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. Noah and I played cards and then we all worked together to get dinner on the table. We sat and shared a meal, with Ayla 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. Noah 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.
Noah 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. Ayla sat with me in the living room as we tried to make Netflix work. Hannah 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 worried that her move away was because she wasn’t comfortable with me, but couldn’t bring herself to say so. She wasn’t happy that I wouldn’t let her take her phone to bed, even though her father had made an exception to this rule we’d long enforced. Miraculously, she didn’t push back. Sometimes she knows that I know what’s good for her, and I could see in her eyes that she hadn’t been sleeping enough.
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.