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Can you drop off my English textbook at some point tonight? It’s under my bed.
I read this text from my daughter at the end of my work day. Seriously? I thought. Again?! Why can’t dad make the trip to pick up the English textbook? For once, why can’t he do it, or better yet, how about you don’t leave it under your bed at the wrong house? It had been a long, rough day at work and I was planning on spending my child-free night doing relaxing things like laundry, Netflix and a little something called whatever the hell I want. These texts were becoming more and more frequent and I was growing sick and tired of being a delivery driver. Begrudgingly, I delivered the textbook with a smile and said have a good night.
The next morning, I received a different text from a different daughter.
Whose house am I at tonight?
14 years old. Seven years after the divorce. Whose house, she wants to know. I was rushing that morning, trying to get to work on time. I will write her back later, I thought. But as I fumbled through my purse looking for my keys, the reality of her question hit me: My oldest daughter doesn’t know where she is sleeping tonight. Whose house am I at tonight? My stomach turned. I imagined being Molly, a 14-year-old girl, on the bus at 6:50 a.m., with all the so-called “normal” high school stressors: a Spanish test, soccer tryouts, teen-girl drama, and, to top it all off, she just isn’t sure where she is scheduled to sleep that night. I must respond now, I thought, work can wait. My mind raced as I confronted the many things I wanted to send in my response:
I am so sorry that you have to ask where you are sleeping tonight. If I didn’t know where I was sleeping, even as a 40-year-old woman, I would have a very difficult time and would feel discombobulated and disorganized and really unsettled. It’s OK if you feel this, too. You deserve the stability of having both of your parents and all of your belongings in one home every single night. You deserve to never have to ask this question again for as long as you live.
I wanted to say all of these things, but I didn’t. Instead, I responded with one word: dad’s.
She wrote back, thanks, with a smiley emoji. This is her norm. She is well-adjusted and adaptable. She was smiling. Or her smartphone was. Now she knows where she is sleeping, I thought. Problem solved. Only I still felt incredibly unsettled. This text touched some deep place within me. I sat down on my couch to catch my breath. I felt the tears against my cheek before I knew I was crying. I was overcome with a new awareness of the challenges shared custody presents in my children’s lives. I had finally reached the stage of complete acceptance about my divorce and I was fully loving my life as a single mom. I was proceeding as if the divorce was something that had happened. As in, it was the past and it was over. But the truth is, my kids live divorce every day.
They live divorce when they wake up at mom’s and can’t find their favorite hat for crazy hat day because it is in dad’s car. They live divorce when they need maxi pads on dad’s night but they are too embarrassed to ask him to buy them. They live divorce when they forget whose weekend it is, and they live divorce when they wonder whose job it is to pay for Halloween costumes this year.
Divorce doesn’t end for kids. Not in the first three years and not in the next 10. Divorce will always be part of their lives. They will likely fret about where to sit mom and dad (and hopefully their dates!) at their respective weddings, and who to visit on Thanksgiving when they have a family of their own. Yes, they adjust. They gain their own level of acceptance, and they are the most resilient little people ever. They are full of love and they are well-loved, and they have learned that divorce comes with its own perks, too — like double the gifts on Christmas and birthdays! Divorce is not the end of the world, and I have a pretty strong feeling that my amazing children will be just fine in this thing called life.
So as they’re being amazing little people, living between two homes and adjusting to their parents’ permanent separation, I vow to remember those tears that fell on my couch that day as a reminder that my kids may need a little extra love and care as they navigate these chaotic years. I vow to be more patient when I feel like I am doing dad’s work on dad’s night, because divorce is our reality every day. I vow to help my children know that no matter where they lay their heads at night, and no matter where they’ve left their textbooks, they are loved unconditionally and infinitely by their mom and their dad. I promise to work hard to build a home that is where the heart is for each of my children — one full of love, confidence, security and a sense of being whole, and one that is always with them, even when they’re unsure where they are sleeping that night. And the next time I get a can you deliver my … text, I will say yes, dear, and remind myself that I am their home — sometimes their traveling one — and they are mine, too.