I walk through the front door and excitedly confront the mess before me. I’ve spent the past few days awaiting this moment: the moment I can finally catch up on life. The laundry piles are high, the dishwasher is full of clean dishes to put away and the sink is overflowing with dirty ones. There are bathrooms to be cleaned, beds to be made, and a refrigerator that needs to be replenished. I let out a huge sigh of relief — my home will soon be clean again.
Three kids, two homes, and a 50-50 parenting split present me with five, consecutive, childfree nights: uninterrupted showers, a bathroom and a bed entirely my own, and sleep — hours upon hours of deep, peaceful sleep. Balance is built into my life via court-order. Some people say this is one of the perks of divorce. In theory, yes. But underneath it’s not so rosy.
When I stop to survey the mess, I’m suddenly overwhelmed. Instead of rejoicing in my time alone, my thoughts are consumed with regret. I glance at the pile of clothes at the bottom of the stairs, and I hear my impatient voice from the day before: “Hurry up, I’ve asked you seven times to get your soccer uniform on! We are going to be late!” I catch sight of the dirty dishes on the kitchen table and I hear myself again, “Why did you ask me to make scrambled eggs if you were not going to touch them?” I look at the messy countertops in the bathroom and remember my daughter asking me for help with her hair. “I will be right there,” I said. But I never was.
Why didn’t I just drop everything and put her hair in a neat, bump-free, high ponytail? How many seconds would that have actually taken? And why can I only see this now? When we’re together, me and the kids, time is always running out. As is my patience. And then I start to count down the hours to when they’ll be at their dad’s and I can get caught up.
But then they are there. I am here. Alone. And suddenly, I want them to be here with me, now and forever. I want a do-over. I want to make eggs, pancakes and bacon. I want to take the time to do fancy braids, and be late to the damn soccer game. I want to be the mom my kids deserve—the calm, loving, one-volume-and-it’s-a-quiet-one mom. I look around and I see a mess, but I feel a mess, too. Why don’t I cherish my time with them and let everything else go? Why don’t I remember this feeling from last time?
It’s been six years. I’d have thought I would have the hang of this by now. With compassion and logic and a grown-up perspective, I’ve told my kids, many times, how they’ll get used to being at mom’s, then dad’s. Two homes can be a good thing. It will become routine. Yet as I stare at the emptiness around me, I struggle to believe my own words. Regret and guilt eat at me. Logic disappears. Are they happily playing? Do they miss me? Is Dad’s house fun? Is it more fun than mine?
I want a do-over because 50 percent is never enough time, and I want every moment of that 50 percent to be perfect. But I’m not perfect. And this mess holds our story, our memories, my sadness and my love. The hat on the floor that came flying off of my daughter’s head during our late-night dance party. The dirty bowl we used to make home-made chocolate chip cookies sits in the kitchen sink. The almost finished Monopoly game when we missed bedtimes. Sometimes I will do better, others time I will fall short. Next time, I will tie that braid. But for now, I need to straighten up the mess because before I know it they will run through the front door and jump excitedly into my arms with stories to match the mess left at their dad’s.