My three year old's daddy phase is driving me crazy. My married friends tell me their kids went through the same thing, but when my son asks for his daddy it, it feels so loaded. It's as if he is somehow telling me in his limited vocabulary that I'm not enough for him on my own and that he's missing some fundamental experience because his parents do not live together.
Sometimes it is the first thing he says in the morning. He wakes up, sees me and it begins. The corners of his mouth turn down, his eyes droop and he whines, "I want my Daddy!" "Where's my Daddy?" "Why isn't he here?" and, my favorite... "I don't want you!"
Everyone assures me that the tides will turn and he will soon make the same pleas for mommy, but this daddy phase has been going on for what seems like an eternity.
Sometimes when he asks why his daddy isn't here, I want to shout, "Why don't you ask him!?" or when he says, "I miss my Daddy," it takes all my will not to respond, "I do too." I can't say that because then he might just ask me why. And I don't know how I'd explain to him that his daddy and I were once in love and that for a short while, the three of us lived together in one home.
Does he remember that at all? We separated when he was just 16 months old, but his memory is often incredibly detailed and far-reaching. I wonder. Does he remember the mornings we'd cuddle under the fluffy down comforter before rolling out of bed to start the day? Does he remember lying on a blanket with us in Prospect Park sleeping through a twilight showing of Prince's Purple Rain? Or his first taste of solid food, his first haircut, his first birthday?
There's a restaurant in our neighborhood and when we pass it, he often says "I go there. I go there with Daddy." When he says that, I feel left out and feel the need to clarify, "We have been there together -- you, Daddy and me." When he was a newborn, we ate there often -- at an outdoor table on the corner, watching the world go by and rocking him to sleep. He doesn't seem to remember those days and I guess it's better that way.
I don't want him to remember. Everything changed so abruptly. One night, we were a family of three and two weeks later we were separated, never to reunite.
I found out about the affair and promptly booked a flight to visit my parents in Michigan the next day. It was the first time I had traveled alone with my baby and I was a complete mess. I wandered through LaGuardia, my face purple and eyes swollen half-shut from crying for 18 straight hours. My son attached to my chest in a baby carrier, I hobbled through the terminal sobbing and gasping for air. People were staring. A few stopped and asked if I was OK. They probably thought someone had died. And someone had... the man I had known and loved for seven years was gone. The future of my family and the life I thought I had was gone.
I didn't know what to do with my anger, frustration and pain. At one point, I asked my dad to keep an eye on my son and went out behind the tall bushes in my parent's backyard and screamed for about two minutes at the top of my lungs. My anguish pierced through my parent's quiet Midwestern neighborhood and I fell into a lump on the grass.
One of my best friends lived in Chicago and invited me to visit for the weekend. She and my parents arranged a drop off point and we met part way. While in Chicago, we took my son to Millennium Park. He loved the big silver bean sculpture and the crazy face fountains. As he frolicked in the water, his joy was infectious and I found myself smiling, even in those darkest days.
He couldn't then verbalize the now oft-heard, "where is my Daddy?" though I am sure his young mind was searching its limited inventory for the answer to that question. Selfishly, I was grateful he couldn't talk. I can't imagine what parents with older children go through in times like these.
My son and I are headed back to Chicago this weekend. It will be the first time we have been there since that fateful week nearly two years ago. We plan to return to Millennium Park. I wonder if he'll have flickers of recognition when he sees that silver bean. If he does, will he also remember the two weeks prior, when his parents tucked him in together at night?
I daily push back my memories of those days. They are too painful for me to recall. But for my son, what will those memories, or lack thereof, mean to him? I'm sure when he's older, the idea of his parents ever being together will seem strange to him. It will be a reality he has never known. But will he fill in the gap of memory with an image from our wedding album? Will we tell him what life was like then? Or will the memories of those seven years simply vanish from neglect? I can't decide which is worse.
UPDATE: The Importance of Exposition
I learned an important lesson this week. Every blog post is its own story and background information is essential. I apologize that my post may have been misleading to some, so I thought I would clarify a few things:
1) My ex husband did have an affair for about ten months before I learned about it. Feel free to read my previous blog posts to understand more about what happened.
2) When I found out about the affair, I went to visit my parents for two weeks for moral support. My marriage was falling apart very suddenly and I wanted to be in a safe place where my son would have extra love and care while I tried to pick up the pieces. His father knew we were going and we were in contact with him the entire time. He spoke to his son on the phone almost daily. During that two week period, we spent a weekend with friends in Chicago.
3) When we returned to NYC where we live, my husband promptly moved out of our home, but maintained visitation with our son on a regular basis. We have joint custody and have nearly equal amounts of time with our child.
4) My ex-husband is a reliable, dependable and loving father and we have an excellent co-parenting relationship that involves extensive coordination and communication. We even have a monthly dinner together -- the three of us.
5) Our son is a happy, healthy and well-adjusted three-year-old who spends time with both of his loving parents.
6) I understand from pediatricians and parenting experts that most toddlers prefer one parent over the other for periods of time and then often switch to prefering the other parent. Often toddlers prefer whichever parent isn't with them at the time. I know, from my ex-husband, that our son also cries for his mommy sometimes, but he definitely cries more for daddy at this stage. I assume this preference will change at various times in his life.
7) This post was really about my feelings of sadness around the fact that we are no longer the intact family that I thought we would be. Although we have an excellent co-parenting relationship, I have concern about what my son feels now and will feel later about the fact that he has two homes instead of one. This is not to say that I'm not grateful for what he does have -- two loving and supportive parents -- it's just different than what I wanted for him and for myself. And when I hear my son crying for daddy, it brings up feelings of frustration because I didn't want to be in this situation and I am angry at his father for the choices he made.
8) I believe I generally put my son's needs ahead of my own, but I am still a person with feelings about my own journey and have the right to feel and express them without taking away from my love for my child.
9) We just went to Chicago and my son didn't remember being at Millenium Park at all. I took some solace in the fact that he probably doesn't remember his parent's living together either.
10) Someday his father and I will decide together how to best explain all of this to him.