with Karli Larson
The transition from stay-at-home mom to divorced-and-working-full-time mom can be challenging, and sometimes very lonely. Throw in a few cats, an ancient dog and one very brave boyfriend, and life gets downright crazy. Join me as I talk through my thoughts and struggles, my miscalculations and my triumphs. We're in this together, you and I.
When I'm not writing here you can find me over at work on the TisBest Philanthropy blog.
July has gone, and August is here, bringing with it my daughters. Back from sleepaway camp (first time around for the younger one, second time for the firstborn), the girls are twelve years older and seven feet taller and are probably already married with kids, but just haven’t told me yet.
I cannot stop hugging them. They don’t mind, not even a bit.
The older one tells me that my letters to her at camp made her laugh so hard, the other girls demanded to hear them. So every day, she would read my words out loud to the entire tipi.
This information makes me feel like the coolest mom ever. I try not to blush.
Camp was easy for the firstborn. No sweat. She stayed for two weeks, no prob, no homesickness. She is, at the age of 11, a consummate adventurer.
Camp was not as easy for the little one. She toughed it out for one week, not wanting to disappoint her dad or his parents. My letters had a different effect on her.
“I nearly cried happy tears when I read your emails,” she tells me, sitting in my lap, snuggling like the Snuggle Champ she is. “I missed you soooooo much. Then I was like, okay, Hannah, you can DO this. Just make it through another day.”
“I am so proud of you,” I tell her. “Like, I am almost passing out from proudness. You are so, so brave. The way you talked to yourself and stayed calm — that’s amazing.”
She nods, accepting the compliment. “I knew people would ask me, ‘How was camp?’ And I kept telling myself, okay, it will be better if I have an answer.”
“You are a rock star,” I tell her. “Seriously.”
“I’m not sure I want to do it next year,” she says, cautiously. “I haven’t decided.”
“You don’t have to if you don’t want to,” I say. “I’m sure Daddy would agree. You tried it, you did it, and now you can make an informed decision about whether you want to do it again. Anyway, you don’t have to decide now. Not even for months.”
She nods and snuggles closer and sighs. “I think a month might be too long. To be away from you. Or Daddy.”
“That’s fair,” I say. “This was just an experiment, to see. You guys have a big say in what feels right and what doesn’t, when it comes to being away from either me or Daddy.”
As I say these words, I realize I believe the girls’ dad would agree entirely. Once again, it hits me that we are still a blessed family, despite the divorce. My ex and I do not always see eye-to-eye, but on most matters pertaining to the girls, we are—mostly—on the same page. We try to be flexible and accommodating with each other’s schedules. We email pics and videos of the girls to each other when the other parent can’t be there. We make it possible for the girls to Skype or call the other parent whenever they are missing us.
I have friends who are struggling with a very painful, very difficult custody battle. Single parenthood is painful enough without animosity. I hate to watch my friends suffering the way they do. I remember how lucky I am, and I feel very small. I know my ex-husband loves our girls as much as I do. I know we both try the best we can to put their needs before ours. I know I can express my worries or happiness about the girls to him, as he does with me. There is awkwardness, still, but we have all settled into a normal-ish existence, and the girls never doubt that there is respect between their parents. The girls know they are loved, and that there may be bumps along the way, but they trust us to work out our issues without involving them. Do we screw up sometimes? Sure. But as we watch the girls maturing, their dad and I both breathe an occasional sigh of relief. These are girls who have room to be themselves, chances to make mistakes, space to concentrate on their own needs and wants and goals. It’s not what I wanted, this scenario, and not what their dad wanted either. But despite all of the pain, the girls continue to thrive.
We are lucky. Seriously, shockingly lucky.
At dinner, the younger one and I are talking about God and prayers.
“I pray but I kind of don’t know how. I talk to animals more than God,” she says.
“That’s fine,” I say. “Some say God is in nature and in the eyes of all the animals we meet. It’s a beautiful way to pray.”
I tell her I’ve just read something that struck me: that there are only three prayers you ever need to know.
“What are they?” she asks, curious.
“Thank you, I’m sorry, and WOW,” I say. “If you have those three in your pocket, you are set for a lifetime. God doesn’t need the fancy stuff.”
She smiles. She likes this way of thinking about prayer.
After dinner, we watch the Olympics. Her sister is at their grandmother’s house for the night. I tuck Secondborn into bed with me after we watch Women’s Gymnastics. She is as sleepy as if she’d been the one flying from bar to bar. Her eyes close and just like that, she is gone from me, for the night.
I head into her pink, pink room to snap off the light she’s left on. I think of my friends, their beautiful freckled strawberry-blonde daughter, so close in age to my H. Her father does not know when he will see his beloved daughter again. His heart breaks, daily. The pain is unceasing for him and for his partner.
My breath catches in my throat. I swallow hard. I kneel in the middle of all of the wonderful chaotic pink and press my head to the floor. I am dizzy, suddenly, with a mix of sadness and my own profound gratitude for what I have. I want to give what is not mine to give and help where I cannot help.
I am not a religious person. Twelve years of Catholic school made me wary of organized religion. But I still believe someone, something, is listening.
“Thank you,” I whisper, on my knees. “I’m sorry. And wow. Wow.”
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