Last Friday marked the end of the first whole school year that the kids and I have done on our own.
Looking back, I’m incredibly proud of my little gang. This time last year we were still struggling in the wake of E’s leaving and trying to get used to being a family of five instead of a family of six. Whilst Oldest Son seemed to be taking everything in his sanguine stride, Youngest Son wasn’t sleeping well at night, Youngest Daughter was becoming increasingly angry and Oldest Daughter was trying to stay calm whilst she waited for her A Level results. We were all ‘ok’ on the surface, but the surface was about as far as it went. A year on, and I think the ‘ok’ is a little deeper. All of us have had to revise our relationships to and with E, which hasn’t always been a good thing, but I think it has made us all a little wiser and much stronger.
Whilst it makes me cross, E’s increasing absence re visiting the boys has sort of helped with this. He still sees them, but increasingly he tells them he’s ‘working’ all weekend (which doesn’t seem to be the case when they check his company’s online timetables), meaning that he’s now more likely to see them fortnightly rather than weekly. When he does see them, it seems to be for less time. He’s almost always late (11.30 almost inevitably becomes 12 or 12.30) and their afternoons have a kind of sad routine to them – they go bowling, they go to the cinema and then they come home via McDonalds. They’re usually back by 6pm, and so underwhelmed by their day that Oldest Son heads for his room in silence and Youngest Son heads straight to me for a hug. Youngest Son also seems increasingly reluctant to see his Dad. So far, he’s always gone along, but for the last few weeks, in the evening before he’s due to see his Dad he starts formulating excuses – for example “I think I might be too tired to see dad tomorrow”. My response is always “it’s up to you, your Dad will understand if you can’t see him”. He always ends up going (probably because Oldest Son is going), but I don’t think he’s always very happy about it. I suspect that as he gets older, and Oldest Son is less able to go along, he might start backing out of the visits with E altogether.
Of course, E still completely refuses to communicate with me. I still can’t really work out why, or what he thinks he’s achieving from this. I suppose it’s partly a way of him trying to emphasise how little importance he attaches to me (although to be honest, his shagging around for ten years kind of already gave me that message). In part, I guess it’s also a rather cruel manipulation thing. He knows how anxious I get about money, so refusing to answer my emails about the finances is a way of continuing to hurt me without saying a word. I can only assume he and probably P (I got the impression from Oldest Daughter that she’s taking an active interest in his finances) get some sort of kick out of it. Again, why, I don’t know, they’ve already caused so much hurt you’d have thought that if they had a shred of decency, that they’d want to back off a bit now, but I guess not. I suppose it’s the same re refusing to communicate with me regarding when he’s seeing the boys – it’s just another way of ‘cutting me out’ of refusing to acknowledge me and of silencing me.
I find E’s refusal to communicate frustrating and, frankly, a bit embarrassing – it’s like being 13 again when the boy you’ve said you don’t want to go out with refuses to speak to you. I can’t believe that E hasn’t yet been prepared to have a grown-up conversation with me. He still hides in the car whenever he picks the boys up, and he’s never once offered any explanation or apology for what he’s done or what he intends to do going forward. It’s like dealing with a spoiled kid who’s sitting in the corner with his hands over his ears saying, ‘you can’t make me hear this’. When I was with E, I loved him despite his faults but that was because I didn’t know how serious those faults were. If I had ever once had an inkling of how utterly childish and cowardly he’d be in a situation that most grown-ups manage to cope with, I’d have been mortified that I’d chosen to spend any time with him at all, let alone have four kids with him. It’s been bad enough explaining to people that I’d originally fallen for him more for his personality than his looks (!), but to find that his personality was less than lovely too, is a hard truth to face.
Anyway, whilst E’s approach to things (best described as ‘ignore, ignore, ignore’) has changed little over the last year or so, the rest of us have learned from our experiences and moved on. Sadly, Oldest Daughter has pretty much given up on her Dad. I don’t think she’d ever not speak to him, or not be there if he needed her, but her attitude to him is one of sad resignation. She feels like he’s not a good person, and, like me, she’s just waiting for the next E-created bombshell or bit of bad news to hit. She’s now finished her first year at University and is very much making a life without E in it. She really noticed the fact that, when all her friends were moving out at the end of the year, all of them had their parents there to help them and she was the only one who didn’t. Not only did E taking our family car mean that I had no way of driving up there for her, but it also meant that Oldest Daughter had to pay a fortune to transport all of her stuff to the house she’s renting next year (with special permission from the Landlord), because she could only bring limited stuff home on the train. It’s little things like this that serve as reminders to her as to just how complete E’s desertion has been and that make it increasingly obvious that it’s not just me he walked out on.
Youngest Daughter, as this blog has documented, has had a huge year. I’m so proud of her for getting through her GCSEs in one piece and I’m relieved to say that now that pressure has gone, she’s getting more like her old self – her eccentric sense of humour has made a welcome return and she’s contributing more than a dash of insanity to family life once more. At the moment, I think it’s safe to say that Youngest Daughter has no interest at all in any sort of a relationship with her Dad. His silence after her overdose attempt has stayed with her and, whilst I’ve tried to excuse it (for her sake not his), by suggesting that perhaps he didn’t know what to do or say which is why he didn’t contact her, the fact that he didn’t so much as text her to see if she was ok has cut very deep. The more I think about it, the more I know that if that happened to one of my kids and I was forty miles away, I would have dropped everything and ran to be with my child. E’s lack of response is unfathomable, and, frankly inexcusable. She has another mental health evaluation coming up in August, but I think she’s getting better. In the meantime, though she’s working her way through it by writing and singing songs with her guitar (she’s written one called Daddy Issues – its amazing how many words rhyme with the *unt* sound) and re-creating the pics E posts on WhatsApp with Youngest Son – they recently recreated with ‘Dolphin’ picture with kittens and Youngest Daughter wearing a sombrero (in lieu of P’s rather more tasteful straw hat), the anarchic joy of the picture still makes me laugh.
Oldest son is, as ever, quietly getting on with things. Of all the kids, he’s now the only one who will defend his Dad, but I’m beginning to think this is more because he wants to avoid conflict and uncertainty than out of any conviction that his Dad is a decent person. In fact, the most constant source of arguments here tend to be when Youngest Daughter wants to confront her Dad, but Oldest Son doesn’t want the embarrassment of the conflict. A month or so ago this came to a head and they had a blazing argument, with him accusing her of being ‘over the top’ and her accusing him of ‘hating her, just like Dad does’. I stayed with them and talked them through it, and in the end, whilst I don’t think they’ll ever agree re their dad, I think they’ve accepted that they’ll always feel differently about him. I think though, Oldest Son, is gradually becoming disappointed. He’s an intelligent lad, and he can see for himself when E behaves badly. He won’t say anything, and he’d certainly never refuse to see his Dad, but he’s also got a deeply ingrained sense of decency and I think that’s been shaken by how his Dad has behaved over the last year or so. The getting married without telling them, the fact he didn’t come and see Youngest Daughter when she was ill, the fact that Oldest Daughter (who he looks up to) is so disillusioned, the WhatsApp pictures – in his quiet way, he can see what’s going on and I don’t think he’s impressed.
As for Youngest Son – the change in how he sees and talks about his Dad is both heart-breaking and hilarious. He was the one child who worshipped the ground his Dad walked on. As far as Youngest Son was concerned his Dad could do no wrong, he had a cool job, he supported a cool football team, he was amazing at maths – Youngest Son adored him. When I had to tell him that his Dad had left, he literally curled up into a ball and cried for two hours. Since then, he’s dealt with things with his usual wicked sense of humour, but things that he used to joke about with E (for example E’s ginger hair) have become things that he talks about with a hint of acid. Almost every conversation with him is peppered with remarks about his Dad being a ‘Dickhead’ or unfaithful, or a liar. I don’t join in with these comments, I certainly don’t encourage them, but I won’t condemn them, they’re his way of coping with what he sees going on around him. He doesn’t talk much about how he feels, but he does need more hugs and seems emotionally more dependent upon me than he was before. He’s still the same, slightly anarchic, child that he always way, but underneath there’s an emotional tide surging meaning that he tends to be quicker to tears and more sensitive to criticism than before E left. Of course, a lot of this is probably due to his age (he’s 12), but the fact that he’s increasingly reluctant to see his Dad, suggests to me that his disillusionment with E is also playing a part.
It’s funny, because this time last year seems like a blur to me – I know what I was doing physically, but all I remember is being in the middle of this terrible torrent of emotions. A year on and whilst I am still struggling with depression, and have a long way to go to recover, I feel calmer and more in control. I think the kids do too. What happened is still awful for them and, no matter how angry they are, they miss and love E still, which makes things very hard for them, but I think (hope) that, over the last year or so, I’ve created a new stability for them and home feels like home again – at least it now feels normal to be ‘us’ without E. I still have moments where I ask for six when making reservations somewhere, or think it’s E coming home when half-asleep, I hear a car at some ungodly hour of the night, but all-in-all life without him is normal now. A year ago, I told myself that I’d feel better ‘this time next year’ and I do, but there’s also an unexpected bonus – life without E is also so much happier than it was before.