Three children strapped in the car. Check.
Three pairs of shoes. Check.
Fuzzy blankets, dummies and bottles to satisfy for the next four hours. Check.
One trip back inside the house to extract favourite slightly wet Bertie bunny from the drier. Check.
Three kisses and I love yous delivered to children as they prepare for takeoff. Check.
Just one more hug for good measure. Check.
All systems go and pre-departure checklist complete – chauffeur driver (daddy) in place and windows raised. All tray tables safely stowed away and seats returned to the upright position.
And then with a flurry of waving, air kisses and excitement, the car doors close and off they go… let the “Me Time” begin. Four whole hours of infinite possibility and gay abandon, topped off with no responsibility and time off the clock. A brief return to singledom and a peek at my pre-parenting days.
Pass the cocktails, recline the deck chair and bring on the relaxing music.
Its Me Time, yes Me Time , the elusive kid-free, completely on your own, no one visiting you in the bathroom, no cutting up fruit or rescuing Lego from a small brothers oesophagus. No one calls your name repeatedly as you stand millimeters away and no one creates track marks on your new ponti pants ( yes they are called this ) with a Scooby Doo racing car.
It’s safe to put that coffee mug down, or to at least try to locate the 18 cups that are distributed around the house in a Hansel and Gretel style. One might read a book , take a trip to the hairdressers or simply try and navigate her way around the exceptionally large mound of washing that has taken up residence on the sofa.
Oh the possibilities! Sleep, phone calls to friends overseas with tricky time differences, a long shower or time to catch up on the paperwork that now constitutes a fire hazard in your in-tray. It’s limitless and well deserved, we tell ourselves, as the four hours slip past like seconds.
What red blooded, completely sleep-deprived, coffee-craving, overworked, underpaid parent capable of producing a paper mache Stegosaurus as she juggles homemade San Choi Bao and critiques the Snow White play currently being staged on the antique dining table, would not rejoice in a little ME TIME?
But be careful what you wish for, my pretties… for some of us, me time is not so much heaven, as hell.
As those car doors close twice a week, I can feel it welling inside me. It consumes me. The emotions crescendo as the final wave goodbye is exchanged. A deep anguish. A constant grief. A primitive craving to hold my babies. They have only been gone a second – if that – and I watch as the car hurtles down the road and out of sight. It’s then, and only then, that I allow myself to crumble and the bitter tears return.
I’m lucky to make it back to the front door before a tide of tears washes over me. With the door quickly closed, I slip to the floor and sob in a mess of twisted limbs and heartbreak. These are deep, heart wrenching, guttural sobs of uncontrollable grief and frustration.
I sob until my head aches with exhaustion and my heart is heavy. I cry for the loss of our family, our future together and for the children who now pack bags and shift between homes. For me, “Me time” now represents my ex-husband’s visitation with our children. “Me time” has a whole new meaning to those of us who are single parents, by default and by shared custody with a ex.
They love their father and rightly so – he chose to leave our marriage, not his children. But my agony is so compounded by their absences that his absences becomes less relevant. It’s all too new, less than three months old, and it still jolts me from sleep most nights as I ask myself why at three o’clock in the morning.
As I scrape myself up off the floor and attempt to find something meaningful to fill the void, I notice their empty, lifeless bedrooms. Their absence seems to suck the life out of my home and time stands still in true Sleeping Beauty style. As I walk down the hallway, the silence is terrifying and small reminders are everywhere. The puzzle piece that’s under the lounge, the fossilized sultanas beside the highchair and the little notes scribbled in my diary. All constant reminders of my dear babies.
To relinquish your children to anyone is a nightmare of all proportion, but to relinquish them to your ex when all trust and love between you has been so recently extinguished is killing me. The pain is tangible and cutting it with a knife would not seem out of place. I know he loves them, they need to see him, but I will not for one second claim it’s ideal or the way I would have imagined our family.
I will steadfastly hold true to my belief that children will not be used as weaponry in this divorce. So with good grace and as much dignity as I can muster, I positively remind everyone that it’s a Daddy day and what fun it will be… for them. Just hold your head high and squint back the tears for a few more minutes. Blink, blink. It’s “Me time” soon… won’t that be nice.
As anyone who has experienced a deep loss can attest, each person’s grief is unique and manifests itself in so many forms. Some reactions are common, others less socially acceptable, some routined and unfailing in their persistence. My grief is best described with expletives, because they seem so right at a time like this.
My grief is like carrying a bucket of S**T around with you all day and all night. It stinks but no one else can carry it for me. You can’t put the bucket down, ignore it or try and hide it. It’s yours and yours alone and it must be carried at all times. Your friends and family can support your bucket, but at the end of the day its still your responsibility and it alters your perspective on the rest of the world. Try as you might, that bucket is full and it represents all the crap that you are living with right now. No-one wants to see inside your bucket because its dark, sad and bottomless.
So carry it I will , until it starts to lighten one day , maybe even smells a little less pungent. “Me time” would be so such more pleasant with a bucket of French lavender or perhaps Gardenia to carry, as I wave my babies off by the side of the road.
So the visits with Dad will continue and my happy smiling, waving face will still appear at the car door for them. I will learn to juggle my bucket of grief and to somehow live with it, without letting it consume me. My “me time” will one day represent more than daddy visitation, as I learn to love my babies from afar. I pray that it will not always feel so hellish and reassure myself that I will be okay .
Who knows? Once they are nasty, hormonal, grunting, cash-hungry teenagers with an attitude, I am sure the “Daddy time” and “Me time” combination will seem so much more heavenly and beautifully fragrant.
But for now, where is that bloody bucket? Because “me time” starts again on Friday.
The author of this post is known to Mamamia but has chosen to remain anonymous.