First, there was the school fête yesterday, which was partly mother themed. What with the "maman je t'aime" songs, and the small boys holding approximate cut out heart shaped pieces of cardboard with pictures of their mothers on, it seemed to be designed as a particularly obvious psychological torture for someone in my situation - separated, sad, hungover, and spending the weekend without her children. I walked home alone clutching my purple cardboard heart with instructions not to read the poem on the back, because Fingers is planning to read it to me himself ("you can't read" said his brother, witheringly. "I know it by heart", said Fingers, gurning insolently back at him).
Then today. I couldn't sleep at all last night. I had one of those proper, miserable, sleepless nights. Nurofen and tea at two, making a sandwich at three, watching Nurse Jackie at four as the sky got paler and the over-enthusiastic birds started to sing, drifting off for an hour or so at seven to dream of freak spring snow. This is, I find, the perfect state to co-host a eight year old boy's birthday party for fourteen children in one of those exceptionally resonant, strip lit, indoor play centres. The CFO and I huddled in the cafe, mopped up spilled grenadine, did an occasional headcount, talked through the endless logistics of juggling two small boys.
"Bonne fête" said the first of a succession of fathers (it was all fathers) picking their children up after the last shrieking contest, the last murderous rampage in the dodgems.
"Euh, Merci ?", I said, a little puzzled that they could think a child's birthday party might be enjoyable for the supervising adults.
"Je veux dire, bonne fête a TOI" he repeated. Oh. Fête des Mères. It feels oddly fraudulent accepting, what? Congratulations? This year I have seen my children less than at any time in their lives, now that we share custody. I don't think that was wrong - their father is loving, resourceful, consistent, and utterly committed to them. I believe he is as vital to their wellbeing as I am, and even separated, we are a good team. The boys are doing ok. Who knows what goes on in the strangeness of their boy minds, but they give a good impression of being relatively content, and absorbed in age appropriate pursuits like hitting each other, complaining and being amused at rude words. But it's a massive adjustment for all of us. For me, I struggle with the knowledge that I set this in motion and that I have to vindicate my choice by being happy and successful and making it, whatever "it" is, work. I think "it" can work, truly - that it already does. Parts of this shared custody thing are quite brilliant. But it would be idiotic to pretend it's painless, just an exciting adventure. It's not, and being a part-time mother is the strangest thing - I'm disenfranchised, guilty, a bit sad, a bit gleeful, a lot lost.
Once our birthday duties were over for 2010 (praise Nathan), the four of us went to Quick and the CFO let me eat his chips while the boys squabbled and we talked about how there seemed to be no good solution for Mothers' or Fathers' Day, or birthdays, when you're separated. Then he wished me bonne fête too, toasting me with his giant paper beaker of Coke and they dropped me off at home. Eventually this new shaped family will have its rites and rituals I suppose, but for now, we're feeling around in the dark trying not to bump into each other.