Some people live their years from January to December. Mine starts in July, and ends in the middle of May, thanks to a court order, stating I have to put my kids on a plane to visit their dad for eight weeks each summer.
Deep down, I know they won’t be harmed, they won’t be disillusioned by life, they will still love me and remember me while they’re gone. My head knows it, my heart recognizes it, yet still, starting weeks before I physically put them on the plane, I start to bite my tongue in my sleep and wake up literally sick with the amount of pressure and migraine pain coursing through my head before they leave.
The pain of this past year, the bad grades, the teenage drama, the sibling discord, the hard times, the frustrated lectures, the worse grades, the mutterings under the breath, the rolled eyes… all of it is instantly forgotten as I begin that trek into the introspective hell I live with as a single parent still embroiled in a hostile divorce that technically ended more than ten years ago.
- Am I a good parent? Have I done the best I can do to teach them the difference between right and wrong?
- Will they remember their manners, their respect, their values?
- Have I taught them to believe in themselves?
- Have I assured them, to the best of my ability, that I love them with all my heart?
- Will they even want to come home in eight weeks?
Each time I put them on the plane there are tears. There are tight hugs and whispered regrets, and when they come home: instant tears, tight hugs, and promises to never let go.
Obeying the law to the letter, I still smile brightly refusing to cry until they’re on the plane, their lives, security, and happiness entrusted to a stranger with a tight grin in a flight attendant uniform as they fly across country to a family they don’t really know. I assure friends and family I’m fine each time they check on me, despite the fact that the pain is so deep I can’t breathe… and I hold my breath from one phone call to the next, assuring myself that my children are still happy, safe, and sound. I listen and provide excited responses when the tears of missing home, dogs and friends turn to excited stories of vacation, pools, parties, and theme parks. Suddenly them missing me yelling at them to take out the trash, turn off the TV and go to bed, or feed the dogs isn’t worth crying over anymore…
How many times have I been told to find life outside my kids, and how many times do I wish I’d heeded that warning? It’s so much easier said than done when they are the light that got me through the darkest times in my life. When they are the reasons I barely hold it together from day-to-day and month-to-month.
Still, I somehow survive. Each trip seems longer than the last, and each time I swear I won’t make it and each time I realize I haven’t accomplished anything I wanted to get done because the boys are home already; not that I can ever recall what kept me from accomplishing any of it.
A few summers back, the unthinkable happened – a phone call from the ex-mother-in-law in which she acknowledged that she was aware that all the boys were, and all that they represented was based on what I had accomplished on my own as a parent. That should be enough to get me through two months, right?
Right. Because as much as people will turn and stare at me as I drive home from the airport crying hysterically, I know that the boys can’t live with me forever, and I have to trust in the fact that they know I’m here for them no matter what, no matter when, no matter the distance.
I know that despite the pain it causes me that someone else gets to love on the kids I raise throughout the year, the fact remains, they’re being loved.
I know that as much as I feel like it, and I want to be, in reality, I am not the only family they have and what a bitter pill that is some days.
I know that no matter how many theme parks and dinners out they get, when they move away from home, it was my nagging about dishes and laundry and bathroom cleanings that will help mold them into productive members of society.
I know that as much as I want to take them, run away, change my name, cut my hair, and speak in a British accent, living by example means nothing if the example I set isn’t worth following.
So the first Sunday after school ends, I will smile, remind the boys of the amazing time they’re going to have, promise them that they’re not even going to notice how long eight weeks is, and start counting down the days until I’m crying over how tall they’ve gotten, how much older they look, and how happy I am to have them back home.
Now if only I can remember how to breathe…
Any other divorced, custodial parents out there? Ever experience what I’m talking about and if so, how do you cope?
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Wendy Syler Woodward, 37, has been a single parent for 10 years, with two boys ages 11 and 16. Originally from southern California, Wendy moved her family seven years ago to Phoenix where she manages a law firm for work, writes for fun, and is preparing to go back to college before the end of the year. Follow her on Twitter @WendySyler