Tonight was an out and out train-wreck. I found myself in the familiar position of being curled up on the edge of my bed, listening to the baby monitor, irrationally hoping to hear some voice of benevolence whisper words of comfort. But of course, no voice ever comes. I’m lying in the dark, feeling sick and tired of being sick and tired, and wishing in vain for someone to help bear the load. Make me a cup of tea. Rub my back, tell me I’m a great mom. I need it. I deserve it. But no one is coming to help me. And that’s just the way it is.
Why can’t I relinquish the image of a family being comprised of a mother, a father, and their children? What is it in me that refuses to grasp that this is an antiquated notion rather than a modern day reality? It seems as though everyone around me got the memo long ago. The woman at the pediatrician’s office didn’t blink when I had a one and two year old in tow, but responded with ‘divorced’ as my marital status. The college intake advisor didn’t suck in her breath, or have a look of shock on her face when I said I was a single mom with babies. And no one put a hand of comfort on my shoulder at the dentist’s office when I said he’d up and left without warning.
And why would they? Don’t you get it, Wife? This is all very normal.
It seems like my normal doesn’t quite jive with everyone else’s normal. I don’t have a clue how long I’ve been in the dark about society’s ambivalence about the traditional family, but I feel rather like I’m the last to know that this lovely, vital thing is gone. Yet, I see smiling families all around me, so what about them? Are they simply doomed to fail? Do those kids they have in tow have any clue about the horror that’s to come if those smiles on their parent’s faces fade?
I’d like to walk up to them and take them by the shoulders and say ‘Do you see this thing you have here? It can be ruined. It can be gone in the blink of an eye. There’s no fence around it unless you put one there. Guard against the world and its ravaging fire. Protect this family at all costs, ok? Because these kids will suffer mightily for the rest of their lives if you don’t. Do your damn job and protect it.’
But I’m not all that interested in being escorted out of Sea World with my kids in tow, so of course I refrain. I often live out something I like to call the ‘director’s cut’ in my head. Here, I can do and say these things as often as I want, and then just cut to a commercial. No burly security guard or embarrassing public incident necessary.
Tonight, like many other nights since Honey left, we had a ‘family’ outing. Little Man just started soccer. It’s held at a park, so Baby Girl and I sit on a blanket and watch the coach try to herd cats for 45 minutes, and maybe teach them a soccer move or two. When we’re done, we go to the playground and go on the swings. My awareness of families during times like this is particularly heightened, and today was no exception. A father swinging his daughter, giving her a kiss with every forward pass as she giggles with delight.
A man and a woman sitting on the grass ahead of us, eating some sandwiches with their two toddler-aged daughters and talking about something as they did so. The woman on the swing next to me swinging her daughter, on the phone with her husband saying they’d be home soon and thanking him for picking up Thai food. ‘Let’s go, Lizzie! Daddy’s home and he’s got dinner!’ She smiles and puts her arms out readily, exclaiming ‘Daddy!’
It doesn’t ever matter what the families are doing. It seems the more mundane, the worse it is for me. Watching a man absently wipe his daughter’s mouth after a bite of food. A father lifting up his son to reach the drinking fountain. People in the throws of normalcy that have absolutely no idea that their very existence is causing my insides to painfully contort and my eyes to well with tears. I’d love to walk over and whisper ‘Excuse me, do you think you could go do that over there where I can’t see you? Your basic human decency isn’t jiving with my inner narrative that all men must be some form of human garbage. So, yah, if you could just go be a great dad in that direction, that’d be greaaaat. Thanks.’ …Director’s cut!!
Soccer was fine. It was my ill-conceived trip to Denny’s when it was over that sent me hurtling into the stratosphere with anger and repulsion towards Honey. I didn’t see it coming, so it made it that much worse. I haven’t had that tooth-clenching, white hot rage overtake me in a few weeks, which is something of a record for me.
I tried to feed a 2 and a 3 year old dinner in a restaurant by myself. Right there, you know this is lunacy, and a task for only the bravest among us. But I’m not brave. I’m simply a pragmatist. This is my life now, so I’d better just suck it up and do the (extra) work Honey deemed fit to bestow upon me. Eat the sh** sandwich, as Chump Lady puts it. I hate Denny’s, but it’s right here near the park. They’ll do the dishes, and I probably can find something my children will eat. Whatever ends up on the floor is not getting picked up, wiped up or vacuumed up by me. As I pull up I see that it’s ‘kids eat free’ night, to my surprise. It’s kismet. So let’s do this. You know what? Maybe this won’t be as hard as it’s been all the other times. Maybe this will actually be fun.
You stupid, naïve woman. You should have known the moment that thought entered your mind you’d just preemptively jinxed the waiting area, the dining room, most of the kitchen and half the wait staff. Even the pancakes are getting nervous. And with good reason.
Baby Girl just turned two. She apparently heard about the terribles, and decided she’d get some for herself as a birthday present. Literally the day she turned two, she began to act out in ways I’d only heard of in horror movies. Throwing food off of her tray. What?! She’s never done THAT before. Hitting and kicking at me when I tried to encourage bites. Refusing food and shoving the spoon violently out of my hand. Yelling and crying fits. Screaming ‘No, Mommy! Don’t WANT to!’ at me as she points her tiny finger right in my face.
Ummmm…nope. Not enough nope in the world. Got to try to get this nipped in the bud, because she needs to understand that none of this is going to jive with me. So I’ve been working on various approaches to get her to stop, but it’s hit and miss. Tonight, I made one very big, very colossal mistake. I forgot this was going on. It’s pretty new behavior, so it really wasn’t on my radar. I was just thinking ‘next to the park, food they’ll eat, fun.’ Oh, Wife. Wife, Wife, Wife.
I won’t get into every detail lest I belabor the point, but let’s just say it’s fair to presume she did all of that, spilled my drink all over the table, and ended up eating the equivalent of two bites of food when it was all said and done. While Little Man certainly did not come to the table with the breadth and depth of antics that Baby Girl did, he too was a crazed, dinner-refusing terrorist. Albeit a very cute one.
Where did my compliant, respectful children go?! It’s as though years of work on how to behave while eating went out the window when our waitress brought them milk in big kid cups. Clearly, they were drunk with power.
Kids eat free night means kids. Lots of kids. And families. Everywhere. As I’m charging into the battlefield that had once been our dinner table, I absently glance up to see the effortless teamwork of a mom and dad with two kids in the booth next to ours. He’s screwing a lid onto a tippy cup and wiping the drops off the table. She’s cutting up a salad. No one is throwing a fit. But, if they did, either mom or dad could take them outside to calmly explain why waffles don’t belong on the wall, while the remaining spouse helps the other remove cherries from the inside of her shirt.
I have no such team mate.
And just as it has been on hundreds of occasions in the last year, I feel it begin. I feel the heat begin to rise into my face, I feel the deep breathing and quickening of my heartbeat, marking the unmistakable signs of my impending anxiety attack. I quickly look down at my plate full of cold, untouched food through eyes blurred with tears. ‘You just left us, Honey. You just walked away from your family. How could you do that? How could you hand me every single task there is for the rest of our lives? What kind of man does this? How…I don’t…how…’
And then, the rage begins. Oh, how I wish I’d never of learned about my capacity for anger. I’ve always been a very measured, very rational person when it comes to risky behaviors, like getting into a bar fight, or driving 100 mph down the freeway on a motorcycle. The pragmatist in me shudders at the thought. I’d never do it. I’ve never been arrested, or been in a fight. The last speeding ticket I had was 20 years ago. I’m passionate, but I don’t let my passions make me into an idiot. And I’d never take it out on my children, or in view of them. As a matter of fact, I never take it out…anywhere. But this event so utterly changed my psyche and my heart that in the early days after Honey left, I found myself fantasizing about walking from room to room smashing out every window with a baseball bat. Did I? No. Did I want to with every fiber of my being? Yes. Yes I did.
But, I have my imagination. I have my director’s cut, where I can do and say what I want without any of those pesky broken windows or criminal records. In it, I find myself taking a nine iron to his shiny silver truck, his Iphone and his beloved XBOX. I delight in the thought of this weak, non-confrontational liar being forced to confront me as I lay waste to his precious possessions. He never gave me that chance in our marriage OR our divorce, so having a face to face yelling match after 14 years of politeness and lies sounds positively delicious to me.
I’ve thought a lot about what I’d say if I could have one final conversation with Honey (presuming he’d hear something other than Charlie Brown parents when I spoke). The director’s cut goes a little something like this:
You always used to complain about the way men were portrayed in TV shows and movies, Honey. You always said you hated that husbands were made out to be these bumbling, good for nothing morons, capable only of following their baser instincts and chasing after women or barbecues or cars or other objects, like they were some kind of animal. Being minimized as a man. Being devalued as a husband and father.
Because in contrast, you’ve brought such solid decision making skills and self-control in your role as husband and protector of THIS family. It pains me deeply to say you’re not a role model, Honey. YOU’RE A CAUTIONARY TALE. Your legacy is weakness and lies. And that is so very sad to me. You will pass on the worst kind of example to your children. Don’t fight for your family, your marriage, or your children. Drop the mic and walk out mid-sentence. It’s EASIER that way. And isn’t that what life’s all about, Honey? Giving the message to our kids that the easy way is the way to go? They don’t need to do the work, just drop the mic and walk out! They don’t need to honor commitments they make to people. Just drop off the key, Lee, and set yourself free. No need to be truthful and forthright when Dad’s shown that lying and sneaking around are the ticket to the true meaning of life: gratifying yourself at the expense of others, even innocent children.
So, yah. Can’t imagine why they portray men like that on TV, Honey. With people like you walking the earth, I guess they’re not short on examples.
And as I drop my mic and walk out to the shrill sound of feedback, I wonder again why it is that I presume a sociopath can feel the sting of a single one of my words.
Maybe I need director’s cut 2.0.
Or, maybe I just need to put this loser in my rear-view mirror once and for all, and get on with the business of life before it slips away in a haze of anger and flying pancakes. And while it’s true and equally sad that no one’s coming to help me, maybe I can begin to realize a little more each day that even though single parenting is insanely hard to do,
I AM DOING IT.