the smell of my desperation has become a stench

Absence

Hey. Yeah. So I know that posting around here has been really light recently, and that’s due in no small part to the fact that I have about 14 different things in the air right now and I’m desperately trying not to let anything hit the ground. Sometimes that desperation leads to paralysis and I can’t unclench my hands which makes things a little tricky. Add to that meetings that require me to be away from my desk for most of the day and my brain doesn’t have the time it needs to produce the creative work I need to produce.

But a bigger, more underlying problem is at play here, and I’ve been reticent to talk about it, afraid even, because everyone has their own set of cards to bring to this table. I finally decided to admit how I’m feeling because I’m wondering for those who have lived through this if it will get better with time or if I’ll just get used to it. I don’t know. I’m just really sad.

I’ve been feeling this way for a few months, and it has taken me awhile to figure out why I can’t climb out of this mud-like funk. And then one morning after I dropped the girls off at camp I realized I wouldn’t see them for three days. I’d be going home to a silent house and it would remain like that until I picked them up from camp three days later. That enormous void in my house is like a rapidly growing cancer that infests my every thought and every action.

I miss them and that longing ache is crushing me.

When my cousin was here watching Marlo, I saw both of my kids every day. I’d hear Marlo running around in the room over my head, jumping on chairs and lecturing the dogs. I’d greet Leta when she’d walk in from school and take a look at the homework ahead of her for the night. I touched their hair, pressed my face to the back of their necks, swapped a few jokes whenever I took a break. The sound and the smell and the touch of my children filled my home.

sadness1

sadness2

But all that changed when my cousin left and I had to find other childcare for my girls during the day. It changed suddenly, overnight. And now I don’t see them for days. Yes, when I travel I don’t see my kids for just as long, but I do not enjoy being in my house without my kids. I dread walking in that door.

I had friends tell me that I would love the free time I’d have on the days and nights they are with their father. But the opposite is true. Those days shred my heart to pieces.

What compounds this ache is that when they are here I only have two hands and they seem to have hundreds. The work of taking care of two kids alone in my house, two kids who have very different and often conflicting needs is difficult. It’s frustrating, sometimes overwhelmingly. The work of it can obstruct the joy, and when it does, when I’ve put them to bed and realize that all I did for the previous two hours was repeat myself in an attempt to maintain some order, those are the nights when I close the door to my bedroom, sit up against a wall and hold myself.

I know, it’s only two kids. It’s not five or six or god forbid ten. And it’s only a few days. I understand it could be so much worse. But understanding that doesn’t lessen the agonizing pain of their absence or the toll it takes on me emotionally. It doesn’t alleviate the sadness. It doesn’t help me figure out the exasperation of doing it alone.

And so I have to hope that it gets easier or that I will get used to it. And in the meantime just put my head down, pry open my hands and try not to panic.

131 Comments
  • Sara

    2013/09/06 at 11:04 am

    Amen, Debra.

  • christine

    2013/09/06 at 11:20 am

    Love your comment. so true….been sharing custody for 2 years and some days it is bearable, others it feels like i can’t possibly go on this way.

  • christine

    2013/09/06 at 11:26 am

    my first thought when i read this comment was ‘how mean and thoughtless, and JUDGEMENTAL’….but guess what? that was a defense mechanism because reading those words makes me feel so incredibly guilty. i had no choice but to leave my marriage and i don’t need to justify that to anyone, but i do often feel wracked with guilt over what this decision has done to my daughter and stepson. they didn’t choose this path. but i do know that i am 100% a better mother by being on this path and i have so much more to teach and offer by being on this path. but there is no way around the the wondering of what does this do to them? all i can do is reassure myself that what it would’ve to them if i stayed was the worse of the two outcomes. hugs to you Heather, and all the rest of us who live parts of our lives with our little ones in someone else’s care.

  • Becky

    2013/09/06 at 11:46 am

    I am sorry for your struggle Heather. 🙁
    I’m sure I’m not alone, and if you search/reread your memory-/blog-banks you’ll remember too:
    It DOES get easier.
    no bearing whatsoever on how much it sucks now 🙁
    Loneliness….I used to go to THE MALL!!!! just to be around people…clerks talk to you when you buy stuff.
    Busyness…am personally jamming as many ‘have-to-dos’ into my kidless time so I have more time for all the ‘wanna dos’ when I’m kidfull 🙂

  • Lynn

    2013/09/06 at 11:56 am

    It wasn’t my intention to be judgmental. I don’t know the details of your circumstance, Heather’s or anyone else’s and am therefore in no position to judge you. Even if I did know the details of your situation, it’s still not my job to judge you. When I wrote that I was looking at the situation more broadly – a ridiculous number of marriages end in divorce and I wonder if as adults we need to be a bit more cautious in regards to what we are committing to for the next 18 years when we decide to bring a child into that marriage. Should we strive for zero divorce? Of course not, there are many circumstances where divorce is the best solution for all. Should we strive for more stability in families and think long and hard about impact of bring a child into the world before doing so – yup.

  • Sarah D.

    2013/09/06 at 12:19 pm

    I can’t attest to things getting easier or harder or the same, I have a 5yo and 1yo who have lived in daycare from 4mos old on, due to me working outside the home. What I can contribute is what I often have to think about to outweigh the terrible guilt manifested into my heart, stuck like a large toad in my throat. I try to think of all the wonderful experiences they have had and will continue to have learning and being loved from so many amazing people. People who contribute to their independence, their understanding, their love, their insight THEY are those who’ve helped make my babies so wonderful. Sure they’d have some of that from me but let’s face it I can’t take credit for all they’ve ever gotten. I think it shows what a great mom you are. To long for them when they are gone, but for when they are there feel as though you’re not doing good enough or your barely hanging on. THAT is a sign of a damn good mother! If you didn’t care and love so much you wouldn’t have such anxiety or angst when they are physically with you. Good luck in this amazing path called motherhood and know you are not alone!

  • Jackie

    2013/09/06 at 1:30 pm

    I started down this road nearly two years ago. I see my 4-year-old every other night plus a full day on the weekend. My time with him is often exhausting and fraught, and when he’s with his dad I’m counting down the hours until I can see him again. It’s been sad and confusing, but there are moments of grace and complete love which make it bearable. You just need to hold onto those and keep going. I’m waiting for it to feel generally okay too.

  • Lisa

    2013/09/06 at 1:41 pm

    It’s been 6 years for me, and I still miss my son when he’s gone for the weekends or on vacation with his dad. I have gotten used to it, but I still hate it.

  • Heidi

    2013/09/06 at 2:16 pm

    I feel your pain. My daughter is 20 months old. I was never married to her father and our relationship ended badly. He was completely absent during my pregnancy and for the first 4 to 5 months of her life. Then, he decided he wanted to be a part of her life (when it’s convenient for him). So, since my daughter was 6 months old, there has (sometimes) been weekly visits (as I said, when it’s convenient for him). Now, starting in October, her father will have her overnight every other weekend, per Judge’s orders. I am devastated, heartbroken, and sick. It has just been her and me for these last 20 months. I am never home without her, and that’s how I want it. She is my heart and soul. Even the last year, when she has gone for an afternoon or a weekend day, I have to make lists of things to occupy my time so that I won’t feel the gaping hole her absence leaves in my day/heart. Now? A whole weekend away? I don’t know what I’m going to do… I am so sad that this is the way it has to be. I miss her so much and she isn’t even gone yet…

  • Heidi

    2013/09/06 at 2:18 pm

    Thank you for this.

  • Janie T

    2013/09/06 at 2:33 pm

    I’ve read Jacqueline’s response, and I think that she has your answer. But I was also wondering if working from home so much might be part of the problem? Ironic, I know, but your home is your shared environment. The one place where you and the girls (and the doggies, don’t forget them!) are always together as a family. Maybe setting up a different work space somewhere else until you have time to get used to your new situation? Yes, it is still new! It just happened. Don’t forget to give yourself some slack for that! I think that eventually there will be some good/happy experiences on your own to balance out the bad/sad. I feel you will get there, and remember that we all are behind you, rooting for you! Love to you, Heather!

  • ewokmama

    2013/09/06 at 2:35 pm

    It was a difficult transition for me after my divorce, even though it was a relief to have my husband gone and a relief to have time to myself when my son was with his dad.

    The harder part of it was I was alone with myself, alone with my thoughts and I didn’t have much to distract me from myself – there is only so much cleaning and laundry one can do. I can be my own worst enemy… I got through it with a lot of therapy and I made sure to invite friends over a lot and to get out of the house. I really had to ‘find myself’ again, to remember not only who I was without a partner, but who I was before I was a mom. And then to learn to like that person.

    It took time but things came together eventually and it did get easier. I noticed about two years after my split things got suddenly a lot easier. I’m not sure, but I think that was probably longer than usual – I don’t do transitions well. 😛

    Hang in there. It will get better. Make sure you are doing things to ‘fill your bucket.’

  • Heidi

    2013/09/06 at 2:36 pm

    I’m sorry I have no words of wisdom for you. You aren’t alone… Holding you and your girls in my heart…

  • kate

    2013/09/06 at 3:53 pm

    Ha! Soooo true. My daughter is almost 13, and while I love her more than life itself, well, if she *didn’t* go to her dad’s half the time, I’m not sure she’d live to see 14.

  • MandaJo

    2013/09/06 at 4:06 pm

    I can’t imagine being without my son. He’s three, and his cheeks are my favorite thing about being alive. They’re so soft and smooth and perfect, and if I couldn’t press my face to them every day when I’m off work and the day is done, I think I’d dig myself a hole and sit at the bottom of it screaming forever. I don’t know what it must be like for you to be without them when they’re at camp, or with their father, or when you’re on trips. I’m going on a 13 day trip to SE Asia next month and the thought of being away from my son for that long -and so far! I won’t be able to touch him, my arms will never be that long, what if he falls or has a nightmare or gets sick or learns to jump on one foot and I’m GONE?- sucks the joy and anticipation I feel about this amazing vacation right out of me, replacing it with dread and oily, slick sickness… None of this helps you. I don’t know if it gets better, or when, or how much better it gets when it does. But for your sanity and your heart, I really, honestly hope things get easier and your heart learns to beat without the sound of them in your ears. I can’t imagine how much it much hurt, but what I imagine in sympathy tells me whatever you’re feeling must be crushing.

  • LaurenR

    2013/09/06 at 4:22 pm

    I think there’s a lot to what you say… This gives me a new angle to understand my situation too. Thanks! 🙂

  • Amelia_J

    2013/09/06 at 4:27 pm

    Sending love.

  • RGZ

    2013/09/06 at 4:32 pm

    you are very very welcome. 🙂

  • Odette Roulette

    2013/09/06 at 6:24 pm

    As a single mother, there are days where I feel like I’m drowning. As well, I live far away from family. I have to rely on the good nature and help of friends or trusted babysitters, when I can afford it. But, even so, when she’s at school, and I’m here, I miss her terribly. It is tough, I know. I’m sorry you’re feeling the “lonelies.” On the bright side, you will see them again soon, and you have a lot of work and friends and family on your plate to enrich and brighten your life. Life transitions are just big pains in the ass, aren’t they?

  • Lauren3

    2013/09/06 at 6:41 pm

    I’m guessing Melanie doesn’t have a very comprehensive grasp of emotion/empathy.

  • Deborah Cruz

    2013/09/06 at 9:47 pm

    I am so sorry that you are going through this. I don’t know what it is like to be away from my kids for days at a time regularly. I can’t imagine. I have been on the other end. For two years, my husband worked out of state and we only say him on the weekends. I know the only having two hands, no break and feeling outnumbered and overwhelmed. Then the soul crushing guilt that comes with the realization that I’d spent my time trying to keep order and in the meantime missed out on the moments. All mothers who have ever had to do this alone, whether due to single parenting, divorce or commuter arrangement , know how this feels. It is hard. Really hard. Hang on mama. It will eventually get easier. Deep breaths.

  • Minh Luong Ngo

    2013/09/07 at 7:56 am

    you are very very welcome

  • KMC2

    2013/09/07 at 10:00 am

    It always felt like a piece of my heart went with my son when he left to spend time with his dad.

    My beautiful, sweet mom passed away unexpectedly this week. She always took good care of herself. At 81 years of age she still went for walks with her friends, logging up to two miles per day. Just a few years ago she would walk five to six miles a day! I will miss her dearly. I keep finding myself wanting to call her on the phone :0(. I know what a special relationship you and your wonderful mom share. Mother and daughter relationships are just so precious.

  • Carrie

    2013/09/07 at 10:23 am

    Maybe rather than lacking empathy, Melanie is confused by the fact that Dooce just spent a weekend with her mysterious boyfriend visiting her in Utah (judging by the instagram pics) and yet is writing about how awful it was to be ALONE,

  • MamaRox

    2013/09/07 at 1:02 pm

    The presence of their absence is everywhere. I feel your pain, as I’ve been divorcing for 14 months now. It has not gotten easier with my two, ages 8 & 13. I still can’t be in my house without them. It’s too quiet, and I worry too much when they’re gone. We have a divorced/divorcing moms group that goes out together each week, and that helps, but still … I signed up to be a mom 100% of the time, not the 70% I now have. Wish I could make you feel better — instead, I just want you to know that you’re not alone. Take care.

  • attachedmummy

    2013/09/07 at 1:52 pm

    Thank you for being sensitive to your step-daughter’s and her mother’s feelings. I hope that if/when my ex finds someone new, it’ll be someone as careful as you.

    (I dread the day when I will have to let my daughter go to play happy families with her dad and another woman.)

  • attachedmummy

    2013/09/07 at 2:06 pm

    I’m really glad you posted about this actually. Many mothers (me included) can relate to the feelings you describe.

    Recently I’ve been wondering ‘is this a mommy blog or a doggy blog?!’ and I thought that something must be going on as you seem to post a lot less about your family life than you used to. So perhaps that’s because you spend less time with your children and also because some of your emotions about life/your children are difficult at the moment.

    However, I don’t think there are many high-profile blogs by lone parents (I can’t think of one). I’ve been reading dooce since just before Marlo was born (just after my daughter was born), and I really like how you express all those feelings that come with motherhood. Becoming a single mothers brings with it lots more difficult feelings, and I’d really appreciate it if those feelings were given the dooce treatment.

    Not sure if that makes sense. In short – you’re great, don’t shy away from the tricky stuff because you can never know how much you’re helping someone just by writing about how you’re feeling.

  • Ms. Cheevious

    2013/09/07 at 5:29 pm

    you only have to make it through one day… and you can do that… then each day is a little different and you are stronger for making it through the last. great post, and as you must know – your cyber friends have you in their collective thoughts..

  • debra

    2013/09/07 at 8:40 pm

    She was writing about how much she missed her children.

    Boyfriends, mysterious or otherwise do not take the place of the feelings she is describing concerning missing her children. Nuance.

  • MG

    2013/09/08 at 7:44 am

    I live with this every other weekend. Some things that have helped: Using the time to work on their scrapbooks, re-organizing or shopping for their bedrooms. Also: Pretending that I enjoy the time (acting “as if” until it becomes real). Watching HGTV with coffee and my dogs. Going to Target, lol.

  • Beautiful Life

    2013/09/08 at 3:13 pm

    Oh boy do I know exactly how this feels. I’m even to the point where I’m willing to put up with total insanity of having them here all the time, just so I don’t have to feel that emptiness.

    Then I crack. And have to admit I need a break.

    I haven’t shaved my legs since I can’t remember when and didn’t even notice until I got to the grocery store with my nike running shorts on and there’s no where to hide the hair.

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.

read more

SaveSave