the smell of my desperation has become a stench

The two of us, grappling

Marlo is having a difficult time adjusting to camp and the relatively rigorous schedule of nonstop activities. The recent heat wave added another hurdle, and when I picked her up last Tuesday the counselors said they’d had to pull her inside during playtime because she was getting sluggish, sluggish enough for them to worry. I was like, yeah. You might want to raise an eyebrow if Marlo is exhibiting anything other than FULL BORE BINGEING ON LIFE WHERE IS THE KETCHUP SO I CAN SQUIRT IT IN MY PANTS.

For the last two weeks she’s been all over the place, joyous and consuming life in huge bites only to suddenly crawl onto the couch and fall limp. She’s obviously exhausted and struggling with not wanting to feel that way. And that’s almost too much of an adult condition for her to have to grapple with.

One day I picked her up from camp and when she saw me she wrinkled up her face in disappointment. “Ugh!” she shouted. “I’m building a fort! Come back later!”

I turned to one of the counselors and said, “I see that I am not needed here.”

She winked and I nodded, the two of us well-versed in dealing with the rapid-fire tactlessness of someone whose every need and want is attended to by another human being.

The following day I walked in and this time a concerned counselor was actively trying to comfort her. When Marlo saw me she started bawling, giant tears flooding her face and hair. As she ran to me her voice trembled with panic, “You were sthupposed to come pick me up! You were sthupposed to come pick me up!”

Several days before, their grandmother on their father’s side had died, and when Marlo jumped up and wrapped her arms around me, when she gripped me so hard the desperation shot through my neck, I couldn’t hold back my emotion any longer. I bit my upper lip as hard as I could but it didn’t stop my own sadness from drowning my cheeks. We stood there, the two of us, Marlo sobbing on my shoulder as I silently fought my own tears from reaching her face. I stroked her hair and back and made no noise other than assuring her, “I am here to pick you up. I am here to pick you up.”

marlo and me

The last two weeks have been rough. I’m a bit raw. It’s like I’ve suddenly enrolled in a camp whose rigorous schedule is more than my body can handle.

I’ve chosen not to write a lot about my divorce here for several reasons, the main one being my desire to respect the father of my children. They are so very lucky to have him, and the legacy I want to leave them of my relationship with him is that we love them and actively work together to provide them safety and happiness and love, we are a team here to navigate their upbringing.

In this narrative, however, exists a profound sadness that would inform anything I tried to write at this time. A sadness of leaving and saying goodbye, a sadness of giving up an extended family that I have for years come to adore and appreciate. So many stories and memories I shared with those people, memories that we will now no longer create.

The process of moving forward sadly requires this aching farewell, another step in what has already been a journey lined with sorrow and pain and heartbreaking turns. But it is a step forward, and I have always tried to wring as much knowledge and wisdom as I can out of pain, out of mile seventeen. One more stride.

The day after Marlo’s inconsolable breakdown, I showed up to pick her up at camp at the usual time. I braced myself for another emotional encounter, but when I entered the room I looked around for her worn out expression only to find her… there. Sitting happily on a toilet. Pants around her ankles. Out in the wide open preschooler bathroom.

Of course.

“I’M GOING POTTY, MOM!” she screamed triumphantly, loud enough so that those of you on the east coast who were worried about it could rest easy.

“I can see that,” I responded. I smiled as wide as I could as I walked over to help her finish up. And so we did, the two of us. We finished up and drove home, walked in the door and fell limp on the couch.

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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