My pantry is stunning. I got a set of glass storage containers from my kids for Christmas, and the very next day I went out and bought a few more. There are no bags of chips, pretzels, or boxes of cereal floating about. Everything is in a tight little container sitting on freshly painted white shelves. I even painted polka dots on the walls for fuck’s sake.
On the surface, things look wonderful. The reality, however, is far more complex.
While the pictures I sent to my friends left them in awe and they replied with messages like, “How do you do it?” and “Can you come over and help me with mine?” and “You’ve have a real talent,” what they didn’t see was a mother who was missing her children so bad that she spent hours organizing her damn pantry to keep herself occupied.
They didn’t see the tears and feel my emptiness I was trying so hard to fill. They have no idea how many tissues I went through or that my nose was red and dripping with snot as I scrubbed the shelves.
I like a clean and organized home as much as the next person, but since my divorce, vacuuming, organizing, and finding cute outfits on sale is something I do with a vengeance in hopes to ease the pain of not having my kids with me due to our shared custody arrangement.
Some like alcohol or sugar. Some binge watch reality shows. My buffer is the work of keeping my house and myself looking tidy and ready for a party at any given moment.
My drug of choice is staying busy so I don’t have to sit and think about the “good ol’ days” when we all would have been piled around the kitchen table or watching Wheel of Fortune in a lump on the sofa with random socks and pieces of dog food strewn about on the carpet, when the cleaning could wait until the next day. Or the next.
The strange thing is, back then my life felt clean and organized, because those were the years I didn’t feel the need to look the part of the happy single woman who was doing just fine despite having her marriage fall apart and missing her children so much she was in physical pain.
I’ve tried to fill the cracks of my divorce and the emptiness caused by shared custody with lash extensions and rearranging furniture. I’ve tried to control my tears by browsing online for the perfect pillow set. I have the bandwidth to coordinate my shoes to my cute knit hat before I walk out the door when my kids aren’t here. But I cannot, for the life of me, get rid of this sadness.
Maybe to others who are peeking into my life from the outside, through my Instagram feed, or even my front door, it seems like I have it all figured out.
You want to know what I have? More time without my children. That’s it.
And with that time comes feelings. With those feelings comes a natural reaction to somehow fix the fact I don’t see them everyday.
But no matter how good my outfit makes me feel, or how well put together my living room appears, or how happy a new candle makes me, the unnatural feeling of not being with them every day simply will not relent.
I may have a clean home, but that doesn’t mean I am lucky. I may take the time to get myself dressed and make my hair and nails a priority, but it all comes with a trade-off. You see, I’d take the chipped nails, the roots, the so-called “messiness” again if I could. Those days mean more to me than having gaps in my life where I feel it’s my job to feverishly fill the spaces so I don’t have to feel this angst.
My ex and I don’t miss each other, nor do we want to be married again. But I want to see my kids every single day. And because I don’t, I miss my old life deeply and grieve it every day.
Sometimes it feels like a small twitch. Like when I smell dandelions and think about how my son used to pick them for me. So, I go out and buy new flowers for the table.
Sometimes it feels like a bulldozer. Like when I’m home alone, the house is silent, and I reach for the remote and Wheel of Fortune is staring back and me and the sound of Pat Sajak’s voice hurts my ears because of the memories. So, I gut a whole closet and try to put it back together better than before, all the while telling myself this will help me feel a bit better.
When I feel this pain, I have to move, I have to change something, I have to make something better or prettier.
I know what I’m really doing though: I’m trying to control something, anything. Because I can’t control the fact my kids don’t sleep in their beds every night and I don’t make them meals every day and I don’t get to reach over and kiss them whenever I want.
I can’t change this turn my life has taken, but I can shampoo the rug. I can paint my nails. I can redecorate the mantle. Because right now, it’s all I know how to do.