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. 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.

Unraveling

crocus raindrops

This post has been in the works for six months.

Six long, painful months where I’ve watched my life unravel. A thread was pulled too hard, and it all came apart. No amount of skill could repair the damage.

I am alone. In love, anyway. I’m now facing the world as a single mother to three kids. Three kids who now have to move through life without the benefit of their family under one roof. We spoke to them on Saturday morning. My youngest was completely accepting, my middle girl very emotional and her older sister quietly resigned. They all asked incredible questions.

I have an army of support, and I haven’t been shy about rallying the troops. There are so many people who care for me, and without them, and the light they have shone into the darkest corners of my life, I don’t know where I would be right now. I’m not afraid to lean on them, and I will continue to reach out and draw strength from the people who know me and see me.

This is not a choice I ever wanted to make, and yet it became the only choice I could make. Anger continues to swirl through me, a noxious cloud of ‘why’ and ‘should’ and ‘how’, but I hold it gently and tell it to propel me forward rather than drag me through the past or shove me too far into a future that I cannot see.

One breath at a time.

I haven’t lost everything, but when my heart fills with the moments I have lost, it feels like part of my soul has been stripped away. Fifty percent of my time with my children. A partner I thought I would grow old and gray with. A co-parent I thought was a close friend. Had I closed my eyes to the truth that was right there before me? Should I have known better? Was I asking for this in trying to do something that few people before us have done? Is there any point to answering any of these questions now?

I am living in two places; our home where the children stay 100% of the time, and my parents home in Hamilton where I stay when it isn’t my turn on the custody calendar. This post will go live hours before I taste this new reality. This post will go live only because we’ve shared this news with our beautiful babies. I stopped praying a long time ago, but I whisper to the universe, begging that this won’t forever dim the light of those three radiant souls.

Nothing has ever hurt like this. Losing love and my sense of family is like dealing with death. I thought I’d become an expert in grieving. A pro at heartbreak. Nothing could have prepared me for this.

How do I wake up and get out of bed? I have to. I have to be a mother. I have to be an entrepreneur. I have to arrive each day and learn how I will reinvent myself. I have to understand who I am as I move through this world without my love. I moved mountains for that love. Now I have to move those mountains to survive.

This grief feels like I am fighting to breathe. Like my life is a nightmare I can’t wake up from. Like my worst fears in this relationship have been realized.

And sometimes it feels like a glimmer of possibility.

There has never been a shadow in my life so dark that I haven’t seen the light. These last six months have brought me close to yielding to darkness, but with the return of spring, I feel like I can find a balance again. Between sorrow and hope. Between loss and discovery.

I’m not okay, but I think at some distant point on this path, I will be again.

Don’t Leave Before Your Bags Are Packed

cubafamilyphoto

Yesterday I completed one of those tasks that makes me feel like a real, live grown up. I wrote a will, and a living will. On Saturday I put the final signatures on my life insurance policy. Later today, I will draft my wishes for my memorial service and instructions about what to do with my remains. No, I’m not dying. At least no more than any of us are.

I think I have a unique perspective on life and death. I mean, I suppose we all do, but mine has been shaped by a lot of exposure to the subject matter in relation to the few years I’ve been around. I’ve held hands with death in several different contexts; surprise tragedy, surprise medical events, miscarriage (mine), still birth (dear friends), and the most common in my world, cancer. Fucking cancer.

After reflecting for a considerable amount of time on the subject, I conclude that surprise death is the worst. This is my personal conclusion, of course. When I was in my twenties, and barely comfortable in my own skin, I witnessed a dear aunt who was a personal hero waste away with cancer. Aggressive cancer that took her just over a year after her diagnosis. Watching how her body morphed from voluptuous and vibrant to a skeletal shell rocked me to my foundation. I thought it was the worst thing that could ever happen.

Then, months later another of my mother’s sisters died very suddenly of a brain aneurysm. She was vivacious, loving, fun, active, and literally a month away from her retirement. There was no time to wrap up loose ends, make amends, say goodbye, or even get to savour the freedom and relaxation she had worked her entire life to finally enjoy. Watching how shattered her nearest and dearest were by the sudden cruelty of fate was almost scarier than watching illness waste a body away.

A sprinkling of years after that, I experienced a very early term miscarriage with a pregnancy I hadn’t planned. None of my life circumstances were ideal for bringing a child into the world. In fact, I was so cynical and afraid of myself, I had vowed that I was unfit to ever have children of my own. Losing this life, or these cells, or this soul that had become planted inside me barely felt like cause to grieve, and yet I did. Down to the very ends of my roots. As a result of this miscarriage, I knew absolutely that I wanted children, and I prayed fervently that my body would allow me to make at least one child. This event was a game-changer.

Fast forward over a decade. I am a fully immersed mother to my daughters, I’m in a stable relationship with my best friends, I have been blessed with a biological son of my own, and at this point in my life, our dear friends lose their baby in their seventh month of pregnancy. We are making presents, Sarah is planning a maternity photo shoot, our girlfriends are giggling over the scandalous baby shower cake we are going to create. Then the bottom falls out. I am utterly devastated, and can say that these two incredible people are the strongest that I know. In the background of this terrifying event, my fairy godmother is dying of lung cancer. Our little Aemon died in August. My fairy godmother would die in November. I can’t sleep anymore without waking in the middle of the night, terrified that something will rip me away from my children. This continues to this day.

My godmother, Carmen Chouinard, finally let go of this mortal coil in a truly beautiful hospice (Dorothy Ley) in late November. I had spent the night there with Sarah, and Carmen’s 23-year-old daughter Alex, who is beyond incredible. We were all standing by, convinced by the stage of Carmen’s illness and by all of her caregivers that she would pass at any moment. Carmen was notoriously stubborn, and didn’t seem to think that was the case. She couldn’t speak or move, and her body had wasted away. Her breathing was laboured, she wasn’t eating or drinking, but yet she hung on. I still don’t know what she was waiting for. I never will. She finally took her last breath after nearly all of us had all left her room. Maybe she was waiting for a smaller audience, or for her daughter to take some time to take care of herself. When I returned to the hospice, about an hour after Carmen had passed, I once again witnessed the amazing reality of an illness-ravaged body at peace. I’m not very religious anymore, but I feel certain that something leaves our body when we take our last breath. Something greater than what science can explain. I have felt this on a level that neurology can’t quantify.

Have you been close to death? I don’t mean you, in your body, though perhaps if you’ve had a near death experience, you will understand what I mean.  I mean a brush with death close enough that you cannot go a single day without thinking somewhere in the back of your mind that you might be next. Or your lover. Or your child. Our mortality has now become the single most terrifying and motivating reality in my life. My awareness of the fragility of this meat-sack I occupy has finely honed the world I am shaping for my family. I did not choose the life I live because of some sexual proclivity, or because I can clearly identify a specific sexual orientation. I chose this life because I love these people. I love the way they see me, and I love how their love challenges me to be my best self.

To assume we aren’t taking legal precautions to protect each other and our children is folly. I’m smarter, and I love better than that. As you embark on your life’s adventures, make sure all of your bags are packed. It’s morbid, perhaps, but it’s also smart and responsible and a beautiful gesture of love and care.

And it’s really kind of foolproof online: http://www.legalwills.ca 

The Day We Made the News

The Skinner-Jamals - photo by Galit Rodan

The Skinner-Jamals – photo by Galit Rodan

Our family was featured in the Life section of the Globe and Mail today.  Check it out here.

I like Leah McLaren’s unbiased interpretation of  our two interviews. I wish she hadn’t referred to me as a stay-at-home-mom. I mean, in some respects that’s true, but I feel like I’m also an entrepreneur and an educator. I would have appreciated a fuller picture. I also don’t love that she lumped us in with the “orgy-obsessed swingers” and “S&M enthusiasts” who she claims are included in the polyamorous group. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favor of consenting adults doing what they want – I just don’t think that McLaren needed to draw that parallel in an article that I thought was supposed to be about how much we love our kids. Those who are gonna lump us in don’t need their hands held. Also, based on my experience of the world, S&M lovers and swingers can be found in two-partner hetero culture and homosexual culture. Finally, I wish Sarah would have blown off her work duties for half an hour to add a couple of her incredible witticisms to the piece. She is, after all, the boss.

Oh, and one more – I wish that she hadn’t suggested that Nekky is free to come and go “at will” between my bedroom and Sarah’s. Those of you who know us know that our sleep schedule was forged through pain, tears, metamorphosis, care, love, epic amounts of communication, and finally some truly profound self-realization and vulnerability. I wasn’t about to get into all that with a reporter. It also makes Nekky sound like some kind of iron-fisted patriarch, who calls all the shots about when he decides to lay with his women, which is kind of ridiculous. We share our sleeping time with each other carefully, and if we change plans, it’s not without a careful check-in with one other.

We did feel like the article was well written, and McLaren seems careful to not be judgemental. It was almost totally accurate, and we LOVED the photo that the paper chose to print, even if it is a bit sombre.  My sister-in-love pointed out that it’s very Wes Anderson, and I agree. In fact, I often feel like our life would make a great Wes Anderson film. The highlight of the whole “we’re-gonna-be-in-the-news”  was the incredible day we spent with the photographer, Galit Rodan. What a lovely, talented young woman! She came and hung out and Noah took such a liking to her (Noah is usually very disinterested in women who aren’t either his Mamas or his sisters). We made pizza together, played in the snow, and just let her shoot us enjoying family time. I hope she’ll let me share some of her photos here, but you should also check out Galit’s beautiful blog.

As I expected, the comments have been amusing, interesting and not terribly surprising. I’m pleased to see that there isn’t anything terribly inflammatory or rude posted thus far. We’ve had such an outpouring of support and it’s only noon. I love our community of friends and family. We’d never be as strong as we are without them.

Time Away

cheerfulsnow

November is over. I’m very happy about that because it’s my least favourite month, and this year November was particularly dark. In fact, autumn in general has been coloured with so much loss and sorrow this year that I’m beginning to wonder if there is something about the shifting seasons that compels death not only in nature, but also in us inhabitants of mother earth.

You’ll have noticed that it’s been ages since I’ve written. I apologize if the posts you may have looked forward to haven’t been there, but I needed to withdraw and turn myself inside out a little bit. Since late August I’ve witnessed a remarkable amount of sorrow, loss, and grief and rather than sit before a computer screen, I’ve been compelled to spend more time with my children and my partners. I’ve just started to really miss writing here, and so my heart seems to be telling me that it’s time to return to writing.

Our dear friends lost their baby at seven months pregnant. I suppose I was foolish to think that such a shocking, staggering loss could never touch my inner circle. We have no such control over these things, do we? My heart was utterly broken by this, and these brave parents have been nothing but inspiring in the way they are moving through this life-changing event.

Those of you with pets will know that saying goodbye to a companion animal can be just as difficult as losing a human who you love and care for. My dear friends lost their sweet and noble dog, who had been their small creature to care for and nurture for years and years – I feel like this wonderful dog has been in their family all the time I’ve known them. They gave her such a wonderful life, and they adored her so completely.

My dear aunt Carmen, my fairy godmother, the cool, hip aunt that I idolized in my youth reached the end of her journey through cancer. She is my third aunt to die from this stupid disease and my mother’s fourth sibling to die from cancer. She too was incredibly brave, and positive, and like the dear friends mentioned above she was somehow able to find some light in such a dark turn of fate. My daughters and my Sarah and I sang at her exquisite memorial, at her request, and my heart found so much solace in the beauty of harmonizing with my beloved girls, and witnessing how their cherubic voices touched so many strangers. To live my life in the hopes of being remembered so passionately and beautifully by my friends and colleagues is now my goal.

Fate grips us and tears things apart just as much as it fills us and gives us such abundance. If these difficult lessons in feeling real gratitude and savouring each blessed moment weren’t enough, the universe sent some cruel irony my way in the form of the news of a somewhat distant colleague from the performing world. She chose to end her own life quite suddenly only a week ago.

The idea of suicide was one that filled me with scorn and contempt not long ago. It was hard to find compassion after watching so many people suffer because lives were ended/ing too soon. My older, more humble self shudders to imagine a day-to-day reality so painful that one must snuff out their own light to escape the bleakness of their lives.

It’s so fragile. We are so fragile.

All I can think to do in this landscape of so much love and so much light and so much loss is to gingerly make my way through each day. My sage therapist urges me to create the memories I want to have when I look back on my life, and I’m trying so hard to do this every day.

Please dear friends, take a moment, right now and breathe. Feel what it is to have the chance to draw breath, to move through space, to think and feel and hunger and love. Think of the challenges and hardships you face, and think of how many blessings you have to balance that.

This year, consider what you are giving rather than getting. We’re changing things up this year and trying to help the children value time and experience more than toys. Our plan is to spend Christmas on a beach somewhere, healing our hearts and indulging in the company of our little darlings. I hope you too can find meaningful ways to spend the season….