When Your “Normal” Isn’t Normal

It amazes me the things we learn to accept as “normal” in life.

Never in a million years would I have imagined that the way my life looks right now and the relationship my sons have with their father would be what I consider “normal.” But we adjust. We adapt. And we overcome.

We make the best of the situations we find ourselves in and we carry on.

I often want to write about this aspect of my life and I always struggle to get anything out. Not because it’s too hard or too personal. It is those things. But the real reason it’s hard to write about is because it doesn’t ever make any sense. Trying to explain the way someone like my ex operates is like trying to explain ghosts and the wind.

You can’t really see it all the time but it’s always there. You can’t see it, but you can see its effects. You can sense its presence when it brushes against your skin in the silence of the night leaving the hair on your arms standing straight up. You know its there by the chill down your spine and the tightness in your chest when it steals your breath.

It’s gone as fast as it comes and you’re left with no real explanations as to what is happening around you other than that something is in fact surrounding you, and though you can feel it, you have no rationalization for it.

Sometimes it isn’t until I look into the eyes of someone else as I explain a bit about my situation that I recognize the weight and reality of how not normal this all is. It’s not until I look into the sad eyes of my sons as they say to me every once in a while, “Mom, I hope my daddy isn’t sick. Can you call him and ask if he can see us?” that I am reminded how far outside “normal” we are living. At least the normal I hoped for my sons and family.

This whole thing sometimes feels like riding in a car blindfolded. There are aspects of it that I not only have no control over, but I also can’t see before they hit. The worst part is that my children are in this car too.

Though they are young, they’re not stupid. My twins are three and my youngest will be two soon. Though their father and I have been separated nearly half the twins’ life and almost all of my youngest’s life, they recognize that something is off. They understand that there is something missing.

They know they have a dad. They know who he is. And they love him desperately.

But they also know he doesn’t see them very much. They don’t know why and they can’t make sense of his absence beyond that their daddy is sick. But they miss him, and they want to see him.

The thing that feels the cruelest about divorcing someone like my ex is that the very reasons I chose to separate from him are the things I cannot protect my sons, or myself, from. Separating from and divorcing a narcissistic alcoholic does not protect you from their manipulative games. In fact, when you have children with that person, it often just feels like the heat got turned up inside the pressure cooker you’re trapped in.

He’s the father of my sons. He has rights. Rights that I have tried to help him utilize. Rights he pretends to “fight for” all the while only fighting the resistance within himself. Rights he never earned but that have been given to him as a gift he doesn’t seem to want or appreciate.

While I ask him to step up, he continues to step away. Yet with each step, there’s someone else to blame. It’s somehow never his fault that he never sees his sons and never follows through with basic responsibilities to them. I’m somehow always the bad guy.

It’s like trying to give someone a gift who continually screams, “I don’t want it!” but then mopes in the corner like a sad victim blaming you that they have no gift, even as it still sits in front of them.

It’s extremely confusing and convoluted. I as an adult cannot understand it. I as an adult am hurt by it. Yet I as an adult have to figure out how to help my sons deal with something I can’t even make sense of.

In the last 9 months, he has seen the boys a total of 22 days. It’s been 2 days in the last almost 3 months. Most visits, if there was even an attempt to schedule one, are cancelled at the last minute with some lie about work or school.  He’s present just enough to keep my sons confused. Just enough to keep us all confused.

And in spite of it all, my sons long for him.

My twins play a game where they call each other “dad.” One of them will say something like, “Hey dad! I’m going over here.” And the other one will yell back, “Okay!” Then they’ll switch. Sometimes they will ask each other for things. They’ll say something like, “Hey dad, can I have some milk?” and the other one will say, “Sure bud.”

Sometimes I hear them talking to each other about him- asking about him or simply saying, “I hope my daddy’s not sick.”

My youngest yells “Daddy!” at every truck he sees.

Sometimes they ask me about him. They’ll say they hope he’s feeling better so that he can see them. They’ll tell me they miss him and they love him and though they don’t usually want to call him when I offer, they sometimes want me to call to see if he’s okay.

It’s devastating.

When he decides to somehow squeeze them into his life, there’s usually bargaining for less time and there’s always a power struggle that ends in me being called “Queen of the world” or a “controlling bitch” because when I want him to do an actual visit rather than some half-assed attempt, it’s because “everything is always my way or the highway.”

The defaulted bills and the lack of child support are all swept aside, covered up by statements like, “You chose to be a single mom. You gave up on me and broke apart our family. You’re the one that did this.”

Each month and a half when he comes through on a 16 hour visit, I have to update him on his own children. I have to explain basic parenting things and walk him through instructions he won’t follow anyway.

And it’s infuriating.

It’s much easier to walk in peace and forgiveness when he just leaves us all alone. But when he shows back up for just long enough to screw with us all, I get pissed again. And then I have to forgive him again. I have to try to be grateful for the little he is capable of doing and for how happy it seems to make my sons. I have to smile through my tears for the sake of my sons and pretend like I think he’s as great as they do. I have to talk to him like I respect him even when everything he says is just another manipulative chip in the game.

I have to cover myself and my sons in prayer because it’s the only thing I’ve got. When my whole body feels like a frayed electrical wire on the day of a visit for the first time in nearly two months, all I can do is pray. And then I have to breathe and keep praying through the several days following as I work to clean up the splash from his quick dip into our lives again.

While there is in fact freedom and healing through divorce, there are effects of the aftermath that create deep pain and angst both for me and my sons. I have no control over some of it, and no matter how tightly I tuck my babies under my wing, I have no choice but to let them out knowing they may get hurt. I have to watch as they struggle to rationalize the irrational, and pretend like I’m ok as I do the same.

It’s unfair. It’s hurtful. It’s enraging.

But it’s our “normal.”

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