I could see the tantrum coming, her sweet chubby cheeks growing red as she glued her arms stiffly to her sides. It was headed right for me and there was no avoiding this one.
“...I. NO. WANT. TO. MAMA!” she screeched.
I took a deep breath and readied myself for battle. Staring into her little brown eyes that were quickly pooling with crocodile tears, I braced my emotions for what was to come.
“I know, love, but we need to change your shirt. It stays at Mommy’s house.” I cajoled in my very best Mommy voice.
“Today is a Daddy day! You love Daddy days!” I chanted. Please please please, I silently begged. Normally, I’d wave a white flag at this type of skirmish. Instead of arguing with the tiny rebel, I’d throw my hands up in concession and move on, but this was different.
This particular shirt is emblazoned with the logo of my alma-mater. Innocent enough really, a game-day tee in size 3T with the emblem slightly faded from multiple washes and a fresh milk stain splashed across the front. However, I know that to my ex-husband, it would be a declaration of war - a pint-sized symbol of passive aggression being paraded in his face. In our darkest days, I told him how I longed to be the girl I was in college again...how I hadn’t felt that way in so many years and how desperate I was to reclaim her.
No, the shirt could not go to Daddy’s house.
I sighed loudly. This was certainly not the plan I had in mind as I started my family. I envisioned a life filled with magical moments and memories to cherish. And for the first two years, it was.
As a family, we were thick as thieves. My ex and I could swaddle and feed and burp our baby in perfect synergy. We had the parent dance down to a science and rarely disagreed on decisions for our daughter - daycare, diapers, discipline - it was all a walk in the park.
Our marriage, though? Not so much. While we were completely in sync as parents, we were miles apart as partners. Despite all the happiness being a family brought us, it wasn’t enough to overcome the loneliness and frustration of our marriage. It’s not that either of us were wrong, we just weren’t right for each other - a sad and simple truth that I could no longer ignore. So, a few months shy of our daughter’s second birthday, we separated. As our home divided and belongings split, I faced the new reality that I would be a part-time parent. In one swift motion, my entire life was transposed from the infinite, fluid circle of our family to two firmly divided spheres: Mommy days and Daddy days.
The first few months were about survival. I filled the Daddy days with manicures, movies, and lunches with my girlfriends. Anything to take my mind off the fact that I wouldn’t be reciting the alphabet for the 100th time or giving goodnight kisses to her beloved stuffed bunny. And so it went. My life took on a new rhythm, days spent in a new home that was alternatively either too messy, with toys and leftover snacks strewn about, or entirely too quiet, with a certain tempestuous toddler missing from the equation. I resigned myself to this imbalance. This was my new normal. I was no longer just a mom. I was a divorced mom. A part-time mom. A not-enough mom.
There we were, on that Friday morning before daycare: a toddler desperate to hold on to her shirt and a mother desperate to hold on to her child. If only temper tantrums were acceptable for adults, I would’ve laid down next to her, beating my fists into the carpet and stammering, “I don’t want to” for all to hear.
Thankfully, I eventually wore her down. Promises of her favorite dress were enticing enough to relinquish control of the beloved shirt. A victory in my book. That evening, long after daycare drop-off was complete and a weekend full of Daddy days stretched ahead of me, I found myself at home alone. The familiar emptiness of her being gone sat like a stone in my stomach.
I kept myself occupied with the long list of menial chores that went ignored during the Mommy days. Who has time for laundry when there are crayons to be colored and towers to be built?
After all the dishes were done and toys tucked away, I climbed into bed. My body was exhausted from the day’s festivities. Transition days were always an emotional rollercoaster of sorts. My mind, however, was racing: Don’t forget to buy whole milk before Monday. Does her daycare challenge her? I need to send that video of her singing to my parents. Am I contributing enough to her 503B plan?
As I tossed and turned in my empty bed, I thought about her sleeping at her Dad’s house…her chest rising and falling softly under a pair of princess pajamas. I thought about how, like so many other mothers, my final thoughts before falling asleep were about my child.
It was then that I realized this simple and beautiful truth: being a mother isn’t only defined by time spent together.
My parenting responsibilities don’t magically stop when Mommy days end. I may have part-time custody, but this motherhood thing is a full-time job. It’s sacrifice and learning and love (oh the love - it will swallow you whole). It’s missing work for an ear infection, skipping a new purse in favor of a college fund, making the most difficult decisions of my life to better the life of someone else.
It’s doing what’s best for her, even if it doesn’t feel like what’s best for me.
There it was - the much-needed resolution to my own internal warfare. Sure, my schedule is split in two distinct categories, but my identity is not. I’m not a part-time parent. I’m not a divorced parent, either. I’m simply her parent. I’m her mother and that is something that can never be divided.
Written by Marie Griffin. Marie is a sometimes-single mom to the sweetest and sassiest toddler on the block. Based out of Boston, she's a marketing professional by day and a freelance creative ninja by night. In between answering her daughter's endless stream of questions "why", Marie makes honest attempts at staying in shape, cooking tasty treats, and not binge-watching the Bravo network (...for more than a few hours at a time). You can find her latest endeavors over at www.marieevanscreative.com, Twitter, and Instagram.
Photo by Raquel Nelepovitz.