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The One Thing Divorce Robbed From Me That I Want Back

I'm desperately missing so much.

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Christine Rösch
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The email from Shutterfly pops up, as it does every Wednesday: “Your Memories from This Week Fifteen Years Ago.”

It’s Shutterfly’s weekly attempt to make me so nostalgic for days gone by that I’ll take the clickbait and visit the site to view (and maybe purchase) images of my family’s past.

I open the email, and there she is. My almost 16-year-old daughter as an infant, staring intently at the mariachi serenading her in a Mexican restaurant. She’s adorable: her little, bald round head; her giant eyes that take up half of her perfect little baby face; and that fuzzy sweater I used to love to make her wear. And the person holding her on his lap is my ex-husband … her dad.

My heart sinks and my eyes threaten water as I struggle not to feel guilty about the family I used to have and the stability I stole from my children when their dad and I divorced. All at once, a single image has delighted and destroyed me. And it happens once a week.

I delete the email quickly and try to wipe the image out of my head so I can go back to focusing on the job of being the mom of a girl who will turn 16 in a few days. I’m scheduling her DMV appointment to get her driver’s permit, gift wrapping the earrings I bought for her and ordering mini-cupcakes from her favorite bakery.

I’m doing all of this alone. And I’m trying not to think about the 12 photo albums chronicling the first two years of her life, or the rest of the photos of her and her brother that still reside on Shutterfly’s servers, ready to strike me down once a week with the delightful memory of our family’s past followed by the devastation of our demise. It used to make me cry. Now it has taught me not to look at pictures from the past and not to think about my own children as infants.

Divorce has robbed me of the joy of remembering my children as babies. And I want that joy BACK! I raised them. I changed the diapers. I took the damn photos. I want to sit there and laugh at their cute faces. I want to delight in Facebook memory posts from 2009 quoting adorably brilliant things my daughter said or celebrating my son's toddler milestones. I want to show my friends how huge I got when I was pregnant without having to feel like I want to bury myself in a hole.

Why is this all coming up now? Obviously, a lot of it has to do with the fact that my oldest child is turning 16. I’m desperately missing those little tots that used to crawl on my lap and suck on their adorable little thumbs. Sometimes I see a baby and I feel that stir, as if my old, perimenopausal uterus is trying to reach out of my body to capture an infant and drag it back inside where I can call it mine. I’m usually soothed by the instant realization that raising babies and toddlers was some of the hardest work I’ve ever done, and I definitely don’t want to start over.

As I see college and adulthood on the horizon, I still long for days gone by. Is there a name for pre-empty-nest syndrome? But there’s something else. My kids recently did something sort of amazing. We were eating dinner, sitting on our imbalanced formation of three chairs with the fourth space clearly empty, once occupied by their dad. The topic of divorce came up, and once again, I steeled myself for a wash of guilt about what I’ve done to my children by forcing them to grow up in a broken home.

Rather than stew in the tragedy of it all, both of my children told me that while they wished their dad and my marriage could have worked out, they are so much happier now, without the arguments and tears, and that they prefer having a happy mom at home. They assured me they are OK and that they think their dad and I made the right choice. They talked about the close relationship they have with their father and how they like spending time with the current, happier version of me. They made me realize that the only person making me feel guilty about my divorce is me.

So if I’m going to let go of that guilt, and at least try to manage some of the residual pain left over from the demise of my perfect little family of four, then there really isn’t any reason to deny myself the pleasure of enjoying all of those delicious baby pictures!

Damn it, I will reminisce and I will ENJOY it! So tonight, when my kids get home, we’re cracking open the photo albums and wiping off the dust. I WILL remember my Shutterfly password and we will watch all of those old Facebook videos. And when I get my weekly “memory lane” email, I will open it, look at it and maybe even click on it. I might even buy a mug with my kids’ baby faces on it. You’re welcome, Shutterfly. And also, thank you.