He was so little when he was born, my oldest. 6 pounds 7 ounces and the tiniest piece of heaven. In the 9 months that I was carrying him he had become a part of my body. When he was born and they rushed him away for some medical care it was like they had stolen a part of me. I felt like something was missing, something that I had grown to need. When he was there I was complete. I was everything that I was ever created to be. When he wasn’t, due to certain medical needs, there was an empty space.
It would be a little over a year later that his dad and I would get divorced. To be honest, my first thought was that he would never see his child again. He chose to get divorced and I shouldn’t have to spend a second longer away from my son than was absolutely necessary. I remember the day that I realized that that wasn’t what was best for my baby. I didn’t sleep that night and by the next morning I had no more tears to cry. I never wanted to miss anything but I knew that not only was I about to miss things, I was about to miss a lot of things. I had wanted to be there for it all. His first step, not just his first word but the first time he said ANY new word. I wanted to cuddle him and watch him sleep every night. He’s been to Disneyland 3 times, none of them have been with me like I always thought they would be. The ideas that I had had of what being a mother meant were completely altered and I couldn’t do anything about it.
Sharing a child is difficult. The realization that by the time they are 18 years old there are YEARS of life that you’ve been absent for, not by choice but circumstance will rock you. I look back at my 21 year old self, the one laying in a hospital bed and I wish that I could have told her to never take a moment of that first year for granted. I wish I could have helped her to be more patient with him when he cried. I wish she understood the importance of watching him sleep even if it meant staying up just a few minutes more. I wish I could have hugged her because that empty space she felt when he was gone would soon be regularly vacant.
It’s been 6 years since my divorce. I have been blessed with a beautiful family. My husband is beyond anyone that I ever could have dreamed I would share my life with. Our 2 children together are beautiful, difficult, perfectly imperfect and have added to what makes me who I am. We hike, adventure and explore. We have family pictures taken often so I can remember absolutely every phase of this crazy life that I get to call mine. We laugh, we play, we cuddle, we movie night and story read. We are happy.
We try to plan things around our time with our oldest and when he will be home but inevitably there are things he will miss and that my friends is the hardest part. There’s a guilt that comes from doing something that I know he would love when he isn’t there to enjoy it. I feel in a sense that I’m cheating on him by so blissfully enjoying my time with my other children. There’s a part of me that feels like I should wait to have such joyous moments until he is home. Then there’s the part of me that realizes that my other children deserve all of me. They deserve a happy mother who loves them and never takes a moment for granted. Who is patient…as much as she can be…when they cry. Who stays up just a little bit longer to watch them sleep. They deserve her and they cannot be victims of her circumstances.
We recently had family pictures taken and because of a last minute scheduling error our oldest would be with his dad. I was devastated. I thought about canceling but that would have been so inconsiderate last minute. Then I told my husband that we just wouldn’t take “a family picture” because our whole family wasn’t there. We wouldn’t take pictures with the two kids together. We weren’t going to take pictures with one of us and the kids because again it would be apparent that we were incomplete. I went back and forth for what felt like forever before having the realization that this was what my family looked like sometimes and that it was okay. Regardless of that empty space, what we had was still beautiful.
The holidays. Such a beautiful time of year. Family, the snow, the food and treats. The traditions, the snowmen, the sledding and the decorations. The Christmas movies and hot chocolate. The gingerbread houses and holly jolly music. I love the holidays, they make me giddy and excited. There is a part of me though that stands by the Christmas tree on Christmas morning and watches my children walk out in excitement, then falls apart inside when every other year I only count two out of three. I notice when there is a chair that hasn’t been set for Thanksgiving dinner. I notice the extra presents under the tree when we are “done” opening gifts because I’m waiting until it’s my turn to see him. I notice the empty space.
So there it is. The brutal part of sharing your baby. The ugly truth of what it means to raise your child in a split family. What is beautiful about it though? Let me tell you. Your love for your child that exceeds your heartache. Your love that has driven you to watch your child walk away every other week or however often it may be and through the pain smile and tell them that you’ll see them soon. Your desire for them to have a relationship with both of their parents no matter how much you miss. Your willingness to sacrifice parts of who you thought you would be as a mother for their overall happiness. Your ability to continually call them forgetting that there won’t be a response. Your hand outstretched into that empty space sometimes knowing that there won’t be a hand to grip yours in return. All of these things brought on by your intense, unconditional love for the child that you brought into this world.
So enjoy the holidays momma. Watch a Christmas movie every night, even if it means staying up on a school night to make up for the time they’ll be gone. Make caramel popcorn. Say yes to the gingerbread house even though it’s going to be a mess. Blast the Christmas music early and let it play until late. Decorate cookies, go see Santa in that very long line at the mall. Build a snowman even though you hate the snow and take pictures of it all. Don’t let that empty space keep you from spending the holidays in all of the ways you always imagined you would. Loving them enough to let them go sometimes is the right choice, never forget that.