I ran into a friend of mine the other day. She's a stay at home, with three kids (all elementary-school age) and a husband. Apparently her hubby has been out of town for a few days, traveling for work. As we plopped down on the stands at the Little League field, she let out a huge sigh. "Oh my gawd Jenny. Bob has been gone since Sunday. Now I totally know how you feel every day!".
This was Tuesday night.
Before I go any further, let me clarify that I love and adore my girlfriends. And yes, I do know that you don't have to know EXACTLY what someone is going through in order to empathize with them. I myself was never held in slavery, nor were many of my ancestors, but I can say with 100% certainty that it was wrong. And I am sure it sucked.
That said, can I get a "what what" from all my single mamas out there? How many times have you had a friend or other acquaintance, more specifically a married/co-habitating friend, tell you that "now I know how you feel"? I've had it said to me several times, and I have never said anything bitchy or snarky in return because I know what they are trying to say. They are trying to tell me that no, they don't know exactly how I feel but they have scratched the surface of the single-parenthood blister. And it's gross.
Big Daddy first took off before dawn on the last day of school in June, 2004. Yes, the last day of school. I remember standing in the dark family room, watching him get all of his stuff ready. He had the audacity to actually weep a bit as he carefully gathered his suits, his big fancy shoes and his golf clubs into a big "going away" pile. We didn't speak until I finally said, "You are such a fucking coward." He replied in a choked up voice, "I know."
When the kids woke up he was gone. The one thing I asked of Big Daddy was that he be the one to break the news to them about his change in plans. I already knew that the fallout was going to be disastrous, there was no way in hell that I was going to be the messenger.
Sad thing is, the kids had become so accustomed to him being gone that it was about a week and a half before Charlie and Molly asked, "When is Daddy coming home?". I just said, "Oh I don't know guys. I don't know...he'll be back soon." I was barely functioning at this point. My days were spent trucking kids around to park activities and trying not to drive into a brick building at full speed. I sobbed, sobbed hard..but only in the shower. I didn't want them to know that anything was wrong. They were so young.
I told just a few people. My neighbors, George and Katherine, who were not just neighbors but like family. They are William's godparents and had been the kind of neighbors you just think exist in the movies. Katherine is an RN, and I can't count how many times I ran over to her front door with a bleeding kid. They were like pseudo parents/older siblings for me, and to this day I count them among my bestest friends.
I also told my real best friend. She and I used to take our broods (8 kids total) to Dairy Queen on the last day of school. We sat there, watching the kids play by the fountain, eating our cones. I just came out and said it.."He left me." She did what you kind of expect your BFF to do in this situation. Hugs, a few shared tears, and the questions, oh the questions. I don't really remember a whole lot else from that summer, but I do remember that breaking the news to people eventually became easier. I felt like a pariah, though, like I had caught a horrible fatal disease. Some people actually physically withdrew from me when they knew, like they'd pick it up or something. Which I kind of understand. For the suburban stay at homes, this was the worst nightmare (aside from hurt kids). Most women in my former situation don't even think about the possibility, let alone plan for it.
So anyway. Big Daddy eventually came over, gathered the three older kids in Charlie's bedroom and sat them down for THE BIG TALK. "I love you guys, and I love Mommy" he began. He talked to them about how he was feeling confused, and sad, and needed time to think. Time away from our house. The kids didn't cry, I remember that. Charlie asked him "But where will you live?" And Big Daddy regaled them with a description about his apartment, with a pool! That pacified them, and they went to bed.
These were the months when it dawned on me that geeze, maybe Big Daddy didn't have my best interests at heart. One week in July, the garbage man skipped my house. I called the company to let them know, and the chick on the other end told me, "Ummm your account is past due, ma'am. We can't do a pick up until you make a payment." Yep..he had stopped paying the bills and forgot to mention this little fact to me. I asked him about the garbage bill, and the house payment, and all the other things that had been, up until this moment, his "job". He apologized and said he'd take care of everything, but told me "You're going to have to figure all of this stuff out now." Yep, I certainly would. Meanwhile, as Big Daddy got the finances figured out, we became the house on the block with the big stinking pile of garbage. This was July, remember.
So now you know what goes through my mind when one of my more fortunate friends tells me she knows how I feel. Yes, she does, to some extent. Getting the inmates fed, driven to their games, bathed and then finally down for the night is exhausting when you're solo. But my friends have a distinct advantage. Their own Big Daddy is coming back...there is an end in sight for them. There is a retirement fund, bills that are paid, a paycheck, a built-in best friend..hell, they even know for a fact that they will have sex again, sometime in this decade. And their kids haven't stopped asking them "When is Daddy coming home?".