One of the hardest thing about co-parenting, for me, is the re-entry after my kids have been with their dad for a few days. We shuffle our household back and forth pretty regularly, tuned to the ebb and flow of children’s extracurricular activities and the demands of our respective jobs.
When my kids are with their dad, I don’t actually think about them all that much. Before you think I’m a terrible mother, let me say that it’s because I know they’re fine. I have a rock-solid co-parent and I don’t have to expend emotional energy on worrying about my kids when they’re not with me. I know with absolute certainty that they are safe and loved and being fed vegetables on a semi-regular basis. So while I take note of their activities when they’re with their dad – checking in after a baseball game or texting a reminder about a birthday party – they aren’t always the number one thing on my mind when they’re away.
My therapist tells me this is a good thing. I lost myself for a while when I was married, my own identity blurred by the demands of young parenthood and the struggle to mold myself into an ideal companion to someone for whom I was utterly unsuited. So in my kid-less time, I’ve been rebuilding that identity. I recently went into Lexington with a couple friends for the opening reception of an art exhibit at a funky gallery. We dressed up, ate dinner at a terrific Salvadoran restaurant, and generally had a great time. No one refused to eat the food, no one spilled their drink all over the table, and no one wiped their sticky fingers on me. Imagine that! Another day, I spent several hours at an art fair, and never once worried that my companions might break any of the merchandise.
The freedom and relaxation of those hours and days spent alone are wonderful and refreshing, but they can make the transition back to the role of single mother seriously jarring. It’s unsettling to have your house go from serene and silent to throbbing with the sound of bickering, feet stomping, laughter, questions, door slams, toilets flushing, and the steady of hum of constant movement. And parenting is like a giant game of whack-a-mole. Just when one child’s drama abates, another ramps up. Solve one crisis (real or imagined) and another will take its place. There’s joy and fulfillment in the role of motherhood, but not a lot of rest, and very little space to think about yourself.
When my kids were with their dad for the weekend earlier this summer, I visited the studio of an artist friend. Among her many talents is a passion for finding and curating beads – she collects them from all over the world and assembles them into fabulous, funky necklaces. Each necklace is named and each comes with a laminated card with a photograph of the piece and an explanation of the more interesting beads.
There was one that called to me immediately. It was all browns and creams and bore the name “Talisman for Wild Beasts.” I had to have it. It’s a gorgeous piece, with bits of tiger’s eye, ostrich shell, carved bone, Egyptian faience, a miniature lion, and a tiny bronze bell. What I love about it is that the beads have roots and history, the very things I am striving to create for my family, while the name reminds me – of course – of my children. Sometimes I feel like I need some sort of talisman to anchor me in the midst of the whirlwind of parenting. Something to remind me to slow down and breathe and look for beauty. I keep the necklace on my bedside table now when my kids are away and it makes me smile. When my wild beasts come back to me, I’ll be ready.