The Days After

T1 had been sleeping on the couch during his stay with Nana and Papa, but asked to sleep in the same bed as me and T2 the first night after our reunion. It’s a king-sized bed and there was more than enough room for me to have my own sleeping bubble, not touching anyone while I slumbered, while listening to his breathing deepen as he drifted off across the mattress from his sister. Little kids are so generous, so tender, so ready to love and be loved in return. I’m grateful I had the chance to work through some of my own shit before they are old enough to to start stressing about their own and realize what I mess I’ve been.

I watched their chests rise and fall, thinking about my last post and how they had reacted exactly as anticipated. It’s me who is unpredictable, sweet and patient one moment and snapping the next. How unnerving that must be for the little ones who crave stability and a knowledge that their caretaker will always be there for them. I see T1 seeking assurance that he is loved and accepted less often now that he’s had this month with Nana, which is one of the reasons I did this break, because it was killing me how often he told me he loved me in an attempt to hear that I loved him back. I could see what I was doing, but each day I tried to do better I slid back into the same old patterns. Self-awareness does not always go hand-in-hand with an ability to solve the problem at hand. I needed to be stress- and anxiety- and depression-free in order to understand how to address the stress and anxiety and depression in my life. If I can’t fit it in between my child-free hours between 9-5 M-F I’ve got too much on my plate and need to look into simplifying somehow

On the second or third day I opened my to-do list app and that’s when the regression into old patterns was stark. I was frustrated with them, short because it’s hard for me to be interrupted in the middle of a task once I start. That’s why a crucial part of our plan going forward is a combination of outsourcing and family time that forces me to set boundaries for when I’m in to-do list mode. 

I think my favorite day in Royal was the morning  we rode horses with the neighbors. The kids were delighted, we were able to connect and bond in meaningful ways with the sort of people who remind you how good humanity can be, and I was completely present with no worries about what came next or what I should/could be spending time on otherwise. This is the feeling I want to replicate over and over throughout the coming months. This is what I’ve been missing.

The Night Before

I am writing this the night before I reunite with my two- and five-year-old children, after 26 days of them in Washington and me in California. A separation that was my choice, after weeks of pleading with my mom to please help me. Please. I can’t do this anymore.

I’m watching videos of them on Notabli, crying because I can see how much they’ve changed in the days we have been separated. I know this time apart will be better for us in the long run, but it’s hard to see my daughter looking and speaking in much more mature ways than when I left. She’s no longer the baby I tucked into my dad’s pickup truck at the beginning of July. She speaks in full sentences now, she rides a trike, she refuses to wear anything other than “pretty dresses.”

I see through my tiny phone screen into my son’s eyes when we FaceTime, and there are the questions “This is fun, but why am I here? Do you still love me?” I can’t change who I have been, but I can affect who I become.

expired Portra 160vc, RZ67 Pro II

Tomorrow I anticipate my five-year-old will run to me, cling to me, immediately seeking the reassurance that I’m really there. All of me, not just my arms and my lips to hug and to kiss, but my eyes, heart, and psyche as well. Continue reading

The Fog Lifting

“A thing seen cannot be unseen.”

This has been the thought running through my head at repeating intervals over the past few weeks. I came into this childfree month with expectations about changes to my career, changes to the unpacking status of our new rental, changes to my social life during this very unique time where there is no need to line up babysitters for $20/hour when I want to have a night out.

I saw all of those changes, but the starkest unfurling was the enormous shift I saw to my temperament, attitude, and general happiness levels. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but TH told me last week “I see the woman I fell in love with all over again. I haven’t seen you like this in years.


He calls me The Martyr. When I take a position I dig in with all I’ve got to hold the fort and make my intentions a reality. Of course I adapt with new information, my departure from Mormonism made that clear, but if I don’t see an alternative option that feels better than my current approach I keep my heels planted firmly in place no matter how my holding might affect those around me. And because I like to be right I’m often not good at objectively weighing the alternatives in search of something better. That’s what was happening with my life, my parenting, my marriage. We got married with a 1950s dynamic, he works and she does the house and the kids, and I was hell-bent on making that doable for us (even at the expense of my well-being and the well-being of those close to me).

It obviously wasn’t working, I had plenty of data points to tell me that. One of those points was the time a close friend said she would describe me as “cynical.” She was being genuine and honest and true to what our friendship is, but it hurt me so much I cried for days. I had become a version of myself I didn’t recognize, and when she said that I realized for the first time that she wasn’t the only one who saw me that way. I don’t agree with it, but I get why there is so much hostility directed my way whenever I share something that revealed a part of my inner turmoil. The problem was not in the sharing, it was in my acceptance that there were no alternatives to what I was doing and how I was doing it. TH and I would have one of those deep and difficult conversations married people have, I would vow to do better, and then I would dive right back into the same situation once again.

I’m not opposed to calling it postpartum depression, having a name helps launch the beginning stage of finding a resolution to the problem. Continue reading

My Kid Chose Santa Over Mom

We are a household that doesn’t buy into the cult of Santa, which until now has only meant that I write on my blog about how we aren’t doing Santa. Previously it hasn’t mattered to T1, but this is the year that playground gossip started shaping his worldview, and around this time of year talk of Santa is all the rage around the sandbox.



We were snuggling in my bed a few weeks ago, just the two of us, when four-year-old T1 said something about Santa. I knew that this was my chance to let him in on the Grownup Secret. I don’t mind if he believes in imaginary figures (if he references Mickey Mouse or mermaids I don’t go out of my way  make sure he knows that they are make-believe) but it is important to me that he doesn’t think that he is a naughty kid and therefore didn’t get any presents delivered via flying sleigh (can mom’s gifts wrapped in brown kraft paper really compete?). I’m not sure what the other kids are saying exactly, but it’s possible that he is absorbing messages that communicate he will get whatever he wants from Santa as long as he is on the nice list.

I leaned over and told him that I had a very special secret to tell him, a secret he gets to hear because he is so very grownup. I emphasized how important it is that he keep this secret to himself and not tell any of the other kids. When I said that Santa isn’t real, and that it’s a game that parents play with their kids, he smiled really big and immediately embraced the idea that he was very mature and able to handle the information. Throughout that night and the next morning he kept telling me that we need to make sure his little sister doesn’t find out the Grownup Secret because she isn’t ready for it yet. I smugly patted myself on the back and figured this meant one child down, another to go in a few years.

The next afternoon Santa came up in the car again, and I was informed that the man in the big red suit actually is real (along with the tooth fairy), and that he has proof. Obviously the secret my son and I shared was not kept close to the vest and was the topic of some intense playground discussion. T1 told me that Cora said that she wanted a unicorn for Christmas last year, and she never told anyone about it, and still it somehow found its way under her tree, so obviously Santa is real. There was also lots of talk bout teeth and the tooth fairy.

And so, this year when I was selecting the ornament I would give to T1 for 2014, I chose Santa and a small boy, skating off into the sunset together. To represent this year as the one where my kid chose a mythical Santa Claus figure over the being who actually has the power to hear and deliver on his heart’s deepest desires.

Think that next year T1 will also be choosing Santa Claus over his mommy? Tweet with me, @jennacole, or leave your thoughts on the That Wife Facebook page.

I Want to See Who He Is

The night that the grand jury announced their decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson was a night I put T1 to bed with red-rimmed eyes. In the weeks since the shooting I’ve tried to read the articles and blog posts from black Americans detailing their experiences in America and I’ve tried to face down my own personal prejudices and biases. Katherine is right, racism is not over because Barack Obama is president or because Oprah gave a room full of people new automobiles. We still have a long way to go.

T1 saw my red eyes and asked me what was wrong. I told him that someone had been mean to a boy because his skin is a dark color, and that it made me said because I think we should be kind to everyone no matter what they look like. I said the boy had died and I felt sad for his mommy because she missed her boy so much. I know this explanation is reductive, and leaves out many pertinent details, but it felt like the appropriate amount of information for the stage he is in. He can explore the nuances with me in future discussions as he grows older and his cognitive capacity increases. T1 hugged me and said he wished that the boy’s mommy didn’t have to be away from her son. I agreed.

Since then T1 has brought the issue a few times, and this morning he picked it up again while watching The Colbert Report over breakfast. He asked me “Can I see a picture of that boy?”, and I was touched by his desire to find a connection with this figure he had been hearing about. I showed him this photograph and he said “He looks nice, I like his jacket.

I wondered, in that moment, what it would be like to approach every new person without the baggage we adults carry around from the things we’ve personally experienced and the things we’ve heard from other people. I think having more conversations with our kids about these difficult topics can help them continue to respond in this way, to look at a picture and see the person first, and the issues second.

How are you talking to your children about Ferguson and issues related to race in America? Tweet with me, @jennacole, or leave your thoughts on the That Wife Facebook page.