“But then you did one thing that I could never do. You broke free. You got away from the neighborhood and all the petty family bullshit. You broke away and started a whole new life for yourself…but now here you are all dressed up, dead center in a pile of shit.” Janet to Angie, Rescue Me
I am a single mom. I do not have the freedom to just pick up and leave. I cannot willingly be out of commission for a week or even a day. I have unbelievable help and support from my parents, especially my mother, but the ultimate responsibility of my child’s life is in my hands. I will never choose to let that responsibility become anything less than my number 1 priority if I can help it. And I don’t understand people who claim they are parents but who make excuses for why their time and energy is more useful elsewhere. Parents who work do so for their families welfare and they come home and still do a 110% job in trying to raise their children with love and attention. So it’s not about spending all your time, or even most of your time physically with your offspring. It’s about realizing that every decision you make, everything you are affects that child and it is your job to make sure you’re thinking about those little ones first.
If I sound angry it’s because I am. I am royally pissed off to be honest, because I watch my amazing little girl get smarter and more observant every day. And she notices how her cousin has a father, and the kids at Gymboree have their fathers there on special family days, and the Stroller Strides kids get both parents on Saturdays, and on and on. She notices and she asks for her baba, her father, and my heart just shreds with each expression on her face as she processes the fact that her baba is barely ever here. I tell her he’s at work and I hug her and kiss her and distract her with my love but inside I die. I can’t take the pain she feels and what she’s bound to feel one day when she’s old enough to answer her own questions about where he is.
What makes me even angrier is the feeling that he’s somehow tricked me into living out his punishment. He cheated and lied repeatedly, and yet he’s the one who’s roaming around the world, literally jetting from one country to the next. When I was pregnant we talked about showing our baby all of the amazing places we had already seen and discovering more with her, and yet he’s the one who’s continued to travel while deleting my name from his pilot employee travel benefits program and never even adding his daughter’s name to the list. It is her right, as his child, to see the world but she’s stuck here with me while I try to get a job and find a way to pay my parents back for all of the money they’ve spent and will continue to spend on us to help us have a good life. It isn’t fair that while he’s the one who’s done the damage, we’re the ones who face it.
Zahara misses him and feels the absence of that man in her life that everyone else around her seems to have. I try to be everything for her, and I know my situation with her father has helped me be even more than a mother to her. But I can never be her father. I can never be that person and it hurts so much when she feels that difference. And she’s only 2! It’s going to get worse and I don’t know how to stop it! And when I think about that I hate him.
Then there’s me. If he had stuck around and been the man he advertised himself to be when we were falling in love, then I can imagine what it would have been like. Even then, my priority would be this sweet girl but that would be true for him as well. She’d be with me all day and play with him when he got home from work. We’d have dinner together and maybe take turns giving her baths each night. Whoever wasn’t giving the bath might have been cleaning the dinner table or maybe we’d do those things together. It’s not like we’d never argue or have problems, but we’d be a family. And when we needed it, we’d have Zahara’s grandparents (either side) watch her for an evening and we’d go out for a date, dinner, a movie, dancing, whatever. We’d even take little mini-vacations for the weekend just to refresh our minds and feel young and full of life. We’d take longer family vacations with Zahara and become the kind of people great adventure novels are written about.
I can imagine all this so vividly because I’ve thought about it all before. Zahara’s father and I discussed all of this and so much more as we dreamed about her joining us in this world. We had such beautiful plans and such high expectations. But then he just murdered that cliche with another one: the cheating husband. And now there are nights when I feel so lonely it’s like my heart has stopped beating from the pain. And in those crazy moments of utter frustration that make up every hands-on parent’s existence, I think about having a lost weekend by myself or with some friends or with a guy.
The last few days I was completely hollowed out by a horrible stomach virus and in between bathroom runs and sleep, I watched a bunch of Rescue Me on Netflix. And there’s so much drinking and hotels, partying and sex, smoking and losing yourself. I watched episodes back to back and while I was entertained, my melancholy crept in. Why can’t I just go hole up in a hotel for a weekend or run off to Las Vegas or Miami or Rome? Because he left us and I’m the only parent Zahara actually has. He’s her baba, but I’m the one who she knows as the one for all the parenting stuff. So if I just up and leave for a day or two or a week, even though my parents will take care of her, who will she turn to when she needs mommy? When both parents are in the picture, they can balance it out a little, taking turns being responsible and letting off a little steam. Or like I said before, we could have had nights “off” while she was with other family. There wouldn’t be this guilt, as if by going out I’m leaving her, too. He already abandoned her. How can I be selfish that way?
So I don’t have a lost weekend. I’m almost 30 and if I was still with her father we’d have had years ahead of us to still have those kinds of random brainless times. But he’s off doing whatever he does when he’s not with us, coming on Skype video chat from some hotel room wearing a white robe and eating room service with a big grin on his face. And I’m here. I’m the ammi, the mom, and it’s my baby who needs me. Sure I could go off once in a while and do dumb teenagery things and not think about it and have a fantastic, fuzzy memory of the lost days. But not now. Not when she’s so young and maybe not for a long time. Because the point of those lost times is to enjoy without hurting anyone. So while he has no problem hurting us while he relives his youth, I’d rather make sure our daughter’s childhood is exceptional.
I want to take my daughter everywhere and I will do it. That is a promise to her and myself that I will never break. So I try to look for jobs in the fields that will get me those benefits that he stole from us so I can give Zahara what her father promised us both. I take her to Gymboree and Stroller Strides and birthday parties and trick-or-treating and everywhere else and if there are fathers there, well I’m such a Goddamn amazing mother that Zahara forgets about it pretty quickly. And when I need some lost time, I go to a Mother’s Night Out with those same Stroller Striders. Or I go to get my nails done, to lunch or dinner with a friend, or once in a while I get lucky and Zahara falls asleep while we’re out so we go to a movie.
I watch something on Hulu or Netflix that lets me see glimpses of the life Zahara’s baba and I had together or would have had now and I feel that yearning pang. But I’ve got so much time to be reckless when she’s older, and to find a partner to do all those things with, too. I’ve only got now to get my little girl’s childhood right. I have a hell of a lot of fun with her and I make it my mission to keep us happy. When I feel lowest I can only think 1 thing: he may be out there seemingly free and living the good life but he doesn’t have the light of this baby in his daily life. He is “dead center in a pile of shit” but he’ll only realize it when the stench catches up to him. By then, I’ll have figured out how to make my dreams a reality, and I’ll have found better ways to cope with my sadness. And hopefully, for Zahara’s sake and his, her baba will have learned how to be a good father in time for her to care. For now, I’m just going to keep on being Zahara’s mommy, and get lost in these innocent days.