September 5, 2016

Helicopter

We're a few weeks into the semester now, and while things are still hectic, they're at least starting to settle into a familiar and manageable routine.

The first week was crazy - even more so than the usual start of a semester. There was an incident at work that I witnessed, which lead to meetings and signed statements and all kinds of things that you just don't want on an already overloaded plate - and that was just the first two days.

On top of that, my new boss told me that someone higher than him said I would not be allowed to continue with my second job (teaching one online class for another school once a week at night) after the end of this semester, which is both a relief (I wasn't sure I'd have a babysitter in the spring, and 17+ hour days are exhausting) and a stressor (that extra little bit was how I paid for groceries in the last year or so since my husband left and still has not contributed a cent). I've still not fully processed this. I can't think about finances beyond one day at a time - just praying the divorce is done as soon as the lawyer has promised it can be, so I can get on the path to financial recovery.

Then add in the usual stuff - problems with the school bookstore, students who aren't interested in course policies, office politics - and it's been a tough few weeks.

Overall health-wise, I'm not feeling my best - I haven't been sleeping well, I haven't been drinking enough water, I get so busy at the office that I work right through my lunch and then eat ravenously at home. Usually water is the easiest thing for me at work, since I drink so much while I am lecturing, and we have water stations all over campus. But even that's been hard to keep up with, just forget to drink while I try and get everything done. I was so proud of having lost every pound I had regained in Connecticut right before classes started, but then the scale jumped back up a few in the first few days of classes, and now I have maintained within a pound of that for the last two weeks. It's not progress, but it's not a complete backslide either. I'm ready for this stability at work to translate into stability in everything and better decisions all around.

Sleeping has been very tough - I've had a lot of trouble sleeping through the night, and that's after all the trouble of falling asleep. There have been minor things, like small anxieties about the workday or about flying with my son to Minnesota in November to spend Thanksgiving with my husband's mother. (I'll save that for another day.) The biggest deterrent started with a meeting with my lawyer a few weeks ago, discussing how custody would be shared with my husband. Since then, I've had frequent panic attacks, almost always at night, as I worry about my son being places without me. There's always some trigger - a movie or television show, a picture on social media, a news headline ... I cry, I struggle to breathe, I can't get the possibilities of tragedies out of my mind.

I've told my lawyer often, I don't like my husband at all, but I assure him that he's pretty harmless. I don't believe he's trying to hurt me or our son with the divorce agreement, and I believe that in his heart, he really does love his son, even though he doesn't have the slightest clue what love means or looks like to a three-year-old boy. I trust him to take care of our son when he comes to visit us here in South Carolina - because I am across town, and because honestly, even when he comes to town, he never has Noah for a full 24 hours on his own. I'm always there to help - and I always do.

But being in a big city - with traffic, with loud streets, with subway trains, with ... there's just a lot more to it. And I worry. And I don't want to be that helicopter parent, who bubble wraps her kid to keep him from experiencing life. But at the same time, I know he's an active kid, and I know that taking your eyes off him for a second can be a big deal - especially in a big place, and a new place, and especially if the person watching him tends to get easily distracted. When he left, our son was still barely walking - he wasn't much of a risk. But a kid changes a lot in 16 months, especially when that's nearly half his life.

I worry also, because as cautious as I am with him, I've had an incident like this - when my family came to visit a few months ago, and we were down at the beach, and there was confusion about who was watching him, and for what felt like an eternity but lasted, at most, 20 seconds, I didn't know where my baby was. And in these panic attacks, that feeling comes back, and in spades. That feeling of failure - I can't even describe it, there are no words perfectly strong enough. It hurts more than regaining almost all the weight and more than not going back to school to get my Ph.D. and more than marrying the wrong man and more than getting divorced in my 20s. Feeling like I failed my son, as the only person he has here to keep him safe, is the largest, heaviest hurt imaginable, and it leaves me completely speechless - breathless, even, but in a choking, gasping sense. Like I'm being smothered by pillows or held down under water.

There's a story, a big one - one I haven't shared here, but I'll save for a memoir, maybe someday, or deathbed letter to my son. It's heavy, and it ties a lot of this together. The moral of it: my baby, this sweet, sweet boy - I've always felt incredibly protective of him, long, long before I was able to hold him in my arms. And hearing some lawyer talk about having him travel hundreds of miles away for weeks at a time ... that's incredibly difficult for me. I'm not like this when he's at daycare, or when his father is in a hotel across town. I've never had episodes like this before.

The suppressed, quiet logical voice tells me it's silly to lose sleep over this - that his father is a fully capable adult and worrying about someday just robs me of my sleep and health and sanity today. But in these moments, when the panic attacks are fully underway, it's like I can't stop thinking about it - I can't shut my brain off, I can't think about anything else. I can't breathe at the idea of not being entirely sure he is okay.

And all the while, I'm praying that my shaking and audible struggle to breathe doesn't wake my son, because every single night, since before Christmas even, he's slept right next to me in my bed. Sometimes he'll fall asleep in his own bed, but he always wanders into mine at some point in the night. Because as much as I don't like to be away from him, he doesn't like to be away from me either. Because he got kissed goodnight once and then the person he loved disappeared for months at a time. And because here, in this apartment, in this city, in this state ... we only have each other.


I'm a bit of a mess, for sure. I'm holding it together the best I can, and again, I'm optimistic that the stability of routine at work will help everything else. Properly nourished body, well-hydrated, earlier to bed, and again - and I can't say it enough - the closure of divorce will hopefully help my mind settle a bit and stop the endless running around.

I hope so. I really do.