For almost two years now I have been haunted by playgrounds. I dreaded going to them. In fact, passing by one used to make me want to run to the nearest trash can to vomit. I’m not kidding. But to be fair, I wasn’t haunted by the playgrounds themselves—but rather by some of the moms who go. I can’t tell you how many times I left playgrounds in the past two years with a pit of sadness so vast and so deep lodged inside my belly, or with eyes filled with tears that I always hid behind fabulous, big sunglasses and a large smile. I’d wave at the moms and cheerfully say goodbye, tickling my toddler’s toes as I left. See, I became the master of “fake it till you make it.” And, I’ll be damned if my baby doesn’t get to have as much fun as anyone else’s at the playground. But I tortured myself for a very, long time.
If you’re new to my blog, or don’t know me, you might think this sounds strange. I mean, shouldn’t all moms love to watch their angels run and play? Most of us do. The kiddos don’t bother me at all—it’s the banter between the other moms that used to get to me. See, I’m going through a difficult divorce (of course they all are, right?) I’ve been separated from my husband for two years now. He took a job that required him to travel to Europe for two weeks a month when our youngest was five months old and by the time the baby was about eight months old, I discovered that he had a serious girlfriend abroad. They are still together in Europe and I take care of our two precious boys pretty much all the time. It’s a bitter pill to swallow and I’ve been learning that no one really wants to hear about it.
It’s not like I’m the only woman getting a divorce in Southern California—FAR from it. But, typically, the women who are going through a divorce here don’t have babies. You’ll find more separated moms with middle and high school-aged children. So going to the tot lot (playground for babies and toddlers) was extremely difficult for me. Most of the moms are young and conversation topics range from bitching about what their husbands have done or haven’t done—to why the contractor is taking forever to renovate their kitchen—to why they can’t wait till their husbands take the kids for the day so they can get a much-deserved spa treatment.
For a year I tended to focus on my little cherub, run around with him and *try* to zone these women out. But, inevitably, I’d get drawn into a conversation—women love to talk! Or, I might find myself standing literally between two women whose kids are playing with mine and I couldn’t help but listen.
I’d smile and nod as if I could understand their complaints, but inside I’d want to scream “I’m just fucking grateful if I get to shower every day!”
Many times the women would ask what my husband does and I’d just say something about working abroad and change the subject. I can’t tell you how many times conversations turned to questions about how I lost the baby weight so quickly. “What’s your secret?” was asked to me over and over again. I’d want to answer: “The secret to weighing 97 pounds when your baby is nine months old is to go through HELL!” But I’d just smile and shrug and reply breastfeeding. I had no desire to tell them that I was in the middle of a divorce and that my husband was gone for two months at a time and when he did return, saw the boys for a day, maybe two. Having one more person feel sorry for me was just too hard to bare. Plus, I was desperately trying to stay sane and focus on the positive in my life. So the few times I did let my guard down with friends, afterwards I’d see the sympathy in their faces and I’d want to scream, “It’s OK! Really!” or, “I’m better off! We’ll be fine!”
Needless to say, I started avoiding playgrounds and started taking my wee one to the beach during the week. I’d go to the playgrounds on weekends when they tended to be filled with dads giving their exhausted wives a break. In my emotionally-fragile condition, dads were just easier to be around. It was refreshing to see men who actually gave their wives a break. I don’t begrudge anyone of that. Plus, dads just don’t bitch about their wives or their exhausting lives. It’s quite rare to hear anything along that vein. And they also don’t hover over their kids and start asking you questions about preschool choices, your husband, your dinners, etc. Some dads do run around with their kids, but many are also reading newspapers, checking their blackberries, or talking with other dads about the latest and greatest sporting event. I’ve also noticed that kids with dads on weekends at the park run around on their own, get into fights, settle them on their own, get sunburned, eat junk food and … SURVIVE. Watching these dads gave me an idea. If being a full-time, single mom was getting me down, I needed a sanity plan! I mean, I do play both mommy and daddy roles, right? So why not take on a few daddy characteristics? So just before Jamesy’s second birthday, I enrolled him into a small family-run daycare. I began to focus on my writing again, getting a shower every day, working out, eating (I needed to gain a few lbs!) and garnering precious adult conversations with new friends where topics rarely ventured on my sad life. It’s worked out great and Jamesy loves his school.
Today, I do take my little guys to playgrounds. But you’ll only find me there usually on weekends. I always take my older son with me and he is charged with playing with his baby brother. He can’t bring his nintendo or play games on my phone. No, his job is to run around with baby James. And you know what you’ll find me doing? I’ll be sitting on the park bench reading The New York Times. Between articles, I look up, make sure my little guys are alright or put sunscreen on them, and then go back to reading. You might say on weekends I’ve become one of the guys. And my boys, well, they’re doing just fine.
- Motherlode Blog: Open Letter to the Mom Who Can’t Stop Following Her Child Around the Playground (parenting.blogs.nytimes.com)