The neighbors below me are banging on my floor (their ceiling). I tell my kids, ages 7 and 5, to quiet down as they do one last jump routine from the couch — they rush down the hallway to the bed to the chair and back to the couch again — before their baths. I hardly care about the disturbance they are causing for the family below me, though. Why? Because I only see my kids every other week. I can’t help but be lenient with them and want to hear them laugh; in one more day, they will be at their dad’s, and I will miss them terribly.
I was just two weeks into co-parenting when the coronavirus pandemic hit, and I’m still only adjusting to my kids going back and forth between my apartment and their dad’s. The fleeting time of being with them daily and then being without their fast feet for seven days is beyond difficult.
I had filed our divorce paperwork and temporary orders in the weeks before the virus broke globally. In those weeks I also started working my first salaried job after having been at home with my kids since they were born. I qualified for an apartment with my pay stubs, and I also bought my first car (at age 37!) right before my kids started spring break — and then their school closed.
The coronavirus has heightened my awareness of how alone I really am.
I met my ex-spouse in Manhattan, where our kids were born, and in recent years we moved to a suburb outside of Houston, his home city. Then, we moved closer to the city itself. After four years of dating and then 10 years of marriage — well, this summer would have been 10 — we separated.
I was finally settling into living on my own again, for the first time since my early 20s: navigating a new part of town, getting my bearings, attending book readings, and taking my kids to the bayou, parks, and museums — all while juggling life as a newly single working parent. When it wasn’t my week with my kids, I filled time with self-care and signing up for soul-healing activities. Now, the best I can pull off is digital wellness engagements — when my kids don’t need my laptop for digital learning access, that is.
And when my kids aren’t here? That’s when the loneliness really sets in.
It hits me hard. I need a local support system, solid friendships in my zip code, an “emergency person” — not only my ex-spouse and brand-new co-workers here. While Houston shut down in favor of social distancing, my thoughts grew dark. What if something went wrong? I don’t know anyone well enough in Texas that anyone would knock on my door if I stopped answering my text messages — aside from my ex-spouse and his family. Who in The Lone Star State would even come to my funeral? One thing I’m sure of: When this crisis is over, I’m going to write a will.
As we are finalizing our joint custody agreement, I try to give my ex-spouse space. But there are moments I want to send a text message that simply asks, “How are the kids?” It’s tough to resist texting too much during these worrisome times; I know I should respect that this week isn’t mine with them, and let go. But there is a worldwide pandemic going on. Can you blame me?
Everything is suddenly fragile, on the cusp of disaster and loss. Nothing feels secure enough. But instead of texting to get another update on the lives of my only blood-related family members in this state, I hammer into the wall a nail — and hang up a framed photo of my kids’ faces.
While the community went out food-hoarding, my fears grew for those weeks when my children are out of my care. I texted their father, “Please avoid taking them to playgrounds or to the store right now.” I typed frantically, “Let’s run errands when it’s not our week with them if we can. Let’s order delivery as much as we can.”
I received a message back that we are on the same page. But a day later, their dad sent a photo of them in masks and plastic medical gloves — to show how safe they were being during a grocery store run. I’m not upset; during the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m picking my battles carefully, because fighting with their dad only creates more distance and stress. We may not be meant for each other, but we have to get through this as best as we can. Besides, it’s a comfort to see my kids’ eyes again, in that photo.
“We have to be civil right now. It’s not the time for novel-long messages,” I text. Detailed conversations about childcare costs and child support have been put on the back-burner during the new normal of the kids being out of school. Conversations are lately about co-home-schooling and sharing materials.
“Can you send along the coloring pads you have there? They are under the art table.” I text. “Can I borrow the extra keyboard you have? A few extra board games?” he texts. We’re both considering what skills we each have that can be used in this desperate moment. He has a math mind and is good at YouTube research with the kids when they ask questions about animals, the tallest building in the world, and what happens to the water when we flush the toilet. Me, I have artistic and creative skills. I have the ability to use stickers, markers and loose-leaf paper to make a 5-year-old-friendly math activity. I can turn baking soda and vinegar into a volcano, engineer LEGO marble mazes, and staple together construction paper books for the kids to use as journals.
My relationship with my ex-husband may have eroded. We may no longer work well together. But we can — for our kids.
When my children aren’t staying with me, I lie in bed hoping they had their vitamins today and sanitized their hands enough if they went for a short walk or rode their bikes. I imagine them sitting on the couch we had all chosen together, back when we first moved to Texas. I imagine their sleep positions; my daughter moves like a gymnast while dreaming, and my son usually throws off the blanket halfway through the night. I take the short videos I receive of them sending me kisses as a sign that things will get better — that this new normal can work.
“I miss you, I will see you soon,” I text back with hearts, soccer balls, and silly-face emojis.
Right now, though, in this moment, they’re here with me. They are washing the germs off their hands, and I’m telling them to brush their teeth and hurry up so we can read a book or play a round of UNO before I tuck them in. Their laughter and sneers while they annoy each other in the bathroom are things I remind myself to treasure; their energy makes every chore a dance or a ninja-warrior feat. And we still have tomorrow together, in person, with hours to fill before I have to let go once more.
These celebrities are #coparentinggoals for sure.