"T, you can go sit with your mom," the teacher whispers to my four year old as I walk in the door, five minutes late to Mother's Day tea at Holy Rollin', having had to hurry back from dropping off my middle guy at his school.
"No. I don't want to sit with her."
There is a collective chuckle in the room. A crooked smile crosses my face as I internally process why he would rather sit alone on the busy blue carpet than sit with me like all the other kids have done with their mothers. I let it go. That's Big T. Always with a mind of his own, always doing what he wants, and besides, how uncool for a big boy to sit with his mom anyway?
It's craft time. T doesn't want to do the crafts with me. Ok, cranky. This is not my normally hyper, creative, clingy dude. He's supposed to make a bracelet for me. He rushes to complete the task dutifully and then doesn't want to let me wear it. "Please? I thought you made it for me?" He crosses his arms and shakes his head no, then starts to cry. Um... did he not get enough sleep last night?
The rest of the morning continues like this. Tears. Begging to go home before the brownies and strawberries and whipped cream and tea. He LOVES brownies and strawberries and whipped cream. When he's not crying he's working hard to keep from doing so and I'm counting the minutes until we're done with what was supposed to be a sweet little celebration for Mother's Day and I can finally take him home.
Not one single mother - of the twenty that are there - speak to me. I do not belong amonst them and on top of that my son is curled in my lap on cheap preschool carpet begging to get out of there. I sympathize. We limp through tea time. He eats two strawberries with tear-streaked cheeks and asks if we can go. Yes. YES. But not without his teacher taking a photo to capture this uncomfortable moment for my Mother's Day frame. Yes, please, let me remember this moment forever. In the frame he didn't want to make me.
T requests a salad for lunch and we drive to the restaurant quietly. He must be tired. He probably needs a nap. As I pull into a parking spot he finally speaks.
"You know why I'm so mad at you?"
Stunned silence. Wait. What? All that crying and begging to go home and crankiness is because my 4 year old is mad at me?
I turn back to look at him in his car seat, still buckled, car still running. "You're mad at me?" I ask incredulously.
"I'm so mad at you, mommy. You were late for Mother's Day tea." And he starts to cry all over again.
And I start to cry. I can't believe how bummed he is. How disappointed he is. How hurt he is.
I was five minutes late. I'm never late. I'm always ridiculously early and I'm certain my not being there right away left him feeling like I might not show. And I can't imagine how he must have felt thinking I wasn't coming back when I promised I would. I missed one of the three songs they sang and only because I was dropping off his brother at another school.
But it's not about missing the song or being late and while I am shaken and hurt to hear how upset he is by my tardy arrival, that this is what the whole morning had been about, I'm more frustrated that this is the mother I now am: The fifty percent mom.
I've never been 50 percent of anything. I don't do 50 percent. For better or worse, I give everything my all. And here I am, held prisoner by the court system to be no more than a 50 percent mom to my own children.
Going from being 100 percent mom - stay-at-home mom even - 100 percent of the time because that's all I've ever been and all I've ever been allowed to be, to having the family law court system tell me that I can only see my own kids 50 percent of the time on a schedule a judge declared 'fair' - complete with written scheduled phone calls on my non-custodial days between certain time frames - is devastating. Going from room parent and school volunteer to not being allowed on field trips because it isn't 'my day' with my kids is unjust. Having the kids on a day that is not, by court order, 'mine' being coined "babysitting" when I'm their mother, only getting them on every other holiday and their birthdays if, by chance, they fall on 'my day' and not 'his day' is just... wrong.
And on the days I'm lucky enough to be allowed to be their mom - those kids I gave birth to - because, you know, the court let's me be, I'm spread so thin that I'm not always able to be 100 percent of a parent to all of them. I find myself five minutes late to Mother's Day tea, being laughed at by a classroom full of mothers who are clearly better than me, and worst, left feeling like I've failed one of the three people who depend on me the most.
Well, fifty percent of the time.
I feel like I'm being robbed of my motherhood.
Trying to stop the tears streaming down my own cheeks, I picked up T out of his car seat, almost too big to carry, and reminded him, "Listen buddy. I'm sorry I was late. I promised I would be there and I was -- it just took me a little longer than I expected. But I will always do my best to keep my promises to you. You know why? Because I love you. To the moon and back."
I can't have my boys 100 percent of the time but I love them all of the time and no one can take that from me so I remind them every chance I get and hope that it's enough.