Weeks beforehand, I started marking X’s on the calendar each day we got closer to the big date. Knots tightened in my stomach. I paced the living room floor rehearsing my send-off speech. But the weekends, oh, the weekends, I relished. My son and I squeezed in every conceivable mother/child activity… movie nights, pajama parties, arts and crafts, cooking classes, breakfast for dinner, sand-castle building and sports of all kinds. My phone captured so much proof we could relive those moments whenever we wanted to.
Then the big date arrived. I remember triple-checking the bags I had packed. I paced some more and kept peeking through the blinds. I thought, maybe I won’t see his car outside or that my phone wouldn’t ring. Or that he’d forget. Or maybe his flight was delayed.
But he showed up. And I could see him wipe the sweat from his brow as he pulled into the driveway.
Trying hard not to lose it
My son and I went outside to greet him.
I tried really hard not to cry. But, one by one, the tears came. Then, in a flash, it seemed like there were 10,000 of them. Some drying and sticking to my face, others rolling down to my T-shirt.
And I stood powerless, knowing there was nothing I could do. My ex and I have shared custody. It’s been decided by a judge; recorded in legal documents. I felt the warmth of my son’s hand leave mine. And through the fog in my eyes, I watched his father buckle him in his car seat, counting the clicks and clacks in my head.
I was fully prepared for my son to have a mega meltdown. Or cry, even a little bit, but (maybe, thankfully) none of that happened. He was excited to be going with his dad for the summer.
His father and I stoically stood outside of his car, barely making eye contact. We both know the drill. Then I went over my checklist.
“You have the health insurance cards, and copies of his prescriptions?” I said. “And don’t forget, he’s wearing a size 12 shoe now.” Almost without taking another breath, I continued on, “And for clothes, the 4T’s are getting smaller on his stomach but the pants still fit. He’s not allergic to anything, but use that organic sunscreen I put in his bag. Oh and at night, he has to go to bed at 8 and he likes to have a small light on in the bathroom. And…”
Annoyed, he finally cut me off.
“I got it.”
With that, my entire body deflated. I thought, “Gosh, I’m a control freak. Certified word vomiter. But really, a three-word response?! Did he hear me at all? Ugh, he really doesn’t get it, like I do.”
Learning to let go
Suddenly, I remembered how hard this is for my ex, too. When we were together, we worried about the same things for our son. We wanted the best for him at all times. We both wanted to be at the school recitals and doctor visits. And although we now live nearly 900 miles apart, we are both still parents, just on different schedules: Dad gets court-ordered summer placement, and I get everything else.
And now it was Dad’s time. I had to respect that, even though it’s the most agonizing, anxiety-ridden eight weeks for me.
Thanks to technology, my son and I stay in contact regularly. We send pictures back and forth. His dad sends pictures of their outings and of our son just doing kid stuff.
As coparents, exes, whatever, we don’t always have our act together, but we’re trying to move on. We’ve mourned the loss of the relationship, the people we were and the life we thought we’d share. Now, we just focus on raising a happy, healthy, kind-spirited little boy.
Finding the upside
Usually, the first 40 hours after my son leaves are the worst. I can’t sleep, I don’t clean up the toys he leaves out. I barely cook, because I can’t cook for one. And I don’t know what to do with all the free time I have and end up binge-watching TV and eating Pringles and ice cream sandwiches.
After those initial days of loneliness a bit of my anxiety subsides. I begin to plan what I am going to do. And that’s when things start to get fun. I began to focus on myself and my goals. I do a lot of running. I read books. I work on my writing. I don’t rush home after work. I stay up late on weeknights and I sleep in on weekends. I sip my coffee more slowly in the morning. I eat dessert before dinner. I drink wine with my girlfriends. I go on real dates, not just playdates at the park. I pee in peace – no shouting from the other side of the door. Oh, and I take bubble baths! Bubble baths. With candles. Those are the fulfilling moments I enjoy for a sweet, sweet eight weeks every summer.
Coparenting in any situation is tough. But I always try to look at the bright side. For a few weeks of out of the year, my son creates lasting, lifelong memories with his dad. And to this single mom, that’s priceless.
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