Welcome to my pity party!
Take your coat off, grab a drink, get comfortable!
The emotional labour of September always catches me by surprise and this year it seems more exaggerated than ever. My ex started production on a show he works on, putting in unconventional hours and making our co-parenting schedule difficult to manage. Guess who does the managing? Guess who sends out the weekly “operations” email to try and wrangle it all? Guess who suddenly has one fewer night a week to herself now?
I actually don’t mind having only one weeknight off (which I dedicate to writing). It’s getting darker earlier, so my desire to meet new adult humans (and even friends) is starting to dwindle. But more importantly, my beautiful, unique, quirky-brained children need consistency, and homework struggles is where I shine. What I didn’t expect, or remember to expect, is that with those homework struggles come an emotional whirlpool, one that has proven extra difficult to swim out of this year. Calls and texts all day long, because they need mom’s help navigating the world, because their own overwhelm needs to go somewhere, and because they don’t quite know how to manage their own tasks and time just yet. Nightly heart-to-hearts, hugs, tear-wiping, reassurance. I’m weighted down by carrying everyone’s feelings, by suddenly making therapy appointments and reaching out to professionals to see if they can help.
But it’s all work, isn’t it? Scheduling, corresponding, remembering to pay, remembering to submit invoices to insurance, checking in? Holding your children while they cry, being grateful that they still run to your arms for solace, while simultaneously worrying that you are somehow enabling anxious behaviour or learned helplessness. If my sister and I freaked out as kids, my mom would dismiss us, tell us we are being “silly” and send us back to our rooms to get homework done. There was no “talking about feelings,” instead, there was a heavy dose of guilt and disappointment. I’m probably only doing marginally better in that department. There’s only so much you can take on before you yell at them to snap out of it and send them back to their rooms to get homework done.
Do dads just get out of it? Do the kids not go to them with their feelings because their fathers have taught them that this is not in their skill set to deal with in a cosy, compassionate way? I know I’m HUGELY generalizing here, but in every family that I know, it’s the mom who carries this all. It’s the mom who gets the panicked texts from the school bathroom, the mom who helps come up with the strategies, the mom who books the appointments. And eventually, your own mental health slips under the weight of it all and you are snippy, bitchy, teary mess (and sometimes referred to as crazy). Sigh. I’m so tired. Do households with two moms have the same dynamic or do they get double the capability?
Since splitting up, Theo has taken more on. It’s like he’s determined to prove to me that he is capable, and as such, I’m remembering to hold him capable and let him own it when he screws up, just as I do when I’m the fuck up. We’ve divided the labour between Physical (him) and Emotional/Mental (me). Physical is everything from making sure they are getting enough exercise, to booking dentist appointments. Emotional/Mental is feelings work, social work, homework, raising adults. I still wrangle most of it, but he’s getting better at it, even being proactive on occasion.
I see now that for a relationship to work and last, the two people in it must commit to their roles as well as to each other. “There are two types of people. Are you a flower or a gardener,” my QUEEN, Allison Janney, asks while playing Tonya Harding’s mother LaVona Golden in the film, I, Tonya. Is there something to that? Perhaps it’s more that one person is the Planner and the other is the Entertainer. But both have to see their roles as valuable, and the Entertainer has to support the Planner, to keep him or her up by making them feel loved, appreciated, valued. The Entertainer also has to remember to make space for the Planner to have fun by taking on some tasks, because wearing out the Planner is in no one’s best interest. But what I see time and time again is that the Entertainer takes all the fun and the Planner gets exhausted and is accused of not being any fun any more. Just me?
For the garden to thrive, the gardener must get energy from the fruits of her labour. The flower must bloom, attract visitors, put on a show for the gardener. Janney’s LaVona says, “I’m a gardener who wants to be a flower—how fucked up am I?” And maybe that’s my issue. I want to be adored, I want to blossom and bring joy through my mere existence, but I’m so capable at taking on the tasks of gardening that when the gardener doesn’t work fast enough or do things JUST the way I would like, I just march out of the dirt, shove aside my petals and pick up a hoe. And then I resent the fuck out of the other person. Sigh.
On Sunday we had a photoshoot, just the three of us. A friend is trying to get her photography business off the ground and asked if we would sit for her. I want to embrace the new family within the larger family, the Three Musketeers against the world, and having photos of just the three of us seemed like a great way to frame that for myself (pardon the pun).
I was feeling good that day, strong. Hair and makeup were looking good, kids were happy, we managed to get out to the suburbs in the car I rented like a grown-ass woman. I was feeling ready to start looking for a REAL relationship, one that involves EQUAL ENTHUSIASM (more on Mr. Saturday Night later in this post). I posted on Instagram, asking friends to start introducing me to a “healthy, kind-hearted, financially independent male who can handle a feminine, feminist mama who owns all her own shit (bull and other).” It’s time! Setting my intention! Putting it out to the universe! Bring me a Good Man. A Grown-Ass Man! One who dates WITH HIS WHOLE ASS!
But then this week shit the bed and I am suddenly faced with the realization that WE, the Three Musketeers, are a LOT to take on. That even their own father couldn’t handle staying with the person I am in tough times, which sometimes feels like all the time, and I was faced again with negative thoughts around being difficult, being unlovable. Who will I ever find that could love all of this? Who is going to be man enough to stand by me and prop me up and give me the love and encouragement to keep going? Who will love me on bad days? Who will also love my quirky kids on their bad days? It seems like an impossibly tall order. Sigh.
Mr. Saturday Night has not texted me since Friday, and even Friday’s exchange was initiated by me (as were Wednesday’s and Thursday’s exchanges). I woke up today and said to myself, “I cannot spend energy on someone who can go FIVE DAYS without asking me a question!” I mean, clearly he’s just not that into me. Sure, people get busy, but in busy times, we prioritize, and his actions say to me that I’m not a priority.
But let’s also be honest. If he messages me Thursday to ask about my weekend plans, I’m going to respond and likely find the time. Because it’s finally here: I’m lonely for romantic love. I sleep alone every night unless my daughter crawls in next to me. I miss being spooned and cuddled. I miss being someone’s sun and moon. There’s a longing, an ache, to give and receive. Last week, I came home early on one of Theo’s nights and snuck into my bedroom so as not to disturb them, crawled into bed in my clothing and wept. (Admittedly, I had my period and it felt like my ovaries were trying to cut my uterus out with a butter knife.)
Theo put the kids to bed and realized that I’d crept in. He texted me from a floor above to ask if he could come down to my bedroom. I said yes. He immediately saw that I was sad and asked if I was OK.
“I’m homesick,” I bawled, echoing the complaints of our younger child this past month. I miss being us. Somehow, now, on the other side of it, even though he’s often an inconsiderate asshole, some days it feels like maybe all of the bullshit of being married to each other was so precious and valuable and WORTH IT. Because this current state, while often fun and free and easy, it isn’t dramatically better. And then, whoosh, the wound opens and gapes and sputters and spurts. “He didn’t love you like that,” it hisses, “He didn’t want to stay.”
I know he’s out there, Mr. Real Thing, because I feel it. Deeply. I know this sounds hokey, but sometimes I connect with his energy. Sometimes I acknowledge his presence in the universe. I whisper to the wind, “I see you. I know you’re here.” I imagine what it feels like to love him and be loved by him. I thought I didn’t believe in The One anymore, but maybe it’s like trying to shake my Christian upbringing: My rational brain thinks religion is bullshit, but my heart likes believing in the idea of God. Of course there is probably more than just ONE, so maybe this faith is in knowing The Next One is out there (and feels closer than I think on tough days).
I don’t want to be a person who doesn’t believe in magic or miracles. That would be counter to who I am. And I’ve worked so hard to love myself, exactly as I am. It’s still a struggle sometimes, to accept myself and not see negatives, flaws or faults, but to realize that it’s all part of this beautiful quilt that is me, Maria. I hope, even though your stories are different than mine, that there are bits in here that speak to you exactly where you’re at right now. And if so, all I ask is that you send me a thought, a hope, some energy or a prayer—bonus points if you know a man that fits the above description and could love a flibbertigibbet like me.
Be kind to yourselves. September is a cruel month.