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Leaving the LEGOs Out

One minute I’m whirling through complete chaos. A chattering 5-year-old messily slurping Lucky Charms, a 3-year-old giving most of the sausage and eggs he demanded instead of cereal to the two enormous black labs constantly underfoot, claws forever tap-tapping/scratch-scratching the hardwood floor as they angle for table scraps, and a 5-month-old fussing from his seat in the corner of the small kitchen in the home I rented upon deciding to separate from their dad.

Ten minutes later I sit alone in absolute silence. Dad came and went, taking the chaos with him. The immediate relief of having ushered three children from bed to breakfast and beyond quickly dissipates to loneliness. I helped him buckle them into his car, said double and triple goodbyes then stood in my yard dramatically blowing kisses and waving wildly at sweet faces barely visible in the backseat until I could no longer see the car. Now, the sound of silence is louder than any screaming or crying that occurred in the 24 hours that preceded it.

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It is Dad’s turn to have the kids. We try to work it so neither of us ever really goes more than a day without seeing them. Two nights at his house, two nights at mine then back to his again. I work full-time and he freelances from home, so he gets them one extra night a week which causes me an endless amount of guilt as I evaluate the kind of parent I am and compare that with the one I want to be. Is this the right decision? Am I doing what’s best for them? I constantly attempt to reassure myself that even if we lived in the same house I’d still be gone at work but, of course, it doesn’t help.

I listen to the silence and contemplate Henry’s latest LEGO creation squatting crookedly on the floor in the center of my living room. The morning sun blasts through the window beautifully spotlighting the red, green, yellow and blue tower like a meticulously lit over-priced sculpture at a fancy Soho gallery.

Watching your entire family drive away in a car while you stand alone in your driveway is just about one of the saddest things in this world.

Before our separation I diligently kept the insane amount of toys every family manages to acquire, seemingly via osmosis (I swear, the stuffed animals procreate among themselves!) often putting away the same trucks, stuffed animals, puzzle pieces, random Happy Meal nonsense and LEGOs as many as 10 times a day. I’ve lost a lot of skirmishes in my time served on the parenting battlefield; bedtimes, teeth brushing, hair brushing, tub time and dinner standoffs — but I’ve always been all over my playroom game because the mess affects my mental well-being. Like dandelions growing on a freshly mowed lawn, toys have a tendency of taking over a room within hours. Besides, ever stepped on a LEGO in the middle of the night? But now I leave the LEGOs out, allow the stuffed animals and plastic dinosaurs to remain in the random shoe caves and linen closet nests in which I find them, usually long after the kids have gone.

Dealing with the heartbreak of a broken marriage is one thing — we’ve all suffered broken hearts and we all know that life eventually moves on — but learning to live without your kids half the time is something else entirely. It’s unnatural. There is no full recovery. An especially smart friend of mine once posted a status on Facebook that haunts me still: Dropping your kids off on Christmas Eve is just about one of the saddest things in this world. I read that when I was still married yet it rocked me to my core. A switchblade sentence slicing deep into my guts, painfully summarizing the devastating reality of divorcing with children.

I think about that sentence a lot now during my own divorce and use it to articulate how I feel, if only to myself.

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Watching your entire family drive away in a car while you stand alone in your driveway is just about one of the saddest things in this world.

Dropping your kids off at Grammy’s house for the annual 4th of July barbecue with Dad’s family while you go home and drink alone is just about one of the saddest things in this world.

Watching your kid cry when you leave him at Dad’s house and try to explain why you can’t when he begs you to stay is just about one of the saddest things in this world.

So, yes. I’ve taken to leaving the LEGOs out. As if, mid-tower building, Henry stepped into the kitchen for a bit of string cheese and a sippy cup of OJ and will return at any moment to finish the job. I like leaving the toys out now, need to leave the toys out now; a visual reminder that Violet was here. Henry was here. Charlie was here.

They’ll be back any second now. I, along with their toys, will be waiting.

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