My three year old son, fairly oblivious at first to all of the evening’s drama, was playing with his trucks in another room and was calling for me to play with him. My daughter was still crying in the kitchen. After a long day of work, multitasking every minute, I find myself pulled between the two most important people in my life -- wanting so badly to just play with my son and keep everything “normal”, and being drawn into the sadness and fear that was so openly being displayed by my daughter. I quickly settled the little one, and picked up my daughter and brought her to sit on my lap at the base of the stairs.
As we sat on the bottom step, I held her and she cried. Slowly, she calmed herself and the tears were less frequent and the sobbing slowed. I continued to hold her and quietly tell her I love her. And daddy loves her too. And this is a hard time for all of us. I don’t have anything more to say to make it better, though I desperately want to. I started to cry and I told her “I’m so sorry you are hurting. I wish Mommy could take all the hurt away. But we are going to be ok.” Sometimes I believe we will be ok, and sometimes I don’t, but I always tell her we will -- and then I go back and think about it late at night, and wonder how I could have landed here. Me? But, then I remember that the how doesn’t matter anymore now. I’m a mom, and I have to guide these two little delicious, precious people through this storm. They don’t deserve this, and I didn’t plan this, and I never ever would have willingly put them through this, but we are here and we will be ok. We have to be.
M wanted to know why we all can’t be together. “Why can’t Daddy live with us anymore?” And then she asked me, “Remember all those special things we used to do all together?” From there, like a window opening on a cold day, her memories of special times blew in and they startled me. How did she have such vivid memories of these times at just six years old? “Remember the time, Mommy, when we were at the beach and we found all those sand dollars, and we went on that long walk together? And Daddy was with E, and we just did that together.” And I told her that the beach was a special place, this hideaway in Maine we’ve traveled to as a family every summer since she was a baby, and that Daddy was still going to take her and E this year. They could look for shells and sand dollars and hermit crabs and do all that fun stuff this year. During most of this conversation, she sat in my lap, with a downward gaze. Then, she looked up with her big, blue eyes and said “Won’t you be coming with us this year?” I lost my breath.
This is just one of many, many, many difficult conversations I’ve had with M over the last 5 months. They break my heart a little bit more each time. It’s that pain that only a mother knows -- when your child is sad and you can’t make it better. The kind of pain that makes you start to well up, breath deep, pause, and swallow hard while instincts tell you to suddenly “keep it together” and you figure out the right thing to say or you give a hug of just the right warmth and length and you get through the moment. What’s worse about all this, and perhaps the hardest to bear, is that I feel responsible for her pain. A fall on the playground, an illness, an argument with her friend -- all of those hurt, but they are the acceptable challenges of childhood, the kinds of things you expect to shoulder as a mom. I never thought I’d be here. I never thought I’d get divorced. How it all happened is a story for another day, though I’m certain with the deepest of conviction that I could not stay in my marriage. But, she doesn’t understand that now. My friends and my family tell me “someday, when she’s older, she’ll get it. She’ll understand why you had to do it.” I think that’s true, but someday is a long way away. Right now, I have a six year old, with a six year old heart and brain, sitting in my arms crying over her “broken family” -- her words. I tell her it’s not broken, it’s just different. I’m not even sure what I believe, but that’s what I tell her.
The moment passes. She feels better talking it through and looking at some pictures of a family trip from a few years back. I take a moment and think. Silently, E crawls in on the other side of my lap, instinctively cuddles in to my chest, and asks “why are you cryin’, mama?” In this moment, we are all here sitting on the bottom step of the stairs of the house we are about to sell and move from. And, it feels really real that we are on the bottom step of our new life. There are 12 steps to the second floor of our current house. We all walk up together to get ready for bath and bedtime, little E on my right hip, M holding my left hand. I can’t help but think that 11 more steps will be hard to climb, and I don’t know how we will do it, but we will get there.