It’s 8:30 am and I’m sitting with 200 of my fellow DC residents, waiting to be called for jury duty. My friends all thought I should defer, that coming to jury duty would be just way too much for me right now. They may have been right.
And yet here I am. The room has salmon-colored wallpaper, florescent lighting and screens that are repetitively showing me coverage of the latest mass shooting. Two strangers just got in a screaming fight in the hallway over their seating arrangements, and the Wi-Fi doesn’t work. I’m pretty sure if I told my therapist that I was feeling overwhelmed right now she would say it was totally justified. I’m pretty sure basically anyone would say that.
I guess right now I should just do things that don’t make me feel even more crazy than usual. Which is why I probably should have skipped jury duty today, and why I definitely should not have gone to Chuck E. Cheese last weekend.
Here’s the thing. Almost every day since Shawn died, Claire has been reminding me of all the fun things she used to do with her dad. She knows mom does fun things too, but dad was the one who took her to the toy store and the movies and let her have pancakes with ice cream for lunch. “I need you to learn to play the guitar like dad!” she said to me the other night. When I reminded her that I had no musical skills, she looked at me and said, “well then you need to do all the other stuff dad did. All the fun stuff.”
But I’m the parent who remembers extra snacks and the diapers, who makes sure everyone goes to bed at a reasonable hour and that all the permission slips are signed. I love my children dearly, but I don’t really play with them. I was never the parent who built elaborate Lego structures or who played chase around the house or who laid in the yard while they climbed all over me. I never felt bad about not doing it because that was Shawn’s role.
So, I keep asking myself, “does it need to be my role now?”
Last weekend, the guilt had built up, and Austin had a classmate’s birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese. I figured that if I was going to drive him out there, I might as well drive all three of my kids. Claire wanted a friend to come, so I relented and found myself at Chuck E. Cheese with four kids and about a hundred other people.
At first, it wasn’t so bad. Claire and her friend ran off happily, and Austin joined the birthday party. Tommy couldn’t do much by himself, but it was fun to see him excited over all of the lights and sounds. It was crazy, but other parents gave me kind smiles and I was happy to just be doing something out of the house. Some of the parents of kids at the birthday party came over and gave me hugs or just put a hand on my shoulder.
About halfway through my time, a parent of a kid in Austin’s class came over to talk. I don’t know her well, but she offered her condolences about Shawn. It was kind, and I’m glad she said something. But then she stood there and wanted to talk for much longer. It was awkward, and I felt like I needed to fill the void and assure her that I was okay. She kept offering help (“anything you need…”) and though it was nice of her, I wanted it to stop. I wanted her to let me be in the space and just try and not be overwhelmed by everything.
Eventually she left me alone, and it was downhill from there. Tommy was crying, as I hadn’t been able to help him with the games when I was talking to this other mom. Claire and her friend were in an argument and Austin was running around like a crazy person. It was time to go, and the ticket feeder was broken, so the kids couldn’t count up their tickets, and all of the parents – even those who weren’t dealing with a massive loss – were ready to lose their minds.
Somehow, I got out of there with all four kids and only about 50 cheap plastic toys. I loaded everyone up in the car, texted my friend Kristin that I needed help, and held back the tears. I managed to make it to her house and drop off the kids with her husband before I started sobbing in my car.
I just felt so alone.
It’s not that I’ve never been solo with my kids before or had a single-parenting episode like the one at Chuck E. Cheese. Our lives have always been full of stories like these where one of us would end up somewhere that would make us crazy, ready to lose our minds. It’s just that when those times happened to me, even if Shawn was working or traveling, I could always call him. I could tell him about the insanity of the day and he would say to me something like, “you are such a great mom. Really. You are the best mom for doing such a crazy thing and for letting the kids have so much fun.”
There’s no one to call now. Or maybe I should say that there are plenty of people to call. I just can’t call him.
Of course, I told my friends about all of this and they reassured me that everyone feels crazy at Chuck E. Cheese and that they certainly would have broken down if they had been in my shoes. I know that’s true. I don’t feel weak for having cried or for feeling overwhelmed. I just feel sad not to have a partner, someone who’s on my team first and always.
As I sobbed in the car, I didn’t feel angry. I didn’t feel like I was living in denial or bargaining with God, or any of the other steps in the grief process that I’m “supposed” to go through. I just felt sad.
I just missed Shawn.
Who would have thought I would miss him the most at Chuck E. Cheese? Certainly not me. I thought I’d feel his absence most acutely late at night watching TV or at romantic restaurants surrounded by couples. And sure, I miss him then. But I’ve found that the times I desperately miss him are when things suck. When I could use the extra help at bedtime or when I’m just too damn tired to find the missing socks. In fact, I miss him the most when I’m doing something truly terrible – maybe even absurdly terrible – and I know he’d send a funny text back to me, or look at me with knowing eyes and say, “what the hell were we thinking?”
It’s times like these, sitting at jury duty, when my emotions can surprise me. I might get distracted and then have a fraction of a second when I think, “God, I should text Shawn about this lady who keeps interrupting the jury selection to scream about the temperature of the room and the unjustified nature of it all.” Then I remember that I can’t text him, ever again, and I feel like I can barely stand up.
When we said those words, “for better or worse” I knew it meant we’d be with each other if someone was really sick, or unemployed, or truly sad. I didn’t think about how the “worse” part might also include those smaller setbacks at places like Chuck E. Cheese and jury duty, when I feel annoyed or tired or overwhelmed. But in many ways, those small hurdles were a big part of our marriage, knowing that we could always call each other with some frustration and the other person would say, “I’m on your side. You are awesome. You got this.”
Image Credit: Becky Hale Photography.