This morning, like a million other parents, I waved my children off to school after snapping a few “first day” pics for posterity. The difference is that I wasn’t at my home when I did it. I didn’t tuck them in last night or make them breakfast this morning. I wasn’t there to make sure my daughter brushed her hair, or that my son had everything in his backpack. The best I could do was to deliver an outfit yesterday evening, call around bedtime, and drive over this morning for the getting-on-the-bus ceremony.
UGH. It kills me.
My ex-husband and I share joint custody of our children, which, I mostly believe is the best thing for them. They love me, they love him, and they love the new people in both of our lives. But, I know (because they tell me) that they wish their mom and dad were still together, and it’s on days like today that I think we all feel that more acutely.
This morning, it was strange to hear, “Mom, I’m so happy you could make it” from my little girl. I mean, of course I’m going to be there! It’s that type of thing that stops me dead in my tracks and makes me wonder, “How did it all turn out like this?” But truly, if I were to write about everything that went wrong- all the mistakes that were made on both sides- we’d be here until the beginning of school, next year.
The thing I figured out today, though, is that divorce, like most things, is easier to deal with during the summer. The potential for painful moments like the one this morning is limited by the carefree-ness (totally not a word) of the season. Divorce crops up mostly surrounding mundane issues like, ‘why do I have to pay for the tab at the pool snack bar alone?’ The kids are less stressed, we are less stressed, and things seem to be as close to “normal” as they can be.
But, the start of school, with all of its attendant forms, aggravates our family condition, a bit. Even in an unhappy marriage, I was able to convince myself that we were immune from filling out the “custodial parent/other parent’s address” blanks. Turns out, we weren’t.
Aside from the questions on the school forms, there are the questions we ask ourselves: will we both stay on top of long-term homework assignments? Will we both go to every parent/teacher conference? Will consequences for shoddy grades or bad behavior be consistent in both of our homes? Will bedtimes be the same at each place? Who is going to pick up a sick child if the school calls? How will we handle snow days?
I know many intact families struggle with these same issues, but (hopefully) they are often working together in the spirit of cooperation. In our case, that’s something we aspire to, but haven’t quite mastered.
In any case, it’s really not even that stuff that makes the school year so hard when it comes to being recently divorced. It’s remembering the good times that we had as a family and the wishing for what could have been, that are the real killers. There was a time, not so long ago, when I would have had the day to clean up around the house; greet the kids as they got off the school bus; and prepare a dinner that we would all eat together, while we heard about each other’s day. There was a time, not so long ago, when their father and I would have sat happily together at the spelling bee/math field day/Christmas program and marveled at our crazy, but intelligent and adorable children. That those times are gone- or radically changed- are what makes me so sad.
BUT, lest I bum you all out with my maudlin rambling, there is good news to be had! The kids now have more people to love them through poor test scores, spats with classmates, and- God help me!- puberty. They maybe know a little bit more about resilience than they would have otherwise. Now, they have access to two different parental perspectives and neither perspective has to be the right one. Oh, and they have a giant dog. (Okay, that last thing is a bit of a dig, since my ex wouldn’t give the go-ahead for a puppy. Sorry about that!)
Hopefully, one day, the pain of divorce will be more of an occasional ache than a chronic one and our new, blended families will fill up an entire row at the spelling bee/math field say/Christmas program!
(This post was originally published in the Charleston Daily Mail’s Mommyhood blog.)