In those first few seconds between unconscious slumber and awareness of a new morning, my brain scrambles to assess what day it is. Wednesday? Thursday? Is my daughter sleeping in her room or am I alone? Every day, I dread this tiny moment of uncertainty.
It’s been 10 months since I moved out of the apartment that was my home with my ex-husband and seven months since our divorce was finalized. Every morning, I wake up with my mental calendar in a jumble. I can’t remember if she’s here. It’s unsettling. I would say that “unsettled” would characterize a lot of what I’ve been through over the past years.
I’ve moved a fair amount since graduating from college–there was Charlottesville, Va.; Washington, DC; Westwood, NJ; Evanston, IL; Westwood again; Brooklyn; and two addresses in Manhattan. I rarely put pictures on the walls or decorated. I knew that I was probably going to move again at some point, so why get too comfortable?
But then I made the biggest move of my life. I was moving in with my boyfriend and we were getting engaged. I was filled with joy and optimism. It was incredible for me to reach this stage in my life and I fully embraced it.
I was wearing a gorgeous diamond ring, looking at venues, making the guest list, and dealing with the insane stress of planning a wedding. I should say, the insane stress of planning my wedding. At that time, my job entailed event planning, but organizing my own wedding was positively awful. I hated most of it except the dress shopping. There was a lot of family conflict and agita and I cried a lot. I couldn’t wait until things settled down.
Little did I know, the wedding-planning stress would pale in comparison to what followed. I got pregnant three weeks after the honeymoon. It was planned, and we were thrilled, but we weren’t expecting it to happen so soon. We had to move to a more expensive apartment and a few weeks later, I lost my job. The economy tanked. I couldn’t find another job and certainly not anything local, which I knew would be ideal after the baby arrived.
My pregnancy was relatively easy and I had a relatively easy baby, but I had a hard time nursing and a decent wallop of post-partum depression. I could not fathom job searching and going back to work. Most of that first year was a blur, but the fights were not.
We had lots and lots of fights. Horrible, intense, emotionally debilitating fights. Many of them were over money. And then it seemed, the fights were about everything.
We never really came back from the fights. There were apologies, attempts to make up, but the painful parts always seemed to remain. I learned that we had massive differences about how we wanted to live our lives; we were rarely in sync or in a rhythm that felt like we were a family together. I was miserable. I had a beautiful, sweet, happy baby whom I loved so much it made my heart hurt. But my love for my husband was disappearing, and my attempts to reconnect us failed over and over. I envied many of the families we had become friends with. The husbands and wives seemed so much more together than us. When we would come home to our crappy third-floor walk-up after these family playdates, I felt even more depressed.
I was so deep in unhappiness that I just wanted out. He knew it, too. It was his idea to go to couples’ therapy and I agreed. The process made me realize I wanted to work on the marriage with him. I think he worked to the best of his ability, which is to say, he didn’t do very much. Apparently, my anxiety was a big part of the problem. So I went on anti-anxiety medication, I got back to doing yoga and exercising, and I looked for work. Things got a little better, but it felt very temporary.
We did couples’ therapy for a year, but nothing stuck. Our marriage wasn’t going to make it and it was obvious to both of us. After many incredibly difficult conversations, we decided to start working on a separation plan. We researched mediators and set up a timeframe to save money to set up two homes. It was all very civil and perhaps ironically, I felt the best I had in a long time.
We were one week away from meeting with a mediator. I had been dragging my feet about getting a babysitter. Procrastination can often serve as a gift in the form of insight. The truth was, I didn’t want to go to a mediator. I was getting very panicked about the process about negotiating custody and our hot-button financial issues with my soon-to-be ex-husband who is a natural fighter. He’s really, really good. Mean. I had experienced it for years. I was scared of how this would turn out.
I got a lawyer, and I filed for divorce. This news hit him like a hurricane and he went on the offensive and proceeded to strike back in every way he could. It was worse than I ever could have imagined. The fights ramped up to a new level that could only be described as hellish.
I tried to focus on R., my job, seeing my friends, and looking for my own apartment. The only way I was going to escape the toxic environment was if I moved out. I told myself I would not settle–it was my new mantra going into the next phase of my life–and it took me months to find just the right place.
The day I signed my lease, I felt such extreme relief. I could start to pack and begin the process of moving on. We told our daughter the news. I had practiced in my head for months, and I made my soon-to-be ex practice with me the night before. I was nervous and scared and worried. It was one of the most painful things I have ever had to do.
We moved, and the transition was actually way better than I had predicted. R. was excited about this adventure and she was adjusting remarkably well. I just kept trying to put one foot in front of the other.
It’s safe to say that I have changed more in the last six years than I have in my entire life. And at 46 years old, I am living a very different kind of life than the one I had imagined.
I am a divorced, working mom juggling life as best as I can. On many days, that feels OK. Sometimes it feels amazingly good. Other days, it feels surreal. Hard. Exhausting. Sad.
I am constantly navigating through the days of my week on a legally binding parenting schedule that was negotiated after countless emails, phonecalls, arguments, soul searching, sleepless nights, emotional break downs, and ridiculous sums of attorneys’ fees. Before all of this, knowing whose day it was wasn’t anything I ever had to think about.
But my new home with R. feels like the home I never had when all three of us were together.
Some mornings, R. quietly makes her way to my bed and before she even says “Mommy? Can I cuddle with you?” in her little-girl voice, I know what day it is. It’s my day. I’m only too happy to pull the warm covers down and cocoon her inside. I hold on to her and this moment. And, I feel settled.