Years ago, a neighbor with two young daughters, ages 6 and 8, went through a divorce.
I remember thinking how busy I was at that precise moment.
I was working fulltime and taking care of three children under age 10.
I didn’t have time to get divorced.
I didn’t have time to even think about getting divorced.
I didn’t want to get divorced, which helped.
But now, eight years later, it’s time. And fortunatey, I have time to make this change, and help my kids get through it.
My children are teenagers, far more independent and mature now. They fix their own breakfasts, drive themselves to school, and keep me only vaguely posted about their daily dramas.
I am no longer the prison warden of their lives, as I was when they were younger, when at any moment they risked sticking their head in the toilet and drowning, or sending a naked selfie to their classmates and destroying their entire future.
My children now have their own lives, a foundation of inner strength, and (fingers crossed) are able to handle the emotional and logistical changes divorce, even the friendliest divorce, brings to kids.
But me, I am not so sure about.
This morning, after six months of nonstop, sometimes amicable, sometimes acrimonious, always complex negotiations over alimony, child custody, college tuition payments, and where the four cats will live, I left the house — which is now known as MY house.
I was late, of course, because as a mom I am always frantically rushing somewhere and thinking of the needs of several people besides myself.
This all came to an abrupt stop when I discovered that my car had been stolen.
It wasn’t in the garage, or behind the garage, or anywhere near the garage.
My first bewildered thought was that my soon-to-be-Wasband had hidden it from me, just to mess with my head.
But that didn’t seem quite possible, even given the other nutty stuff he has done lately (note to the uninitiated: everyone does crazy stuff when they are getting divorced).
Then it hit me: over the weekend, I had parked my car on one of the busiest streets in the city because I was late for something else. When the something was over, I had walked right by my own automobile and come home under my own steam, never noticing my car was not in the garage. That was two days ago.
I had stolen my own car, essentially.
I grabbed my car key and took off running, envisioning tow trucks, iron boots and wads of neon orange parking tickets. I am pretty sure no neighbors saw me — or at least chose not to call the loony bin to report a hairbrained woman running down the alley waving a car key and shouting incoherently.
Fortunately my beloved car (one of the few constants in my life these days) was:
A) Still parked contentedly on the busy main street.
B) Did not have a single whopping ticket on the windshield.
Thank you, parking gods.
Then a few hours later, on my lunch break, I went to yoga power hour to unwind and de-stress. Ten minutes into class, I started to notice a stinky smell. Not totally uncommon in a crowded, sweaty, hot yoga room.
But the stink was bad. And close. Who could it be?
Then I realized: it was me.
I had not taken a shower in 72 hours. And I had not known so until that precise moment, even though halfway through that 72 hour period, I had attended a black tie dinner and a parenting event at the kids’ school.
Without showering or noticing my own lack of showering.
Not exactly the picture of mental health.
Divorce is hard. Getting divorced while caring for children is close to impossible — only for the truly desperate. Staying in a marriage that is sapping your identity and appreciation for life is worse, because without yourself at the center of your life, sooner or later, you lose it all.
The roughest lesson of parenthood, for me and for most people I know, is how to put your children first, as good parents must, often 24/7 for years on end, without losing your health, your sanity, your ability to work, your friendships, your marriage, your laughter, yourself. Often it is too late when you discover what you’ve lost by putting your kids front and center for decades. Sometimes, you get so distracted by motherhood, you lose contact with yourself.
Parenting is all about balance, right? But in a world with children, balance never comes easy. Sometimes, no matter the craziness that ensues, you need to find a new balancing act. For me, in order to continue putting my kids first, I had to put myself first. For years, although I’d taken wonderful care of them, I hadn’t been setting a good example of taking care of myself.
My balancing act now means ending a dead marriage. But I’m hoping my new balance won’t involve becoming my own car thief, and will involve taking regular showers. And of course, finding new ways to put both myself and my kids first.