“Have a good day at school, baby.”
I blow him a kiss and then hang up the phone. I pray the kiss travels the 3,000 mile distance between us and plants itself on my son’s heart.
I can barely keep my eyes open long enough to attach my cell phone to the charger because I had to wake up at 3 a.m. just to be sure I caught up with my two sons before they left for school. I live in Los Angeles and they live in Fort Lauderdale with their Dad. At ages 10 and 12, my sons have been living with their Dad for a little more than five years.
“But that’s half their lives,” a woman remarked earlier this evening as she questioned me about why I would do such a horrible thing, like not be a part of my children’s daily lives. Her questioning put me on the defensive and I explained as patiently as I could that my children are doing well living with their Dad, and for now this is the best thing for them.
She couldn’t understand. She, being a single woman approaching 40 who fantasizes about reading bedtime stories to her future children, just couldn’t understand why I wasn’t experiencing her dream.
Sadly, I could relate to a time when my self worth was attached to my ability to support my family financially while secretly coveting my creative dreams. I took a risk because I believed in my ability to become a writer. I left my job as a private school secretary for a position at a PR firm and two months later I was fired. For three months I struggled with our bills with no help from their father. A surprise offer to relocate from Miami to Atlanta and revamp my job search gave me hope for a brighter future. When their father offered to keep them in Miami while I looked for a job out of state, I was a bit wary but I decided to give him a chance to be a full-time parent. The kids changed hands and off I went to Atlanta to see if my luck would change.
It did. Just two days after I arrived in the city, I was hired as a content manager for a magazine. My freelance press clippings and blogging had benefited me after all. I called their father up and he informed me that he was taking me to court for full custody of our children.
I didn’t fight; I waited to hear from the courts as I threw myself into my new career. I somehow knew that things would work out just fine and then five months later, my position at the magazine was eliminated.
“My boys are fine,” I told myself as I sought other positions and grew my resume trying to find the magic key to support myself through my creative ability. “It’s my turn,” I reminded myself as my heart ached to be with them. “He had his chance to stabilize his career; I can be what I want to be too.”
But that didn’t stop the naysayers who would read my personal blog and send me hate mail for what they deemed to be selfish behavior on my part. “Every child needs a mother,” one reader said. Reading that one comment felt like a dagger in my heart, yet I sifted through it to realize two important points.
What irritates some moms balancing the hectic lifestyle of work, raising children and relationships — is the fact that I am not in it with them.
On one hand, I am living in a society that has established structured roles for each gender to play out and living a lifestyle outside of that expressed expectation will garner criticism and resentment from those who are caught up in playing the role that society has given them. Never a word of criticism was whispered to their father when he moved away from our college town (and left me there with our two children) after law school so that he could establish himself. But here I was, allowing him to handle the brunt of the parenting for once and I was made out to be a villain. Never mind that my sons are now stable, prospering and happy with their dad–who is an amazing dad, by the way. What irritates some moms balancing the hectic lifestyle of work, raising children and relationships — is the fact that I am not in it with them.
I can’t apologize for allowing their dad to be their primary caretaker. His actions, despite their motives, actually pushed me to reach for the brass ring instead of settling for barely enough so that I could meet with public approval. I made the best out of a tricky situation and just like I teach my sons, I learned to be non-resistant and recognize the gift in each situation that presents itself to me.
In my mind and in the minds of my sons, everything is working out as it should. We aren’t sad. We don’t cry on the phone. I miss them and they miss me, that’s for sure. But they understand that when Mommy is away she’s doing it for the purpose of establishing herself so that she can take better care of them.
Although I am a mom without her kids, I am still a mom and nothing can change that. I am there for my sons in every way I can be, including paying child support. I forgave myself for not being like the moms on TV when I realized there’s more than one way to be a good mom. Everyone has a story and this is ours, for now. Who knows what the next chapter will read.