The kids aren’t all right.

I’ve been avoiding my blog for the last few days.  If I’m honest, I’ll say avoiding, and if I’m not, I’ll say I was just too busy.  There’s this post I have to write.  It’s been nagging at me, and I don’t want to write it.  But I have to or I can’t move on to anything else because it will seep into every other blog post coming.  Or I’ll avoid writing, and I can’t have that.  So I’m writing it.

The ex left 3 years and 2 months ago.  Since then, Tornado E has had accidents.  Nearly every day.  I didn’t mention it because I couldn’t stop it.  After confirming with the doctor it wasn’t physical, I took Tornado E to a counselor.  Last summer, the accidents stopped for a few weeks, but then soccer started and so did the accidents.  They still continue, but at least they aren’t every day.  It’s still not normal.  I know the kid is having issues.  How could he not?  His father just took some custody a few months ago, and the kid is adjusting to a new custody schedule, a new house, a new adult, and a new little sister.  It was all just dropped on him.  Unfortunately due to the financial issues, I’m unable to send him to counseling.  Not since before he was tossed into this new living situation.

And it gets worse.  Tornado S is stuttering.  He did it when he was younger, but it stopped in kindergarten.  It’s back.  It’s also getting worse.  I’m doing what I did when he had it before.  When he talks to me, I stop what I’m doing and get down to eye-level and listen.  His teacher and his school therapist are doing what they can.

Then there’s Tornado A.  That first night back from his dad’s house, he was angry with me.  He didn’t want me to hug him or hold him.  He didn’t want to hug his nana.  But the next day, all he wanted to do was snuggle.  Since then he has demanded to see his nana every day.  He has to snuggle with me.  He calls himself the baby.  He’s picked up screaming to be cute.  And he’s also regressed with potty training.

All three boys seemed to be more aggressive with each other and more whiny with me.  While that could be a phase, finding them all in my bed every morning is new and different.  If one of the boys failed to make it into my bed at night, he demands to snuggle with me before he gets dressed.

I know divorce is tough on kids.  I was expecting issues and regression.  I call them every night they are with their dad.  I bought them a phone so they could call their dad or any adult they want without asking.  I let them use my phone to call their dad when they ask.  I’ve never said anything negative about their dad or his girlfriend in front of the kids.  I had conversations with everyone to make sure they never did the same.  I listen and engage in conversations with them when they talk about their dad, his girlfriend, their little sister, and the times they have at the other house.  I make time for each of them.  I make sure our routine is normal and that we get work done and still have fun.  I stick to the rules.  I surround them with loving adults and good examples of men and women.  I just feel frustrated that I can’t do more to help them.  I don’t have the money to take them to counseling, and the ex believes the boys are just fine.  (Everyone say hi to the paralegal.)

Here’s the thing.  I know what divorce can do to kids.  I’ve done my research.  I did research when I was taking psych classes.  I did my research throughout the separation.  I did my research as I take education classes.  Children of divorce are more likely to suffer depression and commit suicide.  They are more likely to participate in risky behavior and not finish high school.  They are more likely not to go to college and more likely to have issues with commitment.  (Though recent research on commitment issues show a much smaller effect than earlier research saw.)  I know these kids need extra help.  I just wish I knew what else to do for them.

Mediation

I don’t know how many of you know this, but I haven’t lived with my . . . husband . . . in two-and-half years.  I have been a single mother for two-and-half-years.

It’s weird to write that.  It’s weird to think it.  It’s weird to think that these are scars, not fresh wounds.  I’ve been wondering why everything seems so fresh.  Is it because he comes over several times a week to see the boys, and so he’s always here and I haven’t had a chance to heal properly?  Is it because if I admit that I do this – the parenting, the running of the household, going to school, all the parenting- that I might crack under the pressure?  My best friend thinks it’s because every time I get my feet under me, that I heal more, I’m thrown by some other stupid, soap-opera-ish twist that I have to absorb like a blow.

But it didn’t happen a few months ago, it happened two-and-half years ago.  When he decided and I agreed, that we needed to separate.  And I knew then it wasn’t temporary.  I knew months before that when he suggested separation.  I knew if he walked out that door to live somewhere else, he was never coming back.  Nor should he.

Our marriage had cancer.  He and I both gave our marriage cancer.  We made mistakes, acted foolishly, did stupid things.  But just over three-and-half years ago, he decided against chemo.  I just didn’t know it until three years ago.  Thanks, dude.  And then we limped along for another six months, and again instead of taking the chemo like he suggested, he refused it.  Again.  Then he walked out.  It was the right decision.

And in many ways, I’m lucky.  He didn’t disappear when he left.  He came over several nights a week and most of Saturday to spend time with the boys.  He also paid me what he always gave me before the separation.  He never questioned my spending.  He rarely questioned my parenting choices.  He took us out for meals.  He paid for the presents since my budget would make it a lean birthday or Christmas.  He paid for car maintenance and found the boys a dentist.  He’s paid for my schooling, so that I can become a teacher.  He has been a good provider.  I’m thankful for that.

Today we go to mediation.  And it scares me. I don’t want to lose my boys.  Even for every other weekend.  For the last eight years, I have been their primary parent.  While he went on business and guys trips, I took care of the boys.  While he worked ten hour days, I took care of the boys.  When he went out with his friends and employees, I stayed home and took care of the boys.  When he decided to build another life without them, I took care of the boys.  When he came over late or forgot or talked on the phone while he was here, I took care of the boys.  I have fed, clothed, bathed, taught, played with, disciplined, cooked for, encouraged, nurtured, nursed, held them.  I have taken them to doctor, dentist, and counselor appointments.  I’ve met and talked with teachers and coaches.  I have taken them to parties, events, activities, schools, practices, meetings, and visits with friends and family.  I have helped with homework and chores and workbooks.  I have battled fevers and nightmares.  I have washed clothes and toys and cleaned up vomit.  I’m their mommy.

I don’t want to fight with him.  He’s their father, an important part of their lives.  No matter what he has done to me, he is their father.  My pride, ego, and pain are nothing to that.  I want them to have a good relationship with him and eventually their stepmom and any stepsiblings.

But I want what is best for them.  That is more important than being fair in a divorce.  That’s what I have to remember what I’m fighting for.  This isn’t a battle for justification or revenge.  This is a negotiation to secure the best possible life for my boys, the collateral damage in this messy war.  I want the best for them, and I will fight for it.

Mail Call

I stared at the envelopes.  Three Christmas cards arrived in one day.  They all had something in common.  It took me a moment to realize it.

My maiden name.

The first one was addressed to me.  It was from my best friend.  She always used my real name.  She knew from the beginning of our friendship.  We discussed our reasons why we didn’t change ours.  Feminists that we are, it was obvious.  Our reasons were the same.

The other two cards.

My maiden “And The Boys.”

How fitting.

The first was from a friend who had a son in Tornado E’s class last year.  We walk as often as we can together during the week.  With our busy schedules. We make it once or twice.  I couldn’t remember telling her my maiden name, but I talk so much, it wouldn’t have surprised me if I had said it and forgot two minutes later.  Or she could have asked one of our mutual friends.  Or looked it up on Facebook.  Whatever the reason, it was an acknowledgement.  She might have known a few weeks after it happened, when I told my friends so they would understand if Tornado E acted a little odd and cut him some slack.  They did.  They also created a net to catch me if I fell.  I didn’t.  I dance a tight rope well.

The third card.

My maiden name “and Sons.”

My grandma.  She knew I never changed my name.  “Hollywood actresses don’t.  They keep their maiden names for professional reasons and use their husbands’ for personal business.”  I shouldn’t have been shocked.  This was the matriarchal side of the family, after all.  There hadn’t been a weak-willed woman born into that family in living memory.  But she had always addressed mail and checks to my married name.  Even my last birthday check.

Someone had told her.  At first, it was held a secret because we were “suppose” to be working it out.  It didn’t take long for me to realize I was foolishly hoping, and it all became permanent, just not legal.  Why not tell then?  But how and when?  With my mom going through chemo.  Without a set legal date.  With the worry of what would be said to my sons who regressed in their bathroom habits.  With his asking to keep it secret, just for a little while.  And then a year came and went.  The Clan knew.  But only because they guessed and gossiped.  My father’s mother gave me oh-so-not-helpful advice.  Quite similar to her oh-so-not-helpful marriage advice.  My mother’s family did not know.  I had asked for respected silence because I didn’t want to be gossiped about, because I felt like a failure, because of all the things mentioned before.  It’s easy to hide things when chaos reigns.

My maiden name “and Sons.”

When did she learn?  Was that why she stuffed so many leftovers in my hands at Thanksgiving?  Was that why she reminded me over and over how she could watch the boys if I needed it?  Was there a certain awe in her voice (much like my mother-in-law’s voice held) when she talked about how I did so much with the boys, by myself?  (Keep in mind that for the first year of our move, the ex was only in town half the month, spent football Sundays at the bar, and was gone on business and guy trips more frequently than the family deemed appropriate.  Not that I cared; that was my life, taking care of the house and boys without help.)  Does that mean I get an extra gift like The Friendly Giant at Christmas because I don’t have a spouse?

My maiden name “and Sons.”

An acknowledgement.

Yes.  My family.  My no-name household.  My boys and I.

It was a more fitting acknowledgement than the other’s Grandma writing how Christ will watch over me.  Um, thanks.

Anxieties and Accidents

I knew the separation was going to hit the boys hard.  Their daddy wasn’t going to be there in the middle of the night.  The Husband didn’t think it would be that bad.  Maybe an outburst or two.  He figured that they would be used to him going away for two weeks and being back for two weeks that this would be cake.

But it wasn’t.  They’ve been sniffing the air, testing it, knowing something isn’t quite right with their family.  Tornado E asked one day months ago, “Daddy, why do you make Mommy cry?”  Here we thought we were having our tough conversations with them tucked in bed asleep.  Or the day after The Husband decided we needed a separation.  Tornado E said, “Mommy, is Daddy going away to live in California forever?”  “No, Baby; he’d never leave you.”  Or later that day when Tornado S said this, “Daddy, you don’t go away.  We need you.  We ALL need you.”  This was months before we even decided on the official separation and before we even told them.  So yeah, I knew it would hit them hard.

It will be two weeks from tomorrow when we told them.  Tornado E has peed his pants once a day, if not twice, since then.  Tornado S is having accidents almost every day too.  I don’t know how I can reassure them any more.  We hug them and love them.  We whisper our love into their ears.  We’ve kept the Saturday Fun Day with the family going.  My mom gushes over them, holding them.  But the accidents keep happening.

Any suggestions?