties we were dealing with? How can this be a solution?

I finally passed the phone back to the girls who tucked themselves away in my eldest daughter’s bedroom to finish the call. I distracted my son with the dinosaurs we’d take up to the bath. He was smiling again in short order and I hugged him and told him that it was okay to cry, and to miss daddy. Partway through his bath, he started to whimper again.

“There aren’t enough people in the house. I want our old life back,” he said. Me too kiddo. Or at least, the life I thought we had. Of course I didn’t say this. I nodded my head slowly, trying to remember what I’m supposed to say in such moments. There was a blog post I’d read about this, wasn’t there?

When it’s not my turn with our kids, he gets two parents in the house. When it’s just me, well, it’s just me. There are echos of our old life everywhere around us, and it’s just me.

“I want you to go back to Grandmere’s house, so there will be more people at home with me,” he said.

My heart broke just a little bit more. I didn’t think that was possible.

“It’s okay to feel sad. These are really big changes, but all of your parents love you and want to spend time with you. Soon, this won’t feel so strange and you’ll enjoy your time with each of us.” I know I was trying to convince both of us.

How the hell am I going to get through this?

But I did. An after-bath massage and some dinosaur poems eased the hurt and soon he was snoring softly.

I moved to the girls, my midnight deadline for work still looming, but I had more important things to tend to. A sat with me in the living room as we tried to make Netflix work. H was in the shower getting ready for bed. My middle girl insisted that she was okay, and then decided to head off to sleep.

I texted my eldest when I heard the water stop running. I asked if she was okay, and she said ‘sort of’. I coaxed her out and she settled beside me on the couch. In her almost grown-up face, I could see the impish sweetness of her six-year-old self.

We talked about shadow feelings. Sadness, confusion, anger, grief. We talked about how these feelings must be honored and acknowledged. How they are just as precious and important as their sunny counterparts. We talked about the importance of reaching for other people when we are feeling broken. Of easing our expectations of ourselves when we are suffering. She talked, so much more than I could have hoped, and for a moment I realized that she shares things with me in a way that is completely unique to all her other relationships. I don’t tell her how she should feel. I just tell her to feel. These are the first healing seeds I am planting in this new life. She hugged me tight before she went to bed, and finally I could tuck myself beside my son, with only the glow of my laptop to illuminate us as I raced towards that midnight finish line. For a second, I wished I could return at the stroke of twelve to the mess I was before this transformation.

The work got done, the children slept, even I managed to sleep for a little while, and the next morning was easy, for the kids at least. There were smiles. My eldest told me she’d slept better than she had for days. Everyone was fed and clean and safe. I gave kisses and words of encouragement, and only fell to pieces once the bus turned the corner and rolled out of sight.

The First Day of the Rest of My Life

Tuesday.

When I imagine this day, I imagine sleeping in. Instead, my internal alarm wakes me at 6:30 in the morning, so I sit up in bed and write a chapter of the YA novel I’m drafting. The sound of the rain on the windows is so familiar. This is the house I grew up in and that distinct patter takes me back to afternoons spent alone in my room, writing in my diary and listening to the music that I loved. How many heartbreaks have I weathered in this place?

I signed up for a month at the local yoga studio and book a class for this morning. I want to sweat out my pain, and feel something other than the yawning emptiness that stretches out inside me. I keep up through the whole class, and only cry once. With all that sweat, and the dim lights, no one is the wiser.

Jeff Buckley for the drive home. The music is louder than my sobbing.

Lunch is perfectly healthy. I take my vitamins. I put on makeup and do my hair, and then chicken out from a meet up with an old friend. My gut tells me I’m not ready to see this person yet. I politely ask for a rain cheque for when I feel less fragile. It makes sense to listen to my gut.

I have one row of milk chocolate with a cup of tea. I try to work. This lasts a couple of solid hours and then the loneliness and grief starts to strangle me. I’m dreaming this, right? This isn’t actually my life, is it? He didn’t actually walk away, did he?

I post to my blog. This makes me feel connected to something. Keeps me from floating away, and I need to be rooted because I don’t know where this pain is going to lead me. I write and I write. I don’t even know why I’m writing. Is it so he can see how I’m hurting? Is it so I can get rid of some of this sorrow? If I spill it on the page, it might leave room in my heart for something else.

I miss my son so acutely I can’t breathe. The one day when I don’t get photo updates from his teachers…

How could I have lost both my time with my children and my love in one fell swoop? Stop crying, it could always be worse.

Tonight I will go for tacos with my brother. I will act like I’m okay, because he doesn’t have a lot of patience for the alternative. I can cry with my girlfriends next week. I hope that some other people will show up while we’re out. Maybe someone who will think I’m beautiful and interesting. For a moment, I wonder if anyone will think this about me again…

I’m already worried about tonight. The nighttime is so much worse. I worry about something happening to my child, and not getting there in time. I worry about getting cancer and having nobody to help me fight it. I worry about what my love is doing now that he’s not beholden to me. I worry about being able to trust myself enough to fall in love again. I worry and I worry and I worry.

One more night. One more sleep and I’m back with the kids. I can laugh with them and feel their love and breathe deeper because I’ve got them close. I’ve got them, and that will be enough.

The Tide

It’s Saturday morning and I’m sitting in bed listening to the rain. The softest light filters through the blinds and my son is speaking quietly to his daddy in the other room.

In three hours, we will tell our children that we are splitting up and sharing custody of them. I didn’t think my heart could take anymore, but it has to withstand this next step. This heart of mine needs to shift focus to deal with this. My grief is nothing in the face of the loss my babies will feel.

How do you tell your children that grown up love is subject to failure?

My five and a half year old son has been courting this blond haired, blue eyed pixie of a girl who he’s known since daycare. A week or so ago, he asked me to buy a bouquet of flowers for her, which he presented on the busy morning playground at school. He heaves great, swooning sighs when he mentions her name, and there was even a marriage proposal (from her, so progressive). Last night, he told me that Elise has decided she wants to marry Joe instead.

We commiserated on how painful it is when someone you are in love with rejects you. I told him that this kind of sadness is the risk we take to feel the wonderful feelings that come from being in love. I promised him that someday he’d find someone to marry; someone who was just right for him, and who could love him for the amazing person that he is. As I said this, I willed it to be my own truth too.

It won’t be difficult to transfer this deep ocean of love to my children. If it’s no longer required in my romantic partnership, I know three incredible people who will thrive in these waters. This love for my children will keep me afloat.

We are keeping the house, and the kids will live here while the adults come and go to share time with them. I will get half the time, and N and S will share the other half of the time. The two of them parted as friends back in November.

I must not think of how the change in these adult relationships might shift the kids’ perception of me in a negative way. I must not imagine the difference they will feel as they move back and forth between life with two parents to life with just me. One full, happy home with a mom and a dad, to time with a single mom who wasn’t prepared for that reality. A single mom who isn’t the ‘chill’ parent. In the case of my teen and tween daughters, a single mom who isn’t even their mom in the eyes of the law.

If I lose my children in this, I will truly be lost. They are the greatest good of these last nine years of my life. The purest light in the darkest moments of fear and confusion.

Maybe some happiness will emerge through this shift. Perhaps the person who my dearest friends know and love (warm, loving, creative, calm) will take over now that the complexities of my adult relationships have changed. This could be my chance to be the mom I’ve always wanted to be.

But what if it isn’t?