“Don’t be sad. It’s okay to miss mommy–that’s okay. Because it means she’s a good mommy and you love her. And you get to see her again soon, just like you get to see me again another day.”
These are my own words. I had to say them to my two year old today as she started crying her heart out when I had to leave for the day. I made what some might say was the mistake of asking if she was really sad because she was missing mommy. Honestly, I didn’t know if I was going to be able to get the words out without crying, myself.
Isn’t it interesting and complex and frustrating that you can so perfectly understand the confusion and sadness and anxiety that someone as small as that is feeling, and yet you can be at a total loss as to how to explain it to her. I have seven year old who perfectly understands the disruption of divorce and is struggling with it in his own way. As upset as he gets sometimes, it’s actually usually fairly easy to put his mind at ease and calm him down. Then I have a four year old who is the happiest guy on the planet. He knows things aren’t right but he also seems to know everything is going to be fine.
But my two year old…my little girl. She knows things are wrong. She knows people are upset. She knows she is missing one of her parents, but doesn’t understand why. And all of the sudden she is ruled by an anxiety that everyone who sets foot outside the front door is leaving her and not coming back. I know all of that. I understand it all, even on a personal level. And yet I can’t explain it to her.
Nobody deserves that kind of confusion and chaos. But especially children. How do you center them and focus them on positivity, no matter what their age? I’m still trying to figure it out as I go along. But it’s a heartbreaking process.
I am sitting downstairs in the living room watching Dolphin Tale 2 in the dark, with my three sleeping kids around me–ages seven, four, and two. In the quiet, with the volume turned down, I can hear their hushed breathing and it makes me want to cry. Their hurting hearts are beating out rhythms that my own understands. Their world is changing in ways that they do and don’t understand, but are certainly not prepared to deal with. Their home is breaking up. Their parents are not together anymore. It is all so new and strange and hurtful to them. And it is all things that I have felt in detail myself a long time ago. Feelings that I have grown and learned from so that they are an embedded part of who I am, but that I never expected to have to reevaluate from this position in my adult life. I find myself being a diplomat for peace. I find myself being whoever they happen to be lacking at any given moment–mother or father–yet fully knowing that I can never truly measure up to either. I find myself close to tears on their behalf, wanting to be able to just pick everything up with my own two hands and put it all in its proper place again. To be able to so simply fix their lives. But I cant. All I can do is love them with all of my heart and sympathize with every fiber of my being and my full personal knowledge of what they are feeling. But it’s hard. One moment I feel like I’m doing a good job, or at least doing the best that I can. But then ten or fifteen minutes later, one of them will say something or react to something that takes my breath away. Suddenly I find myself thinking that surely there must be something else that I can do. When I was told by their parents that they were splitting up, I was given a choice. I didn’t have to stay. I could look for another job. But I was assured that, if I did stay, this previously unforeseen situation would not change my work. But that’s impossible. It takes a toll on my children–my little hearts–so deeply. And I am the one who spends each day with them. It has to take a toll on me too. But even knowing that, I could never walk out on them. As a child of divorce myself, I know the pain of someone you love walking away, and the balm of stability in such a situation. I could never leave them. Some days I don’t have a clue what to say to them or how to act around them. Sometimes, when they start crying, I just want to sit down next to them and cry too. And I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there are days like that still to come. But that is the most important thing–crying or smiling, I will be there with them. I could never be anywhere else. And that is why I’m sitting up in a room filled with the sound of gentle snoring, watching a cheesy movie. Because I need to be here with them. No matter how much we are all hurting, I don’t want to be anywhere else.