Best way to roast the broomstick. Must try. Five Stars.

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.

  • Mia Crespo

    It helps me to have to take care of the little ones’ feelings when I am too down. Somehow it keeps me from going crazy. But it is also hard not to be able to let it overwhelm me, give up to it for a while. Courage.

  • Renlish

    You obviously haven’t been in a kindergarten bathroom. There’s no stalls, or if there is, there’s no doors on the stalls. All wide open so carers can keep an eye on the kids.

  • Renlish

    Maybe it’s not up to anyone else to speak for Jon – this is Heather’s blog.

  • ChelleRob

    You’re a jerk.

  • Kayli

    This is not meant to be out of line or a personal criticism, just wondering whether 4 year olds go to camp every day of holidays, and if this is just too much for them? In Australia 4 year olds have 2 1/2 days of school per week and then at school holidays only go to holiday programs if both parents are working. Obviously you are working a full on job, but is there another way for your little one to get some downtime?

    I am just asking because my 5 year old is struggling in his first year of fulltime school and this holidays he will need some downtime at home. What I am trying to get at is whether is just a cultural thing that kids go to fulltime camp in America, and whether it can be got around if the child is not coping.

    This jumped out at me but I haven’t missed the point of the post. I am very sorry to your whole family for the loss of a beloved grandmother. Take care.

  • Hope writing about it lets some of the pressure out. Wishing you well.

  • Debra

    Ditto. I don’t understand why the little ray’s of sunshine don’t go somewhere they are appreciated. We are kind, conscious adults here. This isn’t a wide open preschooler bathroom. We are kind, conscious adults here

  • All I could think of was the song “Two” by the Antlers when I read this post. Totally appropriate for what you’re going through.

  • Lauren3

    Heather, I know you turn to music to help you get through tough times– you and me both. Have you listened to Phosphorescent yet? The latest album, Muchacho, is incredible. Lyric from the title track:

    Hey mama, meet me ‘neath the moon,
    I will be humming out that tune:
    “I’ve been fucked up. And I’ve been a fool.”
    But like the shepherd to the lamb,
    Like the wave onto the sand,
    I’ll fix myself up. To come and be with you.

  • lunarbee

    It’s weird that a divorce is supposed to null out those extended family relationships. I saw that happen with my parents, who were married almost 30 years when they divorced and suddenly families on both sides stopped being cordial to the other ex-spouse. And yet, when my cousin divorced, we didn’t stop having a relationship with her ex-spouse. He is still family to many of us. I think it requires a delicate balance and a level of maturity. Just because a marriage didn’t work out doesn’t mean everyone else should cease to care about each other.

  • Carly

    I am a day behind in reading your blog but I’m glad I read this today.

    My grandmother passed away on June 12 and because of some red tape, the internment was today, so I am an emotional mess.

    At her funeral a few weeks ago, the support was incredible. I have a few uncles who have been married more than once and several ex-aunts were present to offer condolences and grieve themselves. They were family once, and while they may not still be married, to many of us, they are still family and we love them.

  • Rrrandall

    I wonder if it’s about not Googling his name and having her recent posts pop up. To let him speak for himself, as it were.

  • MBworkingmom

    Regarding Marlo’s adjustment to camp, I have to remind myself a lot that from day to day my kids’ feelings about whether or not I did what they expected/wanted me to do (picked them up early, didn’t pick them up early enough, etc.) is mostly not about me, I am just the safest place for them to unleash their exhaustedness and their frustration with their limited control over their own lives. It’s heartbreaking to see them so sad, and crazy-making to go through the process of helping them be okay, and then bracing yourself, as you said, for another pick up where they may be sad or mad, or totally fine. I’ve been reading your blog for a long time, and I believe you are a good, caring mother, who honestly has their best interests at heart. Hang in there momma!

  • Heather Armstrong

    I love that song. Thank you for reminding me about it. Those lyrics are killer

  • Heather Armstrong

    You have reciprocated with these words. Thank you so much.

  • Heather Armstrong

    It’s a courtesy we are offering to each other online.

  • abbiejoy

    Divorce feels like living with a thousand paper cuts, and around every corner is another damn piece of paper. Hang in there.

  • CB

    This post was incredible Heather. I know exactly what you are going through. I am 38 years old and met my (now- ex) husband when I was 15 years old. We were high school sweethearts. His parents raised me and I was a me ever of their family. When we divorced 4 years ago, I didn’t leave the marriage under the best circumstances. He forgave me and we are a unified team in raising our daughter. His family on the other hand has not been as kind. I get it, but miss them.

    Both of his parents passed away within the last 3 years. As I sat next to his mother on her death bed, I knew in my heart that I had to be there by the pain I had caused them led me to believe I wouldn’t be forgiven. His mother put her hands on mine and told me she loved me and forgave me and this made me able to forgive myself. I realized I should have tried to have this conversation prior to that point and not lost as much time with his beautiful family….

    Thank you for this post and the beautiful community you have built here. Posts like these remind me we are all going through similar challenges.

  • Amelia_J

    You break my heart and heal it again with your words.

  • Brenna

    My parents divorced when I was in 9th grade. My sister and I were certainly older than Leta and Marlo are but I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that you are doing the absolute best thing for them by respecting each other in the way that you are. While I know that my parents were not in love, I know that they are in love with my sister and I. By refusing to disparage each other, and even include us in the majority of the details surrounding the divorce, we never doubted their love. I see how hard it is for my mother that my father’s parents do not want anything to do with her, and the distance my mother feels at not having access to a part of our lives. I don’t have any eloquent words of encouragement, other than I think you’re being wonderfully brave for your children, and one day in the very near future I think they will be able to see the sacrifice you have made for them.

  • At The End Of My Rope?

    I don’t think my marriage is going to make it. I have been in tears off and on all day today. I know I am unhappy, but how does one know, really know, when it is time to give up? Thank you for this piece, thank you for all your writing. Thank you also to all the people who have shared their stories too. I read every single one, cry, take deep breaths, and try to imagine life outside my marriage.

  • Renee

    But the photo – hugging your kid WHILE ARM STRETCHED OUT FOR SELFIE, posing and looking out over her shoulder. That’s just awful. Please, just give your kid a darned hug, put the iPhone down. We don’t need to see it. I’d rather they just get hugs than see pics.

  • Grace

    My divorce became final the last week in May. You could say that we took the express train, as it only took about 3 1/2 months from filing to finalized. Our last big event was Mother’s Day just a couple weeks prior at my ex’s brother’s house. His folks, siblings, spouses, close friends, and kids were there. My last big hurrah with his side. Since then I haven’t spoken to any of them. It is weird, but I was never close with them. My ex and I have also chosen to work as a team to raise our two kids. We make sure to ask them how they’re doing and ask about what’s on their mind. They have their moments like Marlo did, but I think that our approach has made this major change in their lives easier than it might otherwise could have been. It’s definitely a challenge to take higher ground and not speak ill of each other, but it’s well worth the effort.

  • Kay

    I expect that was a different hug, used to illustrate this post.

  • algy

    I have no experience of this first hand. Or at least not the first hand that you’re going through, but I wanted to share my family’s experience with you .

    My Grandparents divorced in the 1960s (when my dad was a teen) and when divorce in England was still a Big Deal. I can’t pretend that there weren’t problems and heart ache. But I can tell you that my Dad turned out ok – and his two siblings and 3 half-siblings all see each other regularly. And Granny and my StepGran used to meet at family weddings, christenings and on occasion phone each other for a chat. By the time my granny died last year they were very nearly friends – just two old ladies who happened to have been married to the same guy. StepGran came to the funeral. Granny’s side of the family (strictly Methodist and very anti divorce) often ask about how StepGran is and StepGran likes to hear about them. It’s not everyone’s normal – but it works for us. You find a way to make what life throws at you work for you.

    And Dooce, I think you’re doing a great job of making this work for you – and you’re doing it maintaining a job which requires you to write about your life – and you’re doing it without compromising your children’s future relationship with either of their parents by leaving a trail of anger about the situation on the internet for them to find when they’re older.

  • Erin

    whoa… me too. Every day I have anxiety over whether it’s better to stay or go. Then I wonder am I giving up too easily. Everyone gets divorced these days. Maybe I’m just nuts. But then I wonder… don’t I deserve more than this? I’ve been unhappy for 2 years. I have the same urge to protect him… but maybe that’s unfair to me… who is protecting me… because it sure isn’t him and that’s the problem.

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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