Susan's Blog

Sunday, June 28, 2009

All My Children

I don’t mean to be flip, but sometimes I think I understand one aspect of Divorced Dad syndrome, because of how it is when Natty’s home: I spoil him. I feel the need to make up for the time he is not here, so I want to squeeze in all of the things he loves for the weekends. I try to get all of his favorite meals and treats, I bake with him, I encourage him to listen to his favorite CD and watch his favorite vids. I listen carefully to his self-talk to determine what he’s thinking about and wants. I leave him alone and then I can’t help myself and I intrude by touching his hair or kissing his face and inhaling his skin. I think it’s a mother’s right, because we were once attached physically, and because we don’t relate in the typical mother-son fashion, I feel more liberal to make my own rules. Mostly those rules are made in strict observation of Nat’s responses to me.

The downside is that I don’t feel quite natural with Nat anymore. I don’t feel our old relationship. I feel much more aware of him as a separate person, despite what I do (mentioned above). It is as if, when he comes home, I am straining to let him back into my life because I have to close up when he goes back. Even though these days I am relieved and happy when he goes back, because then I am free, I still feel a profound lack of him that is an open and gaping space inside me.

When Max and Ben go off somewhere for the day, I am also elated, but there is no guilt attached. I feel like I’ve earned it and that every mother in the world would agree with me on that. But when Nat goes off, and I feel elated to have time to myself and my other boys, and to have no worries about aggressions or tantrums, I at the same time feel that I have done something wrong to him.

The thing I think I’ve done wrong is to get on with my life without him in it every day. I know that so many would say that indeed, I have earned that, but I bet that if it happened to you, you would not be so quick to feel that way.

No, I am not ashamed that he has “Gone Residential.” I now see that this is a higher level for him, because there at The House he has learned how to get what he needs out of people who are not Mom and Dad. He has figured out how to get along with all kinds of kids. He is put to work every day, on household chores and shopping. He does conversational practice and plays with others. He would not get that here, except sporadically. Here he would get a lot of love and attention, which feeds his soul, and he would get a lot of sweets that would feed his body, but he is not asked to grow much here. I know that.

It is not shame that I feel. Or if it is, it is the shame that comes along with grief, when a person begins to let go of the missing one. They realize that they are not thinking of him every day. That they’ve done things with their former energy channels. That they seldom bake.

With Nat gone most of the time, I get to play and play with Ben. I never enjoyed playing with a child of mine the way I enjoy him. The way he anthropomorphizes his small stuffed creatures (Z-Brayes, Lobby the Lobster, tiny Link, Drop the Penguin, and Ramses the Ram) feels so believable to me. He has infused them with all of his own sweetness, and they have come alive to me, as beings that I protect (from Ned flicking them across the room, from Max putting them wayyyy up high out of Ben’s reach). I store them in my cardigan sleeves to soothe them when they get upset. I teach Z-Brayes how to skate along the dining room table. I stroke Lobby’s red ruffled back until he purrs in his bubbly-watery voice.

And then there’s Hannah, Max’s girlfriend, who has also come into my life fairly recently, kind of right when I needed it, and who allows me to have — well is this okay to say? — a daughter. I just love her. I have never known anyone like her, so much like a hoppy bunny. She is a beautiful creature, funny, devlish, innocent, smart, and just plain adorable, and it is beautiful for me to see how Max loves her. She is here most of the week, for dinner, and so I still have 5 to feed. When Nat comes home, it is 6, which also feels natural. I think I was meant to have a very large family.

Something has happened which has set me free to love and to nurture even more than before. When Nat moved out, it’s kind of like Z-Brayes and then Hannah moved in. Not because Nat moved out, but somehow, alongside that event, now I have even more loved ones to take care of.


Dear Susan,

How brave you are to put these "heart contractions" into words. Feeling them is difficult enough. Your capacity to live and learn and love and grow and teach and share is a gift to your family and your "readers". Your serenity and strength are obviously "fringe benefits".

Thank you-

— added by Anonymous on Monday, June 29, 2009 at 6:09 am

Hi Susan – I checked your blog 'out of the blue' today. My son is home – he is severely affected by autism. And with 2 other children I completely relate to your words. Just the thought of placing Dean in a residence causes me a heart-blip. I don't know if I will ever be able to do it. So nice to look into the future and see how it might feel. Keep sharing your thoughts. Mina H.

— added by Mina H. on Monday, June 29, 2009 at 8:06 am

I believe it's possible that your feeling not "quite natural" is completely unrelated to Nat having "Gone Residential."

I've developed a new and closer relationship with my younger son (the equivalent to your relationship with Max) since my eldest son moved out of my home.

Similarly, you've described exactly what I feel when my eldest comes home for a visit.

Perhaps it's as simple as that whenever the dynamics of a family changes, so do the relationships.

— added by Don on Monday, June 29, 2009 at 9:02 am

I'm finding, in talking with other mothers, that when the first child to 'leave the nest' is one who needs supports it's much more difficult than if they've had a dry run with a child who will be living independantly. No idea if that's true. I imagine I will be sobbing wreck no matter who leaves us first. But yes, the guilt, oh the guilt. Thank you so much for writing so openly about your journey. Please know that some of us with younger children are soaking up every bit of it.

Be gentle with yourself.

— added by mumkeepingsane on Monday, June 29, 2009 at 3:12 pm

Yes. All these things. For me it is the most bizarre love I have ever known so differently twice. You feel happy right now. Freaking try your hardest to enjoy that immediately. -Tina G.

— added by Anonymous on Tuesday, June 30, 2009 at 4:53 am

Hi Sue…. I am very interested in the "touching his face" etc. topic. My girls (ages 11 and 5) tell me I do it to Jack (age just turned 8) WAY too much. Do your other boys say anything about that?

Like you, it's how I relate to him. Although as I get older it is different, and I try not to do it in public. If you have any more thoughts on that, I'd love to hear…. — Cathy in CT

— added by Anonymous on Tuesday, June 30, 2009 at 1:13 pm

Dear Cathy,
I really appreciate your point! I think it's good to listen to and validate what your other kids say; but I also think that you know in your gut what is okay to do. Your child lets you know. I think it is a mother's prerogative to kiss her children. I do the same with Max and Ben; they are good to inhale, too. They put up with it, and I think it nourishes them to be so obviously loved passionately by their mother.

— added by Susan Senator on Tuesday, June 30, 2009 at 1:45 pm

%d bloggers like this: