(my living room, four days before moving)
Me: “Hey J, come check out this costume! It’s a SHARK! You could be the Land Shark for Halloween!”
(sidebar: I’ve been trying unsuccessfully for 11 years to get one of my children to be the Land Shark for Halloween. 11. Years)
Alex (uninterested): “Nah.”
Me: “HEY MIMI, YOU could be the Land Shark this year for Halloween!”
Mimi (similarly uninterested): “Nah.”
Me (gearing up to spend some quality time perusing the wares at one of my fav Halloween stores): “Well, what do you want to be for Halloween this year?”
Me: “Are you SURE?”
Alex + Mimi: “YES.”
Me (tries not to look TOO unhappy about the prospect of not perusing costumes for the kids): “Ooookay.”
(time passes as I sulk. Mimi tries unsuccessfully to wrastle the iPad away from me.)
Alex: “Hey, Mama? What are YOU going to be for Halloween?”
Me: “Hrms. The Twitter Fail Whale?”
Alex (genuinely puzzled): “What?”
Me: “Nothing. I don’t know – maybe “Your Mom” or something?”
Mimi: “You should be Catwoman.”
Me: (thinks to self – no longer in my early twenties = not dressing slutty for Halloween) “Um…”
Alex: “Or Poison Ivy. You love plants.”
Alex: “Dad can be the Penguin.”
Dave, from the other room: “HEY!”
Alex (confidently and not deterred by Dave’s dismay) “And Big Ben can be The Riddler.”
Me (three remaining brain cells spell out one phrase “buy cat ears and DO NOT LOOK SLUTTY”): “Okay, kiddo. You got it.”
(Alex and Mimi scamper off.)
I took to The Twitter to ask for advice on buying capes for the tiniest of crusaders, figuring having new capes at my house could help with the transition a bit, and this is where it’s awesome to have Pranksters. My girl Jessica came through for me. Again.
(note: the boxes are, thankfully, now gone)
(the awesome hat, however, remains)
(just looking at the boxes gives me hives)
And now? They’re ready to fight crime. Just like the recycling lady.
And no, for the record, I never did go to the office and pick up the sheet about recycling. Seemed… like a waste of space.
When I was in the hospital, having just popped a small creature who looked shockingly like a garden gnome out of my delicate girl bits, I held him for a spell in the quiet, darkened room as the doctor finished delivering the placenta and doing whatever it is that doctor’s do to your crotchal region after a baby is born. I held my second son to my breast and looked up at his father, stars in my eyes (okay, it was painkillers, but who’s counting?) and said, “I won’t ever have to give this one back.” He nodded, a smile twitching the corners of his mouth, his labor-long headache long since dissipated.
“No,” he replied, “we won’t.”
We were referring to, of course, the weekenders our eldest son had occasionally with the other OTHER side of his family. While we both knew that these were not only necessary, but important for our firstborn, it was heartbreaking to watch him leave each Friday and return overstimulated and exhausted on Sunday. Those days in which he was gone, it felt as though part of our hearts had gone with him – probably because they had.
When the divorce card got played, the first thing my mind jumped to was not “I’m going to have to find a real job,” nor was it, “will anyone ever love me again?” No. It was “what about the kids? I can’t leave my kids again – some days, they’re all that keeps me going forward.”
I knew that moving out; being unable to pay the mortgage, these had implications that were far-reaching – I’d have to, as previously stated, get a real job and learn to be alone after spending my entire life with another person around. I’d have to scrimp and save and cut coupons and figure out one makes “Ramen Bake,” I’d have to spend nights in an apartment so quiet that the on-switch on the heater would make me jump half-out of my skin. But most importantly – I’d have to leave my kids some of the time.
Now it’s not like I planned to be all thwap-thwap-thwap INCOMING helicopter parent once my second son popped out. I’d briefly considered attending college with him, but that’s mostly because I figured he’d never properly become potty trained, and frankly, someone had to teach the kid how to do keg stands, and his father, well, he was a Normal Rockwell painting, while I sat in the very back of the classroom, playing games on my phone, figuring out how many days, exactly, I could ditch before my grades dropped.
But I never really thought about the possibility of being separated from my children before it was the right time. I mean, I wouldn’t go to prom with the kid (PROBABLY), but I did expect that I’d see them most (read: all) days until they hit THAT point.
I was, of course, as I am so often, wrong.
I can accept that my nine year union dissolved – we both deserve our happy, neither of us is “at fault” because, well, as my therapist says, “divorce requires two people, just like marriage,” and Dave and I are more than amicable – we’re friends. We owe that to our children.
This weekend marked the end of the dreaded first week, the week that found me sobbing like a whiny baby on the couch as I watched and re-watched episodes of trashy television, which, Pranksters, I’m going to tell you, should be a prescription for all that ails you. And shit, it’s better trashy television than my wedding video, of which, I have to say, I don’t own, because I refused to spring for a video no one would ever choose to watch willingly. I didn’t want to be that newlywed that showed every single person who came to my home the wedding video, pointing out “the good” parts. Because hello, boring.
Amelia, thrilled out of her wee mind, came by on Friday, forgoing her normal McDonald’s dinner with her brothers, and spent the night. Alex came over on Saturday, proclaiming that this would be “the best day ever,” because he got to *gasp* sleep at Mama’s house. And as the children predicted, those were the two very best days I’ve had in a long time.
Yesterday, they returned to Dad’s house, and I was left, sitting alone with my trashy television, the silence of my empty apartment thumping in my ears.
I looked around, tears in my eyes, at all of the things in my big girl apartment. The bed and the couches. The end table and lamps. The zombie gnomes in the bathroom, sandwiched between a mushroom nightlight.
And I realized, for the millionth time that week, that my house, my house without children, it is not a home – it’s just the place where I live.
And that sort of sadness, it’s nearly impossible to shake.
I don’t know if I told you, Pranksters, but the apartment complex that I moved into was the only other apartment complex I’ve lived in. I moved here with my then-boyfriend-turned-Ben’s-father back in 2000, where we lived until July of 2001, at which time I waddled back home just in time to pop out my bouncing baby boy.
(completely pointless sidebar, why do they bother calling babies “bouncing?” My kid screamed a lot, rarely bouncing, and, in fact, didn’t begin bouncing until he was well over two)
This time, clearly, I’m not living with anyone and I’m pretty sure that while I’m at the age where women ovulate all-the-fuck over babies, my uterus has decided to move somewhere up into my lungs that the idea of popping out another. Can’t say I blame it.
As most of you know, I began moving last Wednesday, piling up boxes as I desperately tried to unpack my house. Keeping busy, I’ve learned, staves off The Sads for awhile until you’re no longer busy and then you suddenly feel run over by a truck, but alas, I digress. Sometime over the weekend, The Guy Formerly On My Couch began to bring the piles of boxes out to the recycling area of the complex while I carefully placed each pair of shoes into one of those clear plastic shoe boxes, because, well, I no longer have the option to leave my crap strewn about without looking like Slob Bob.
Later that evening, as we sat on opposite ends of the couch, panting and smelling like we’d just managed to move everything I owned – and unpack the majority of it – in the span of three days, Ben spoke up:
The Guy Formerly On My Couch: “Totally met your neighbor when I was carrying out boxes.”
Aunt Becky: “Oh yeah? Is it the dude named “Buts?” Because that would be awesome. I wanna have a friend with that last name.”
The Guy Formerly On My Couch: “No, it was an older lady – a redhead.”
Aunt Becky: “She nice?”
The Guy Formerly On My Couch: “She was out there breaking down every box I’d put into the recycling bin.”
Aunt Becky: (gapes)
The Guy Formerly On My Couch: “Yep. She then told me all about WHY she was doing this – apparently the boxes have to be a certain size and you share the complex with a bunch of other buildings, blah blah blah.”
Aunt Becky: (gapes)
The Guy Formerly On My Couch: “Then she told me AGAIN.”
Aunt Becky: “Woah. She watched you carry out boxes? I WISH I had that kind of time on my hands.”
The Guy Formerly On My Couch: “No, you don’t.”
Aunt Becky (attempts to make neurons fire at the same time): “Yeah, you’re probably right.”
The Guy Formerly On My Couch: “I’m always right.”
Aunt Becky: “I SAID PROBABLY.”
The following morning, I woke up in my new house, and was greeted with utter silence, which is, of course, a new thing for me. I’m accustomed to the noise that goes along with three kids and the silence was somewhat deafening, if not mildly pleasant. It was quiet, of course, until I rolled over in bed, at which point in time, my back cracked like a bag of microwave popcorn, my legs actually groaning in protest.
A cacophony of various creeks, cracks, and pops followed me out to the kitchen, where I began a pot of coffee, wincing when I had to reach for the filters, which helped combat the silence. I curled up on the couch with a heating pad and watched a few episodes of White Collar before the dawning realization that my laziness had taken a whole new meaning and I’d better get some more of those damn boxes to the recycling before my ass became permanently affixed to my couch and they’d have to cut out a wall to get me out if I died or something.
I grabbed a box full of other, broken-down boxes, groaning a little as I bent over, and lugged them out front.
There she was, standing at the recycling area, just as The Guy Formerly On My Couch described, standing over some boxes she’d pulled from the recycling bin, which, I should add, is as deep as I am tall (5 foot, 5 inches); a tiny thing, ripping apart cardboard boxes like it was her job or something. I stood watching her a spell before I snapped out of my daze and into the lion’s den, waiting for my own lecture. I considered inviting her into my apartment to break down boxes, since she seemed to be enjoying it so very much, but decided that it would be best if I left well enough alone.
Aunt Becky: “Hi! I’m Becky and I just moved in.”
Cardboard Lady (not unkindly): “Hi, was just explaining to your husband that cardboard has to be broken down into small pieces or they won’t take it when they pick up the recycling. Didn’t you get the sheet about that when you moved in? Because the office told me all about it when I called about something else. You should get one of those sheets, because you want to make sure you know what you can and can’t throw into these bins.”
Aunt Becky (chokes back laughter the word “husband” referring to The Guy Formerly On My Couch): “I’ll have to pick up one of those sheets tomorrow. Thanks for the info!”
Cardboard Lady: “Yeah, for some reason they just won’t accept the cardboard if it’s bigger than two feet, and well, you want to be sure you break down all of the boxes so they take them and if you can’t or they’re too big, throw them into the dumpster because you want this stuff gone. They only pick up trash twice a week and you should really get that sheet.”
Aunt Becky (cowers): “Okay, I will. Thanks again. Nice to meet you!”
Cardboard Lady: “Nice to meet you too! Don’t forget that sheet!”
And just like that, I met my first nosy neighbor.