I got a call from a single mom friend last night. She said, “For the first time, I’m really realizing how hard it is to be a single mom. And how lonely. And how much it just…sucks. And I don’t hope that for you.”

Funny, I’d been thinking the same thing. I spent a lot of time yesterday thinking about practicalities; how to keep the kids safe from K.’s “episodes” where the anger spews and the verbal abuse/bad parenting tactics abound, how to encourage them to feel secure and loved by him as well as me, but discourage them from putting up with bad treatment, how to deal with logistics. I had a counseling appointment with a new counselor, who is supposed to be my space to just deal with my feelings, after work. She asked me to start telling her the story of how I met K., and it seemed, as it always does, fairly random in the hearing. It was happenstance, it was hormones, it was on the rebound. How do you explain, even to yourself, that the person whom you may not have chosen to be with in a mythical state of total sense and objectivity has become your family, that you miss him, that you shudder to think of a future of negotiating relationships with people who are not your children’s father, and, at times, forcing your children to negotiate them when they shouldn’t have to? How do you explain how angry you are at his leaving and his dallying and his refusal to consider coming back while at the same time you have compassion for how difficult it is, and has been, and you understand that if you hadn’t had an unexpectedly large circle of support running to catch hold of the edges of your emergency blanket, as well as the unexpected realization that your coat could be used as a parachute, you might be taking that line as well? How do you explain to yourself that there are still benefits to trying when you know you’re trying alone?

Yesterday afternoon, we had a playdate with a mom from Thing One’s prior playschool, a mom who had always seemed content, and she asked me about how it was working with K. coming over to visit and the time and the finances. Then she said to me, “I really don’t think Rob and I are going to stay together.”

I was floored. Not that it makes sense for me to be; surely I am not the only person in the world whose marriage is giving indications of ending. But I was floored, because it does feel like that, because you don’t see past other people’s exteriors into the messes in their basements and bathrooms, because her baby daughter, who is nearly one, was swinging in the swing and Thing Two was standing at my feet contemplating wood chips and Thing One and her son, both dressed in appropriately manly kelly green-and-navy combos like two cutouts from the Appropriate Gender Identity Factory, were chasing each other around the play structure, climbing camellias, and shrieking with glee.

She seemed so calm.

“Is it going badly?” I asked. “Has this been happening for a while?”

She told me yes, that she and Rob were basically just living together because they couldn’t afford to live apart, that they had spoken recently about how they would manage doing so, that they had spent an hour together the other day and it had been…bad.

Just bad.

Now, insofar as I know him, I like Rob. But I’ve been him hanging out at coffee shops around town a fair amount, and I never see Jolie hanging around anywhere. She’s on with the kids 24/7. She takes them everywhere she goes, including to do email at the library. She doesn’t work, and it has always seemed to me that it would impossible for her to work because Rob is never home, and parents perhaps five hours a week.

“Is Rob a grown-up?” I asked.

“Not really,” she answered. We talked about how, when you go from being a young couple to having kids, you change your priorities and expect your partner to change his as well. And how often it doesn’t quite happen, and one partner, usually the man, doesn’t quite get it, doesn’t realize the weight of this work the two of you have been given, and continues as before. Whereas, to the primary parent, the one enmeshed in the day-to-day, the one who checks the sleeping babies before bed (and after dinner, after going to the bathroom, before Grey’s Anatomy, and upon returning from smoking) just to make sure they are breathing and unentangled and in safe stasis, nothing is as before.

One thing that K. and I talked about on Tuesday night, the night of the angry episode and declaration that to stay with me would be mercenary, was the work of parenting. We talked about how he’d let me do the heavy lifting. I described a conversation we had, when Thing Two was tiny, in which I was so tired and defeated and desperate that I said to him, “You have to take this baby. Now. Or I will drop her!”

He didn’t take her. He told me I could handle it and that he’d help out later. And I didn’t drop her. But later we talked, and I said that when I was clearly articulating that I was at the end of my rope and I needed him to step in right then, he needed to do so. This seemed intuitive to me. If the bus driver is having a seizure, you don’t just let him keep driving the bus.

He said, “Can’t it wait an hour or two?”

When we talked about that on Tuesday, I was not recriminating. I was trying to explain how difficult it had been for us because we had so few resources, I was so tired and postpartum whatevered and he was depressed and hypersomniac and unable to help. How lonely it had been to be that person, saying, “PLEASE HELP ME. I AM SCREAMING FOR HELP RIGHT NOW! THIS IS THE VERBAL EQUIVALENT OF EVISCERATING ONESELF AND SPELLING OUT S.O.S. WITH ONE’S OWN ENTRAILS!”

He said he didn’t remember.

“How much is your apartment?” I asked Jolie. She told me. I told her that for that same amount, she could have a better two-bedroom, of similar size and vintage, in the building our friends live in seven blocks away AND Rob could get an apartment share for some $300 a month. I was contemplating proposing she move into the apartment that K.’s sister is vacating, but I need to get the highest rent I can for that so I can keep paying all the bills. We strategized a little.

Thing Two got weepy. Jolie’s daughter sat on the ground and threatened to eat cigarette butts, which Jolie scooped out of the way. Thing One wanted to hide behind trees with Jolie’s son. At some point, we all ended up on the empty basketball court, Thing One and his friend using great big branches to rake the wet leaves into piles, Thing Two walking in purposeful zigzags in the waning sunlight and occasionally trying to exit the park so she could catch a bus.

“I worry about that,” she said. “I worry about how Rob would take care of the kids. He doesn’t really know how. He thinks he spends a lot of time with them, but he doesn’t really.”

“You can’t worry about that,” I said. “You have to assume it will make him rise to the occasion. Maybe he’ll actually start parenting them if you’re not around to help out. But as long as he’s not dropping them on train tracks, you have to let him do it.”

I know, she said.

Now I know I’m not alone. For Jolie it is different: she has been dealing with the slow burn of disappointment and resignation, whereas mine was more a blitzkrieg of destruction and refusal. And she sees the future of being a single parent as probably less work, whereas I see it as the shattering of something that has become the center of my world.

On the bookshelf in the living room is a Navajo wedding vase, a wedding gift from K.’s parents. It is essentially a representation of the myth of Baucis and Philmelon: the bottom of the vase is one, but two stems grow out of that to put flowers in.

(The irony grows in that K.’s middle name is the name of one of those types of trees. But I am not the other. I am a small, scrubby, fragrant herb, commonly used in pork dishes and clear spirits. Five miles east of this house there are two lanes, one with my name and one with his, all alone and next to each other across from a vast field. We used to see that and smile.)

It is beautiful in both concept and execution. And I have toyed with the idea of asking K. to destroy it when all of this is over.

Because I can’t bear to look at that symbol of a life that’s over.

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