“This is the worst Easter ever,” he choked out between heart-wrenching sobs, his tears dripping down his red cheeks onto his blue dress shirt.
I pulled him close, his tears and snot mixing together and dripping onto my neck. I didn’t want to say, “You know what, Buddy, it sure is!” I felt it, deep in my being, but I didn’t want to make him more upset. I held him close and told him that it was okay to feel that way. I hugged him hard as he wept onto my floral Easter dress; I fought hard to hold it together for him, for his bother.
— __ — __ —
The day started out perfectly. Both boys rose right at seven o’clock, their inner clocks more reliable than any alarm clock ever made. I had them wait so I could make my way into the dining room to open the curtains and raise the blinds. I wanted to get a good, properly lit video of them discovering their Easter baskets so my husband, working a 24 hour shift at the fire department, could see what he missed.
It’s hard when he works on holidays.
I sounded the all clear and the boys traipsed down the hallway. Their faces lit up with what can only be described as pure joy as they discovered their Easter baskets: a chocolate bunny dressed as Darth Vader, some peanut butter cups, and some new Disney Infinity characters to add to their ever-growing collection. Modest in comparison to some of what I saw online today, but as the video came to a close, they both stage-whispered a heartfelt, “Wow.” My husband replied to the video I sent him via text with, “That’s awesome. You are a wonderful mother.”
I missed him deeply in that moment.
The rest of the morning went off without a hitch. The boys got to play their video game before church which is unheard of in this family—while I enjoyed a couple more minutes of greatly needed sleep. We got dressed with no problems. We took pictures and sent them off to the fire department. We left early for church in order to secure our usual seats—a fact that ranks as Very Important to two little boys. The Easter service ranked as, quite possibly, one of my favorites; I blinked back tears as I felt my heart filled with both the Spirit and the words of humanity that I needed to hear in this particular place of my own personal journey.
After church, we took care of our dog and headed off to have a big lunch and family time with my husband’s mom and associated family members.
It’s weird to go to holiday celebrations at your in-laws without your spouse.
It’s not a bad weird, as I love my mother-in-law, my sister-in-law, my scrumptious nephew, and the number of family members that come and go throughout the day. I enjoyed a number of conversations that included everything from my upcoming marathon to what products best treat both acne and wrinkles at the same time to the turkeys I came across on a recent run. We spent a portion of the afternoon looking at pictures of my husband as a young boy; dang if he wasn’t the cutest thing ever.
That only made me miss him more.
At some point during the day, the boys crossed the line from having just the right amount of Easter candy to OMG ALL THE SUGAR. Suddenly their ears didn’t work. When I tried to get them to calm down, to bring their level of horseplay down to a reasonable level with an almost-two-year-old in the room, they couldn’t find it within themselves to even acknowledge me, let alone listen. That’s hard for me, given that they normally listen very well. They are obedient children, save for LittleBrother’s occasional ornery streak. For them to point blank disobey me, for them to ignore me, feels like a very personal affront. Logically, and removed from the immediacy of the events, I recognize it as two overtired, oversugared little boys doing what overtired, oversugared little boys do. In the moment, I felt panicked.
— __ — __ —
I defend men and their parenting skills all over the Internet. Any time someone starts ranting about dads and their inability to properly be present in parenting, I step up to the plate for my husband, for my father, for my brother, for the eleventy billion other men like them.
I didn’t know it at the time, but when I chose to marry the person I married, I was marrying an amazing co-parent. Or, knowing my situation as I do, I kind of knew, but not to the full extent of what I experience on a daily basis as his partner in parenting non-crime. I don’t leave him lists when I go out of town for work or for pleasure, leaving him to wrangle schedules and medicines and bedtimes and clothing choices. I don’t turn down invites with friends or family members because I worry whether or not he can “handle” his own children. He is, hands down, the most amazing father I have ever seen in action. He’s human, as am I; sometimes he gets annoyed when the kids ask the same question for the seven thousandth time, but he loves those boys with a fierce, deep love that I have never needed to question. And he vacuums. And does laundry when I get behind. And the dishes when I cook dinner.
Therefore, it is not surprising that we feel his absence when he is at work. Even more so on holidays.
Holidays without him are hard.
We are out of our normal routine. We rely rather heavily on routine in this household because it works for us. Breakfast falls at a certain time, as does lunch. School days all resemble each other, save for baseball or soccer season—and even then, we fall quickly into something that works for all four of us. Bedtime looks the same, Sunday through Thursday and sometimes on Fridays and Saturdays because we know our sons need a certain amount of sleep. We know when they’ve been too busy, too stimulated during the week. We know when they need to spend some time relaxing on a blanket in the yard listening to the Frozen soundtrack in that 45 minutes before bed to calm down, to breathe, to work their way back to calm.
Holidays take our routine and throw it into the wind. Add in the excess sugar, something these two boys get in minor doses, and the whole day can go downhill fast. When the two of us are together, co-parenting our way through the muck of a holiday sugar crash, we can tag-team our way out of the mess. When I’m alone, I end up holding a crying child on my mother-in-law’s couch while the other one says, “I miss daddy,” and I just want to cry big fat crocodile tears onto the head of the kid I’m holding and say, “Me too, Bubba. Me too.”
— __ — __ —
Less than 15 minutes after we got in the car, both boys passed out. Cold.
I spent the rest of the car ride home to our city in complete, blissful silence. I felt bad that I had to wake them to run a minor errand, but they were in much better moods when we got to the fire department to visit for a few minutes.
They looked sad when their Dad talked to them about listening to me when he’s not there, and I felt the weight lift. Sometimes I forget when he’s not there by my side that I’m not alone. We continue to present a united force to these two little boys we’re attempting to raise into decent adult human beings. If it hadn’t been tonight, he would have told them tomorrow.
The rest of the evening went smoothly, even with a very necessary early bedtime; they were so exhausted.
As I reflected back on The Suck of the middle of our day, I almost felt guilty. There are so many single parents, so many military parents (of which I qualified as at one time), so many parents whose spouses are gone for longer, more extended periods of time than 24 hours on, 48 hours off. But then I told myself to stop the comparison game.
Holidays without my devoted, helpful, awesome partner are difficult. It is our truth. It is our reality. Not only do I miss him and his presence, but the boys miss him too. They love and adore him, so why wouldn’t they want to spend their most favorite days of the year with him? Holidays without him automatically put us into a high emotional state, so I don’t know why I’m surprised when one boy comes out of his room an hour after bedtime with tears streaming down his cheeks. “I miss daddy and I’m so sorry I made bad choices.” Oh, my Buddy.
— __ — __ —
He works a lot of holidays this year. I am hopeful that every holiday won’t be followed up with a post of The Worst (Enter Holiday Here) Ever, but honestly, every holiday he’s not here feels like The Worst.
But stay tuned for The Worst Mother’s Day Ever. (Though, that’s a high honor. We’ll see!)