One year

Today is one year. As I write this, it’s one year to the exact minute that I received the call from Mike’s mom.

I didn’t think it was going to be a big deal, just another day. I thought I was okay.

It’s hard.

I woke up with a throbbing headache at 4:30. Lauren was crying out for me at 5 a.m., and she and I cuddled for a half hour. I showered, got dressed, packed my lunch. If I didn’t have to interview a job candidate this afternoon, I would have stayed in bed.

It snowed last night. Not much, but a slick snowy coat covered the roads as I took Ethan to school.

I thought about cancelling my oil change appointment, but I was already WAY overdue. Of course, I was ridiculously early for the appointment, so I went through a drive thru – maybe caffeine would help my headache, I thought. (It didn’t.)

Then I drove around. I wanted to find an empty parking lot and just sit, maybe sneak in a 10-minute nap. But the snow… nearly every lot was being plowed, and those that weren’t plowed REALLY needed it.

After driving around for 20 minutes, I found an acceptable lot, parked and sat. I couldn’t move. I just stared at a discount dry cleaners, a hair cut place and sandwich restaurant. I watched the reflection of the cars from the road behind me. As the reflections moved along the plate-glass windows, their shape changed – short to long, thin to fat, tall to short. It was like watching a fun house mirror.

I was very conscious of my breathing. In, out. Deep breaths.

I felt like I couldn’t move anything other than my eyes, watching those cars in the reflection. Several times, I thought, “It’s time. I need to get to the car dealer.” But I couldn’t seem to lift my head, let alone my arms or legs to physically drive the car.

My email dinged. New message. It was about tomorrow’s alumni board meeting at my alma mater. There’s no way, I thought. It took everything in me to pull my head off the back of the car seat. I emailed back: “I thought I was fine. I’m not. Won’t be there tomorrow.”

I glanced at the time. Just enough time to get to the dealer.

Pulled into the garage, checked in, walked to the waiting room.

I emailed a few people at work (someone from IT was coming to check my laptop and a student wanted to talk about internships) – I’m going to be late, I wrote, blaming it on the weather and road conditions.

Of course, as soon as I walked into my building, the IT guy and the student were waiting for me in the hall outside my office. I rushed through both meetings, sent them on their ways, and shut my door.

I walked over to my window and looked out at the snow-covered quad. Without warning, the tears just came.

Finding help – I hope

I met with the new therapist last night. (Man, it was a cold night with -25 degree wind chills… If this wasn’t for Ethan’s benefit, I would have stayed home in my sweat pants under a down blanket!)

New therapist (D) is awesome.

Her office was filled with kid stuff, toys and books and games. It was very different from Ethan’s previous therapist’s office, which was cold and not kid-friendly with its diplomas on the wall and mismatched dorm-like furniture. I was also relieved to see two other kids coming out of another office – the boy was about Ethan’s age and the girl was maybe a year younger. Proof that this place GETS kids and knows how to work with them. (Never really saw kids at the old therapy place – no one under teen years.)

We sat down and she asked me to go over the timeline of events starting with Mike’s death last year.

“Actually, I think it started before that,” I said.

I recounted for her what’s happened in two years – Lauren’s birth (Ethan was no longer the only child), finding out Mike was drinking and lying and hiding it (lots of tension and arguing in the house), my dad’s death (Ethan let out a piercing, heart breaking howl when the Marine presented my mom with the American flag), neglect when Ethan was left alone with Mike (Mike drank until he passed out and forgot to feed or care for Ethan), my mom moving in with us, more tension at home as Mike was dropped from the outpatient rehab center, the loss of my job and the drinking ultimatum I gave to Mike, going to court, Mike being taken to the hospital and moving in with his parents a few states away, relocating the family to another state, Ethan starting a new school, Mike dying.

I explained to the therapist that Ethan’s behavior is very different at home and school. There’s no anger at home. There isn’t impulsive behavior or inappropriate outbursts when he’s with me or my mom. I talked to her about my belief that Ethan is processing his grief and losses, and he’s worried when he’s not around me or his grandma. I told her others want to diagnose him as ADD/ADHD, but that I wanted to hold off until I thought Ethan could process and deal with the grief issues. She nodded, she understood my theories.

D listened to everything, taking notes, asking occasional questions. She asked about his previous therapy experience and what was discussed. I told her that the former therapist never broached the subject of death or grief. Instead he concentrated on helping Ethan get along with his peers – necessary yes, but not helping the underlying problem. D was mortified.

“This kid’s been through a lot,” she said. “Grief and loss are major parts of his life. We’ll work on it.”

Ethan has his first appointment with her in one week. Fingers crossed.


On a related note, it’s been a tough week for Ethan. He’s been in trouble at school for outbursts and anger and arguing with teachers.

Last night, I was on my way to pick him up from the after school program when the director called. Ethan was having a panic attack, she told me. He was yelled at for pushing a kid while playing tag and he lost it. They couldn’t calm him down.

Luckily, I was minutes away from the school. When I got there, Ethan was in a quiet, dark room across the hall from the rest of the kids. He had his head down and was sobbing. One of the program leaders was talking to him, rubbing his hair.

I asked him what was going on, what happened. He lifted his head and said that it’s almost the time when his daddy died last year.

We sat in the dark room and cried together for a few minutes. I gathered his things in the other room, and we left.

Right or wrong, I’m not going to lecture or yell at him for misbehaving this week. He has enough on his seven-year old mind this week.


Late last night, I got an email from one of my mom friends. This mom knows the anniversary is coming up. Her daughter is in Ethan’s class:

During prayers tonight, I asked the girls if there was anything special they wanted to pray for and KL said, “I would like to pray for Ethan.” I said that was a great idea but asked if she had any reason and she said, “He just looks like he needs a friend, mom.” So I told her maybe she should try to be a better friend if it looks like he needs a friend.

I fear that Ethan’s anger and outbursts will alienate kids (and their parents), leaving him without friends or a support system. I only hope the other moms and kids in the class show this kind of compassion as we continue to move through these tough times.

It’s a good reminder not to judge others: you just don’t know what they’re going through.

Parenting is hard.


Warning: rambling posts to follow. Blog posts this week may not be coherent.

It’ll be one week on Friday since Mike died. And it’s more emotional than I thought it would be.

We were separated, but we were still friends (when he was sober).

We were divorcing, but he was still the person I called when something good – or bad – happened to me.

We weren’t living together, but he was still involved in making decisions for the kids (when he was sober).

Some days it seems surreal, like this is a dream. That he’s not really gone. Sometimes I wonder if his death was somehow faked, an elaborate hoax. That he’ll some day reappear, sober and with the personality of the “old” Mikey.

I often think about the long-term effects his death will have on the kids.

I wonder if I’ll find love, companionship, friendship, passion again.

I wonder how we will get through this week… How Ethan will manage… If Lauren will even realize… If I will get the motivation to actually DO anything this week…

In-law mail

Since moving to Wisconsin, I’ve maintained two addresses – our home address as well as a postal box. I’ve been transitioning my personal mail to the house address, but I keep the box open for things relating to Mike’s death – creditor letters, estate requests, correspondence from his parents.

I checked the box just before Christmas. Nothing from his family. Not surprised. We hadn’t heard anything from them since the weirdo birthday cards for the kids and the message that she left months ago. (Nope, never called her back. Figured if it was important, she would call again or just send the info in the mail.)

We don’t go to the box often. There’s really not much coming there anymore. But Ethan and I were out running around last weekend, and I popped in to get the mail.

Tons of catalogues. Creditor letter for Mike. Random crap for my mom. I almost missed the two envelopes. I started to open the one addressed to the kids, but stopped. I decided to let Ethan open it.

I handed him the envelope and mustered up my cheery voice, “Oh look, Eth! I think this might be a card for you and Lauren!”

He reached for it and tore it open. He read it aloud. I asked to see it.

The cover of the card read: To my granddaughter and my “grandson.”

“What the hell is wrong with these idiots?” I thought. This isn’t a card for kids. It’s a card that a grandparent would send to her GROWN granddaughter and her granddaughter’s HUSBAND – hence, the quotation marks around “grandson.” (I hate grammatical and punctuation stupidity, so this offense was particularly…offensive.)

There was some mushy bullshit preprinted in the inside of the card, along with a brief handwritten note: “Ethan and Lauren, the best part of this time of year is thinking about both of you. Love, Grandpa and Grandma (LAST NAME).”

So, they only think about their ONLY grandkids around the holidays? Nothing about “hope you had a good Christmas” or “would love to hear about school” or “maybe we can come see you sometime.” Nothing about “we still have your dad’s Christmas presents from LAST YEAR that we want to give you.” Nothing about “we’ll be sending all your dad’s stuff that your mom requested at the funeral because it’s stuff she wanted to give TO YOU BOTH !”  Absolutely nothing else in the card – no gift cards, not a check or a savings bond. Nothing.

My kids don’t need anything. I’m providing for them just fine. But a stranger (to them) sent holiday gift cards, and their grandparents sent… only a crappy-ass card?

I set the card aside and picked up the second envelope from them. This one was addressed to me. “Maybe they’re sending the kids’ gifts to me?” I thought, knowing that wouldn’t be the case. “Maybe this is an apology letter,” I thought, knowing I was wrong.

Nope. Envelope number two contained no handwritten note or even a “hope you’re all okay” note. It was just a statement from the storage company that the rate on Mike’s unit was increasing as of January 1.

And so, as I approach the one year anniversary of Mike’s death, he’s still gone and the in-laws are still assholes.

Only parenting

Mike and I were separated when he died, so mentally, I was prepared to be a single mom. I had been thinking about it for months before we the court order that removed him from my home.

I knew it would be difficult. I knew there would be challenges, but being the kind of overplanning-kind-of-person I am, I was ready to be a single mom.

Given his condition, I knew Mike wouldn’t have a dominant role for the first year or two, but he’d be “there” by phone or Skype or the occasional supervised visitation. But, hell, he was GOING to pull his shit together – he was going to get BETTER, or so I believed.

When he was better, he’d have weekends, holidays, summers with the kids. And then I’d have a free weekend, or a kid-less couple of weeks over the summer. I had plans with that “free” time.

Things don’t always go according to plan.

There’s a big difference between being a “single” mom and being an “only” parent. Differences I’m just starting to realize 10 months after Mike’s death.

Being an “only” is exhausting. There is no time away, no time to refresh, no downtime. You’re always “on” no matter how much you just want to be “off” for a while longer. There’s no end in sight, no waiting until the other parent’s weekend. I’m actually jealous of “single” parents.

Before Mike slipped into a bottle of vodka, we were a good team.

  • When I reached the end of my rope, he was still calm and rationale, and vice versa.
  • If he had a bad day at work and needed a break when he came home, I was there to take Ethan (Lauren was born AA – after alcoholism), entertain him, keep him away until Mike found his peace – and vice versa.
  • On weekends, one of us could always sleep in while the other handled breakfast and other morning rituals. For parents of kids who always wake up by 6 a.m., an extra hour or two of sleep can make or break the day.

We tagged-team parented a lot. It worked for us.

Since Mike’s death, I’ve learned to have more patience and that’s good. But patience only goes so far when there’s no parental backup – and I’m still nowhere near as patient as I should be.

I have a few friends who have volunteered to take the kids when I need a break. (One divorced mom friend even really “gets it.” She’s mentioned the “only” parent thing without me ever discussing it. I cried that someone acknowledged it!)

But I don’t like to ask for help. And if I did take my kids to a friend’s house or drop them off for a few hours, I’d probably be so worried about them, and feel so guilty that I NEEDED the break, that I wouldn’t be able to relax. (God, what if Ethan talks about how much beer his dad drank – which is a favorite topic of conversation right now? What if Lauren freaks out? Am I letting the kids down by needing an escape?)

Being an “only” parent isn’t where I thought I’d be, and I often wonder how I got here. But “only parent” is now our normal. I just need to get comfortable with it, figure it out, come to terms with it. I’m not complaining or asking for sympathy, just realizing there’s a big difference between the two distinctions. Being an “only” parent is what I am now.