My daughter, Johanna, has been with her father and future step-mother for two weeks straight. Considering the fact that she’s barely ten months old, this was harder on me than it may seem on the surface.
French doors in my room open up to her room, which is the “sunroom” of the apartment, complete with it’s own closet and air conditioner vent. It’s basically a patio that they closed and insulated to make it a room, perfect for a baby. I leave those french doors open 24/7. Being able to turn over in bed and see her sleeping in her crib gives me peace. I look at her and think about so many things, decompressing at the end of the night; however, not having her there was more strange than saddening.
The first night, I told myself it would be okay because she’ll be back in no time, and on the bright side I would be able to sleep through the night undisturbed. Of course that didn’t happen. Between phantom cries and my body’s mom-of-a-baby sleep schedule, I woke up every three hours. The gears in my head kept turning and clanking. Is she asleep? Is she scared? Does she have a “favorite” pacifier over there to sleep with (the kind with the stuffed animal attached to the back)? Did they buy her a pillow to help her not rub the back of her head raw when she flops around like a fish in her sleep Do they play her music to fall asleep to? Are her blankets soft? Is her bedding clean?
I cried into my pillow until the dark, wet circle of tears on my grey pillow grew to the size of my face. I knew I would have to get used to it. That was only the first night with fourteen more to go until I saw her again.
The month of July is hardest on the custodial parent in custody agreements: the child goes to the non-custodial parent’s house for the entire month with one weekend of time with the custodial parent. It felt like a breakup. Someone that takes up every second of your free time, consuming nearly every thought of your day, is suddenly gone. Everywhere I looked, I saw her. Little things reminded me of her constantly. The emotions grew exponentially when her two year old brother, Jacoby, would ask where she was or when she was coming back.
When she came back home, everything felt normal. We bounced right back into our routine all weekend until our fun-filled Sunday arrived. I made Jacoby an appointment with a friend for her to cut his hair. His curls were out of control, and his thick hair sat heavily on his head in the swampy heat of a North Texas summer. We had a birthday party to attend along with a gender reveal party, the latter of which supposedly had someone attending that my friend wanted to “set me up with.” Being awful with a curling iron, I asked my hairstylist friend, Cecilia, to do my hair while we were there.
Between long car rides, 100+ degree weather, and off schedule nap times, we skipped the birthday party. On the way home from Cecilia’s, both kids fell asleep. As any mother knows, you don’t wake a sleeping baby or toddler and expect a pleasant reaction, so I sat in a Whataburger parking lot for an hour and a half while the littles slept peacefully in uncomfortable car seat positions. I looked around at the inside of my car and thought about how it might appear to someone who didn’t know me. It was a dirty, yet eclectic mess: McDonald’s bag, empty plastic water bottles, a deflated pool float, a NFHS Class of 2017 commencement program, a one-inch socket wrench, a black faux-leather Brandy Melville overnight bag filled to the brim with baby supplies and barely able to be zipped closed, four full-sized bathroom towels, a cardboard cat scratcher mat, discarded opened mail from a month prior, old nametags, and coins and crumbs scattered everywhere in abundance. My car was a metaphor for my life. All kinds of things going on, an accumulation of problems over time, but all causing an inconvenient mess.
When you’re pushing thirty years old, these baby showers and gender reveal parties are fairly common. Over the last few years, I’ve been invited to many, yet attended few. I was always working, pregnant, had a newborn, moving, or just simply exhausted from life. Something I didn’t realize was the amount of couples that attend these kinds of events. I wasn’t a fifth wheel. I was a seventeenth wheel. Many of these couples had children, one of which, adorably, bonded with Jacoby while I sat on a couch with Johanna, next to the congregation in the kitchen. I didn’t have anything to relate to with these people. They all planned their lives to be where they are now. They’re living the white-picket-fence American Dream with their husbands, wives, children, homes, and lives. Here I am, a single mother of two young children from two different relationships waiting to meet someone at a gender reveal party that my friend thinks I’d hit it off with. The guy never showed up.
As soon as we found out the sex of the baby (it’s a boy, by the way), the kids and I left before I could be any more awkward. Upon opening my car door to load the kids in, I was slapped in the face with a smell that I, unfortunately, recognized: dirty diaper, something I forgot about leaving in the car after the Whataburger break. Once the kids were strapped in, we had to ride with the windows down to clear the air while sweat drops glittered off Jacoby’s freshly cut hair, off the bangs of Johanna, just barely missing her eyes, and my heather purple t-shirt hid the boob sweat developing underneath. There wasn’t a convenient place to stop and throw it away because anywhere with an easily accessible trash can was on the other side of the road or involved multiple maneuvers through a parking lot. We stopped at a Popeye’s parking lot near Johanna’s father’s house where we were heading to drop her off. I threw away the culprit of the smell and finished airing out the car.
Once again, both kids had fallen asleep, so I was left to contemplate the day and the impending feelings that come with Johanna being gone another two weeks. I tried to prepare myself for being in the presence of his fiancee, whom I hadn’t seen since shortly after Johanna was born. He was at work, so I would be giving my child to the woman who began dating him behind my back when I was seven months pregnant. In her defense, he told her we had broken up; but I still question the mental health of a woman who decides to date a man expecting a child with another woman who wasn’t going to any appointments, asking questions about the baby’s development, or providing any kind of support post-birth. Yet this is the woman he chose over me and I was forced to hand my daughter over to her.
I kept the conversation to a minimum, sharing when Johanna ate last, was changed last, and how she slept today. I added a part about her being congested the day before and running a low fever but that it didn’t seem to be bothering her anymore. I’m known for having resting-bitch face and a somewhat monotone voice when talking to someone I don’t know well, so I have no doubt she knew how unhappy I was with the situation. As Jacoby and I pulled out of the driveway, I was in tears before I hit the first stop sign a quarter mile away. I tried to choke them back through fake coughs to mask the sniffles.
“Mama, why are you crying?” he asked. Apparently, I hadn’t done a very good job.
“Oh, I’m sorry, bubba. I’m just sad because Johanna is going to be gone for a few more days. I’m just sad when she’s gone.”
“Aw. I’m going to miss her, too. Hey, Mama?”
“You’ve cried a lot lately,” he said through a pout.
I don’t typically cry in front of my son, as often as I can help it. I hadn’t cried in front of him at all since Hadley went to her dad’s. I still don’t know how he knew.