Divorce, PTSD, and an Early Mother’s Day Gift

My son shut down my laptop when I walked into the room tonight. He is ten.

I froze, panic sweeping over me as I thought of everything his father had hidden on his computer. I got the old familiar jolt of adrenaline, stronger than electricity, that raced everywhere from my core and made my fingers tingle. My chest got tight – and hurt. As always, I think: shit, finally, a heart attack – I’m too young to have a heart attack – and HE will get my children.

On that last thought, I sit up and breathe and suck it up.

This was my son, not my ex-husband. I would not ruin this special evening with him and his sister. They returned from their father’s house at 5 in good spirits, pounding on the door and throwing themselves into my arms. We grabbed a basketball and walked down to the playground in our new neighborhood and hit the courts.

It was fun. No fighting over the ball, no cheating accusations. For the first time, I really saw my son exceed my physically at basketball. It felt good – and bittersweet. Afterwards, we walked back together up the big hill to our new home.

But after they went to sleep, I opened the computer, finally.

BEST GIFTS FOR WOMEN.

I nearly died. What in the world? I remembered the strange charges on ex’s credit card, and on my credit card – he was even once stupid enough to order bizarre sex items (trust me) using his father-in-law’s credit card, which he stole from my wallet, probably in some drunken stupor. Or worse, someone else stole the card from his wallet.

It haunts me.

But I look again. Another page is open on my laptop.

It is Amazon.com, one of about ten sites my children are allowed to visit on Safari.

BEST MOTHERS GIFT. It’s filled with things called gold rose foil flowers and superpower mom mugs.

I get teary as the adrenaline leaves my body and I realize that I have left my ex behind more than six month ago. He is no longer allowed to affect me this way.

I breathe. The world is a good place, generally. People are good, generally.

My children are good, period.

We are going to make it.

One Crap Day in the Life of a Divorced Working Mom: A Vent

I’m still new to this. It was always so easy to get babysitters. I live in the shadow of one of the best colleges in the country, which gives me an ever-evolving group of cute, eager babysitters. 

But I didn’t anticipate that the vast majority of students don’t have cars and don’t really want to babysit every day in the afternoon. And that competition for girls who do have cars and want to babysit every day is fierce, especially when you get a very late start on your babysitting ads because you assumed it would be so easy. Like back when you were a SAHM.

So I’m in between babysitters. My new babysitter starts next week, just in time for school. But today I had no one. So I did what any working single mother would do: I cobbled together a mess of a day.


7:00 am  Dragged the kids out of bed. They are still jet-lagged from our trip to California a week ago because their father allowed them to stay up each night until 11 pm since that trip. They actually called me at 11:30 pm last week, making me realize that I can no longer always control my children’s schedules or health or welfare. 

8:30 am  Dropped the children off at my friend’s house. She is a pediatrician and at work, but her nanny will watch them. A fun double playdate. They are thrilled; I am thankful.  

8:45 am  Mystery traffic. I will be late for work. I think inappropriately mean thoughts about the cute young stay-at-home-moms pushing strollers along the sidewalks. I think appropriately mean thoughts about why every other person in my neighborhood suddenly seems to have a white Mercedes SUV. I try not to beep because my children’s school sticker is prominently displayed the back of my car. It’s a small city and I don’t want any Mercedes drivers to start talking about the crazy divorced beeping mom. 

9:15 am  Had to park on the roof of the university parking lot because I’m late. I worry that I might have been tailgating a very important workplace person all the way up to the roof. I hustle out of my car and hope that she doesn’t spot me.

10:50 am  My friend calls me, breathless. She tells me that her nanny just contacted her, and that my son is terribly sick. The nanny says he became blind for a few moments and had no pulse before vomiting. Oh my god, I think. It’s Ebola. Or meningitis. I babble something incoherent to my thirty-something, childless boss and rush out of work. She seems sympathetic but somewhat skeptical.

11:20 am  I pull up to my friend’s house. From a block away, I have spotted my dying son running around in the street with the other kids. He looks pretty healthy to me.

11:30 am I finally get my son in the car after listening to my friend’s nanny describe the situation in detail. She wants me to bring my son to the emergency room immediately. She will later tell my friend, the pediatrician, that my son has blood pressure problems and had a stroke. (Meanwhile, my daughter chooses to stay there with her friend. She is unimpressed with her brother’s illness or by the nanny’s panic.)

11:34 am  My friend calls, mortified, and tells me that her nanny is a little crazy. And that there is probably no medical rhyme or reason behind why my child’s heart would stop beating and then start back up frenetically, and he would be blinded by vomit and then have a stroke at the age of nine. But it’s too late. I’ve already called my own pediatrician’s office and put them all in a panic. They will squeeze us in at 2:30, even though I promised to be back at work by 1:15.

Noon: It’s quiet in my house. My perfectly healthy son with no fever son plays Minecraft. I edit something and send it off to my colleague. And then there are suddenly voices downstairs and I realize that today is cleaning lady day. It’s usually my favorite day of the week because I cannot afford these wonderful ladies but their weekly work keeps me sane. I explain the situation and they laugh, relieved that they don’t have to change the sheets or clean my children’s shared bedroom. I start feeling better.

1 pm  My sweet college, car-less babysitter shows up with my daughter. She has obviously heard the story from Crazy Nanny. I explain that my son isn’t really sick. It’s all a big misunderstanding. Her eyes grow large, but she has perfect manners and doesn’t say a thing. 

1:30 pm  I roll back into work, into my same spot on the roof. When I arrive, there are workmen in my office. They want to know if I smell garlic in the mornings in my office. I think about it. “Not today,” I say. They ask me if there were any other odors around breakfast time. “Yes, today it was eggs and some sort of spicy meat,” I tell them. They wrinkle their noses in disgust, and I somehow feel responsible. You see, my office is above a massive venting systems that vents the entire complex of buildings where I work, including several areas with cafeterias and fast food restaurants. The men advise me to never, ever open my windows. I tell them that it’s necessary because the average temperature in my office is 58 degrees, and I need some warmer air. They ask if I want them to turn off the air-conditioning, and I nearly scream NO, just thinking about the last time they did that. I worked in a swampy 88 degrees for days. They leave, telling me that the exhaust system is emitting “very dangerous” fumes and warn me not to ever open my windows again. As soon as they leave, I shiver and want to open the windows despite the fumes that would make me sick. But then I remember I can’t die, because then my EX will raise my sweet children. I leave the windows closed and take out my illegal space heater and plug it in.

2:50 pm  My pediatrician’s office calls. I forgot to cancel the appointment. I tell that they he’s perfectly okay now. That I am back at work. There is a long pause on the other end. 

4:45 pm  I ask my childless boss in her thirties if I can work at home tomorrow. She says yes, because she knows she’s only in charge for two more days, and because she is a very nice person. Our real boss starts on Tuesday. I suspect that my temporary boss is worried about me and whether I can pull it together in time before the new boss realizes that I’m a mess right now.

5:15 pm I get to my car and realize it’s filled with moving boxes. I had packed them up last night, ready for the storage space I rented. I need to declutter my house and stage it for sale in a few weeks. I had meant to drop off the boxes at lunchtime. Now I know I can’t leave them in my car overnight, or someone will break into the car. Sigh.

6 pm  Home to my healthy children and my sweet babysitter, I give her $100 in cash and think about all the things I could buy with that money. 

7 pm I feed my children microwaved chicken fingers, an heirloom tomato, an avocado, and organic raspberries. NOTE: I did not expect them home tonight; Wednesdays are their night with EX, but apparently he is traveling. Again. (Which is fine.)

7:30 pm  Off to the storage space. Fun! The office is closed, and there is no moving cart visible. I give my son my cell phone and some vague and hopefully non-threatening safety directions, ask my daughter to hold open the door, and I start carrying boxes into the deserted complex. My daughter holds her nose and keeps asking why our particular storage unit smells so bad. My son tells her he bets that homeless people sleep there. He seems sure of it, and my danger instincts kick in – something is wrong in that place. I know that a civics lesson is in order, but I’m scared, which happens very rarely, and we all hustle to the car. 

8:15 pm  My daughter tells me she’ll never take a shower again. She hates them. I smile calmly and try to convince her.

8: 35 pm  Standoff. I let my son explain Minecraft to me and ignore my daughter who keeps telling me how much she hates soap and water and that soap is bad for the environment. She is eight.

8:45 pm  I give in. “Fine, don’t take a shower, ever again, I don’t really care,” I tell her. She looks at me and shrugs her shoulders and finally turns on the water.

9:15 pm  I read two chapters of a Judy Blume Fudge book. I wonder if it’s a little sassy for them, but they like it. I like it too. We laugh and my kids ask for a dog. And a parrot. I realize that my daughter used no shampoo in her hair and probably no soap on her body. I put everyone to bed anyhow. Hugs all around – showers or no showers, parrot or no parrot, divorce or no divorce.

10 pm  My daughter comes downstairs and tells me she can’t sleep. I walk her back up, tuck her in, and hug her again.

10:15 pm  See 10 pm.

10:30 pm  See 10 pm, but I’m writing this vent, and I tell her to go and sleep in my bed. It’s been a long day, and I know it will work. She will be asleep within minutes. 

10:40 pm  She’s asleep. I drink a glass of wine. I’m working from home tomorrow. 

Missing my Babies: Divorce, Custody, and Visitation Sadness

I’ll just say it. I miss my children. I worry about them. It’s the first time that they’ve ever been away from me for more than two nights at a time. In fact, until EX’s visitation started a few weeks ago, they had never been away from me for more than one night. 

Now they’re away for five nights, in a faraway state. With my EX, who is quite possibly the world’s least responsible father and most reprehensible role model on Earth. A man who lives without conscience and who walked out on his wife and children for 13 months, never once asking for an overnight with his children until he realized his wife was asking for full physical custody. And then he began the most vicious fight my seasoned attorneys have ever seen.

I know he’ll be on his best behavior for this trip, and he’ll fake being a nice guy and good dad. He might even fool my children. But I know the truth about him. And it makes me sick with worry. 

One mom in my town said that she crawled under her kitchen table after her EX took her children for the first time. I did not do that. But it sounded perfectly reasonable, and somehow comforting, as I looked out the window and watched my children walk away from me and our home, with their little sandals and knapsacks and freckles and sun-bleached hair. 

They come home tomorrow, so I guess I’ve nearly survived these six days and five nights. I’ve gotten things done. I caught up on sleep and emails and bills and phone calls. I started packing the house up – years of toys and clutter and photographs and artwork and baby shoes and little chewed-up board books – a life. A good life somehow, despite the divorce. 

I am so ready for my children to come home. We need to continue this life.