As I pull away from the curved, gravel carpool line, my face breaks and my throat tightens. The base of my sunglasses suddenly brim with tears as I try to focus on merging back into the crowded streets of Charleston. I struggle to keep it together and breathe short, shallow breaths. Ten minutes and I’m finally back in the comfort of our neighborhood. I slow to a crawl and park along our park. Watching the ducks meander, I call Eric. I need his reassuring, calm and deep voice to remind me that all will be okay. Like so many times before, when one of our children leaves our nest for another, we bend and sometimes break. The levee gets too full to hold the emotions at bay- especially if it’s a long weekend or stretch of time. He can tell without asking what’s wrong and proceeds with comforting reassurance. He calmly reminds me that Landon is so happy, so unbelievably loved, and time apart doesn’t shift anything. He continues that while it sucks, and it hurts and feels unnatural… that this is our life. This life is beautiful and full of even more love than before. I nod in agreement as if he’s there in person, breathing as deeply as possible. Yes, you’re right, all of that is so true. I hang up and stare at the park again… the crying has subsided but the emptiness will hold until she returns. This is our life while co-parenting.
We have a truly solid and frankly great co-parenting relationship, her dad and I. Something I’m grateful for and proud of how hard we’ve worked on building what it is today. With that in place, and with years of this under my belt, Friday drop offs before a weekend or two day separations shouldn’t result in my crumbling in Hampton Park. But some mornings, they just do. Some mornings, watching her little ponytail and unicorn headband turn from the car and head into her Kindergarten building, break my heart. As the physical distance grows on those days, so does the longing.
No matter the number of years, no matter the number of nights or weekends, no matter anything… being apart from your child as a result of divorce or separate co-parenting is simply hard. But there is really nothing simple about it. I usually drive to school more slowly those mornings, parking around the corner from the carpool line until the last 5 minutes of line up. I play whatever song she wants to hear and tell her she can get unbuckled while we’re parked. Kissing her little cheek, I describe how I carry her heart in my heart, and in there there we’re always together. I then pivot and have her tell me all the great things she’s going to do at the other house, then what fun we’ll have when I see her next. It’s overkill maybe, possibly some mornings it’s better to make it more routine and less dramatic. Some mornings my instincts tell me to reassure her, and quietly it helps me as well. Frankly, since becoming pregnant, my attachment to her is in overdrive. I crave her face. There’s no amount of time with her that satiates my motherly desire to be close to her. And distance for a period of days can feel impossible.
On some of those nights, I can’t go into her room. It’s too quiet and empty- her little things ordered just so, her toys lined up on her shelf, her favorite book tucked into her covers. When I do venture in, I sit on her bed and let my tears fall into Lenny, her stuffed lamb, who smells a little bit like her but mainly like drool.
Experiencing this kind of separation can bring about intense feelings of guilt. When Landon cries or is sad about the distance or being apart, the guilt is so bad I can barely swallow. Breathing into it eases this slightly, and I’m acutely aware I need to continue working on accepting and releasing these feelings. It’s guilt for being apart, guilt for her sadness or that she has to learn to live without physically having one of her parents present. For the last year or two, my guilt has found its way into most cracks and crevices of my mind.
I’ve had people lately, some friends and some newer sorta-kinda friends, say to me that it’s so great I’m pregnant because I’ll have a child at home all the time now. As if I wouldn’t amputate a limb to have Landon there all the time as well. This baby doesn’t fill this void. That’s not why we decided to continue trying to have another child. And love expands doesn’t it, with more children, not taking from the love of your other kids.
To break the cycle of wallowing, I read about this particular style of parenting. I learn what I can from books or strangers on the internet who live a similar life. When I write, I craft lists and reminders. Things to call to mind when the levee breaks. In sharing these moments, these reminders, I hope dearly it may ease these same emotions in others who live this separate and together life.
First, it’s important to remind myself of the gifts in her life- just as I remind her when it feels just too hard to get out of the car and begin the time apart. She has immense love in her life. Her parents are healthy and doing unbelievably well with both of us choosing partners that adore her. With these supportive and loving homes comes a flood of new love- a sister and another one on the way, new adults to help her in her life and be there for her. She has parents who genuinely get along and who can co-parent with more ease and as a team. She’s healthy, very happy, and has adorable friends that care for her heart. She’s wildly smart, ahead of her years, and can do anything she sets her mind to.
Writing these even now, my stomach is less tense. My emotions are held at bay. In speaking or writing these truths, they have started to become mantras. It is an exercise in recognizing the gifts and the light amidst what feels so dark.
Being apart will never feel “easy”- not with the fierce love we feel for our children. But with a mindful approach, with outlets for the guilt or sadness, with reminders of celebrations and moment of light in the journey, we can come out the other side even better parents. Our own happiness will be a gift for our children.
With so much love, patience and understanding…