Fourth of July Implosion
Since my separation from my ex, the Fourth of July has turned out to be one of the hardest days of the year for me. More so than Christmas. More so than almost any other holiday so far. Maybe it is because we officially separated two years ago on July 1st. Maybe it is the memories, the longing, the missing. Something about the warmth and sweetness of summer makes me get stuck in a deep dark place come the patriotic, nourishing, family- and joy-filled Fourth of July.
I'm missing my kids in a strange way. Much of the time I am truly happy for them, for this time they get to spend with their father. He loves them, and they adore him. They should get to be with him unadulterated, since I get to be with them for 9 months out of the year. My heart is truly happy for them in that. I am also relishing not to being "the mom" for a bit too. Getting to stay out late, not having to worry about where kids are and what they are doing. Not having to constantly plan ahead and strategize the fifteen thousand things a mom has to in order to get everyone through their days. I get to spend multiple days thinking only of myself, my job, my workout schedule, and what I may or may not want for dinner. Sushi? Popcorn? A bar of dark chocolate? These things all become acceptable meals in the absence of feeding kids healthy and well rounded each day.
Except when their faces come into my memory, when I walk into their room and smell their smells, when I talk to them on the phone or over Skype. I miss them in such a deep, powerful way I can barely stand up. I miss them in the heart-crushing, dark seated way that only a mother experiencing the loss of her child can feel. I feel like I can't breathe, I feel empty. My arms ache and I am constantly tired. I want to crawl up into a little ball and cry deep, sobbing cries until the moment they return.
My reprieve is that I don't think about them.
I know. That sounds awful. I know. I cringe at the very writing of the words. Not think about my own children? NOT THINK ABOUT THEM??? But it's true. In order to get through the time they are gone without completely and utterly breaking down every single day, in order to get myself to work so that I keep my job to provide food, clothing, health care and a home for them, I have to not think about them.
It's my coping mechanism. I went around the house for the first two weeks completely avoiding looking at their pictures on the wall. I shut the door to their room. I didn't fold the blue basket of laundry so I didn't have to fold their clothes from the last couple of days before they left. I sat at my desk and looked at my computer screen without glancing even an inch to the right or left at the multitude of framed photos on the wall behind it.
It sounds unthinkable, but I don't know how else to get through it.
Then the boys came for their two week visit. Having them around is a mixed bag. In one instance, they help me forget the sadness and emptiness of missing them after so many weeks of the kids being gone. They certainly keep me busy, active.
And increasingly more insane.
The boys' very presence forces me to think of my kids. Their very noise in the house, shoes by the door, legos on the floor remind me that they are there and my kids aren't. And to top it off, His mother is staying with us (for which I am eternally grateful, you have no idea how wonderful this woman is!) and we are sleeping in my kids' beds, forcing me one on one connection to them. Forcing me to smell their little smells, and see all their favorite things.
I love the boys, they are fantastic people. I work hard on developing a good relationship with them and spend a lot of time researching how to fully and carefully develop that relationship. They have a mother, they love her very much. In no way have I ever tried to take her place, nor do I want to. But I do have a responsibility as their stepparent--as the adult that shares their father's house--to make sure they know they are loved and cared for. I give them hugs and kisses and let them know I am proud of them. But I also make sure they know that as members of our household they have responsibilities and expectations as well as consequences to their actions. They love us, but we are stricter than what they are used to. We have more rules, more expectations of the way they behave and talk to us. We are constantly discussing with them why there are consequences to their actions, why they need to behave, how it reflects poorly on them, and how if they don't correct themselves--and how if we don't teach them to correct themselves--they will not grow into successful adults.
This all leads to them being a LOT MORE WORK than my kids. It can easily drain on a person, step-parenthood. It is mostly a thankless job, more so than regular parenting. With regular parenting your children love you unconditionally. I knew this wouldn't be easy going into this arrangement, and fully accept and expect the trials and tribulations. But it is much harder to go with the flow and be my usual "on top of things" self when I'm so desperately missing my kids.
I will admit, shamefully and remorsefully, that I am not being an EXCELLENT step parent right now. I am distracted, not my chipper self. I'm less inclined to want to make everything perfect for them, and I have less patience. I've wanted to retreat, hide out. The other day after work, I walked extra, super slow home because the idea of coming home to a house full of NOT MY KIDS made me want to sit on the cement and cry.
The Fourth of July was the worst, the downright bottom worst for me. In reality, I adore the Fourth of July. I love bar-b-ques, family, red-white-and-blue, laughter, swimming, and games. It is one of my favorite holidays.
For some reason, it all hit me smack-dab right in the middle of the stomach this year.
We had a grand idea to enjoy the Fourth on the mall of the nation's capital. We live close to the city, and I work in the city. We have a big event at my work every year and #1 and I got up bright and early that morning to go in and work the event. For me, it is in my job description. But #1 was a volunteer and he did a superb job (for a thireen year old!). The night before we stayed up late getting picnics ready for all the kids. I got the perfect toys, blankets and drinks all ready.
It ended up being a long, long day for us all.
Needless to say, 7 hours camped out on the mall lawn of the Nation's capital is a very long day indeed.
Did I mention the heat and humidity?
Ah, gotta love DC this time of year.
There were a lot of complaints. A lot of moaning. I was tired, sad, and started getting frustrated.
Frustrated at all the work I'd done for the day. For no appreciation or thanks.
Frustrated that I was here slaving over all these kids that only complained, whined and moaned the entire time.
Frustrated that He was able to quiet them down in one full swoop, whereas they were completely ignoring me.
And frustrated that NOBODY seemed to be having any fun whatsoever.
I kept thinking, THIS IS NOT HOW ITS SUPPOSED TO BE!!! These kids are supposed to be making memories and enjoying their summer. All they are doing is complaining and making life miserable!
As I handed out dinner to the kids one of the older boys said "Is this it? I thought we'd at least have some chips or something." It was that moment that I spiraled. Out of control sadness swept over me and I gave up. I gave up trying to give them a good day. I gave up working my butt off only to have to demand a simple thank you for a sandwich I hand to a child. I gave up on pretending I was having fun when I wasn't, when all I wanted to do was to be with my own kids, kids that loved me just because I was their mom. Kids who needed me, needed the warmth of my arms and the smell of my hair, simply because it soothed them.
I started on that dangerous path. That path that many who have had something tragic, like a death or divorce effect their lives, will often find themselves going down. I started remembering all the other July 4th celebrations, with my family and friends left behind in California. The years of bar-b-ques, of family, of swimming and fun. Of course, this only led me down the "remembering path"--remember the loss of all that I'd wanted, of what I'd hoped for myself when my daughter was born. Of what I'd hoped for my family at that time. Of EVERYTHING.
I know, stepping back from myself, that the day was nothing like this for the kids. They were complain-y and whiny, yes. But, so was just about every single other kid out there. As you can see from the pictures, there was fun happening. And, simply BECAUSE there are pictures there are also memories. I was just so sad and stuck in the sadness I couldn't see this from where I sat. Which, in itself is ironic, since I took the pictures.
Later that night, after getting home, taking a quick shower, and crawling into #4's twin bunk bed, He came in to ask me what was wrong. I freaked out on him, literally. I wanted nothing to do with him. I wanted him to leave, to leave me in my darkness, to leave me with my sadness. I was imagining just walking away, away from everything. I couldn't breath, I couldn't think. I couldn't feel anymore either. I had imploded, quite oppositely from the fireworks, and there was nothing left at that point.
You know what He did? He grabbed me, held me tight, and wouldn't let me go. I sobbed, deep, deep choking tears. I sobbed for the loss of my dream. I sobbed for the aching of my arms and the emptiness that is usually filled with my children. I sobbed for the loss of the day that I had wanted so desperately but couldn't give to the boys. I sobbed for the sad person I was at that point.
Through it all, he was NOT going to let me go. I tried pushing and pulling away from him, I said mean things to him to get him to leave. He held on and would not let me go. He said there was nothing I could do to make him leave, nothing I could say. That it was okay, that it is okay to be sad, to be angry. It didn't matter, he wasn't leaving.
And what I needed all along was quite possibly exactly that. To know and be reminded over and over again that he wouldn't leave me, no matter what. To be allowed, and even encouraged, to have that emotional release.
And to be loved anyway.
In the days that have followed I took a step back from the household. I left it to Him and his mother to care for the boys, and gave myself a minor break. Stayed a little late at work. Took some time to exercise and go to bed early.
The reality is that in the years since my seperation and divorce, and even before that when I was forced to leave behind a dream in order to help my ex fulfill his, I haven't allowed myself to truly morn the loss of it all. And in the weeks since they've been gone I haven't allow myself to morn my children being gone for the summer.
I did that same thing as I was faced with the hardship of the two years leading up to my moving here to be with Him. On an emotional level, I pushed all my sadness to the side. I ignored it and chose instead to focus on hope and the love I had for Him and my kids. In the hard, hard times the past few years I've given myself very little time to notice and accept my own sadness and losses in life. I've always done this, ignoring my bad feelings. I live by the mantra that "Life is what you make of it", which is a good mantra. But it isn't encompassing enough. I get so caught up in getting "over" it, past it, that I don't give myself the proper time to see it as it's happening, and to acknowledge my feelings over it in real time. Turns out, bottling it up and pretending it isn't happening is not so good for one's soul. Explosions or implosions of the worst kind can happen. I need a new mantra, perhaps "Life is what you make of it, but don't forget to give yourself some damn emotional space as well". Or something like that.
I'm feeling a lot better now, I can see pictures of my kids side by side the real life faces of the boys and not feel like I am going to collapse. I can hug and cuddle the boys without feeling remorse over not being able to hug my own babies.
And once again I am reminded how amazingly lucky I am to have found someone that has proven time and time again that no matter what, no matter the darkness or scariness of the situation, He will stick by me and love me. He will help get me through.
His faith in me takes my breath away.
And the boys! They are not demon children. The boys are amazing. They are kids, they can drive one crazy. But they are really great little people and for that I know I couldn't be luckier.
So, the Fourth of July. The Fourth of July is now the holiday to remind me not of what I once had, of what I've lost. Instead it is to remind me of what I've gained, to appreciate what I have, and to remind me to be good--to myself most of all.