Yesterday afternoon I heard the ding of a new text message as I was sitting in our school library, attempting to grade an essay. “Good news,” my dad wrote, “Tommy pooped on the potty at preschool today. He is very proud of himself.”
“That’s incredible!” I texted back.
Seconds later, I had the immediate thought that I should text Shawn. It’s a reflex that’s still there months after it should have ended. I don’t ever actually start texting him, but the moment where I think, “I cannot wait to tell Shawn about this,” always occurs when something like this happens with our kids.
I didn’t text him. But I did start to cry. Actually, I started to openly weep in our high school library and I had to put my head down on the desk to compose myself. These moments – the ones where grief overwhelm me – still come at times like these, and I’m never ready for them. I’m sure my dad didn’t think that texting me about my youngest child’s pooping habits would hit me so hard. And yet it did, and I was wholly unprepared for the grief that followed.
But the thing is, it’s not about the poop. It’s about a million moments like this, ones that I have multiple times in every day. It’s a bit like Russian roulette with these moments, because sometimes I can handle them. Other times, I cannot. I never know when a funny story or a photo or a song might make me desperately miss Shawn.
Even though that moment in the library had thrown me into grief, I know that not all moments like this are going to be unexpected. In fact, later that day was Austin’s first guitar lesson. As I pulled myself together for my afternoon classes, I thought about how my library breakdown might not be the only one I’d have that day. By late afternoon, I would head home to try and catch the tail end of this first lesson for Austin. I was so excited for him – and I was also bracing myself for the sadness of missing Shawn at such a momentous time.
As I arrived, I caught an ecstatic preschooler after he literally jumped into my arms screaming, “I POOPED ON THE POTTY!!!!” In the living room, Austin was working through his first guitar lesson. His teacher – a bald guy with a huge beard and a big laugh – taught him a few notes and he quietly plucked along. Afterwards, he said to me, in a bit of a hushed voice, “that was AWESOME mom! I can’t wait to practice all the stuff I know!”
It was both adorable and awful to see Austin’s excitement. What I wouldn’t give to be able to relay that to Shawn. It was such a dream of his to have our kids learn how to play the guitar. Obviously, I can’t text him and I can’t call him. I can’t describe what Austin’s face looked like when we talk after the kids have gone to bed. That knowledge – that I can’t share these moments with him – can be crushing at times. So in those moments when I feel the grief rain down on me, there’s little I can do but surrender to it.
Claire had her first guitar lesson with her dad a year ago. Austin will never get that. And I’ll never get to watch either of them play with their father and then gush with him later about how talented they are.
I remember years ago when my kids were really little, I was talking to another friend who was not yet a mom. She and I knew an acquaintance who had just become a single mom. My friend was talking about how hard it must be to do the daily logistics alone – diapers, day care, and the like. I agreed, but I said to her, “you know, I think the hardest thing about being a single mom is that you wouldn’t have someone to share everything with. Sure, you could call your best friends or your mom, but the thing is, no one except your partner loves that kid like you do.”
I’ve thought about this a lot lately. It’s really hard to figure out all three of my kids’ schedules and make sure they are doing their homework or learning to poop on the potty. But what’s truly difficult is the part when they do something impossibly cute or incredibly challenging and there’s no one that appreciates my kids in the same way that I do. That means that although my friends and family will be supportive when my kids do something great, or they will laugh when they do something cute, there’s no one who gives me that look. If you are raising kids with a partner, you know what I mean. It’s the look of “Oh My God, our kid is The Best/The Silliest/The Cutest/The Funniest/The Smartest.”
After I got the news about Tommy’s potty success, I texted a few friends about it, and I got back a number of lovely, supportive replies. It wasn’t the same as telling Shawn, but it helped a little and it certainly made me smile to get this one: “F*#k YES, Tommy!!!! Daddy would be sooo proud of you!!!! And so are we!!!!”
For now, that’s going to have to do. I’m going to have to find solace in the fact that others are loving my kids, even if it’s imperfect and not the same type of love that their dad could offer them. And hey, Shawn probably would have had a similar reply if I had been able to text him about the poop.
I bet it would have been something just like, “F*#k YES, Tommy!”