Act 2 of my life is long and messy.
Like, super messy.
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I wish it weren’t.
I wish that I only made, maybe, three significant mistakes in my life. I suppose if you cram one repeated mistake into one massive error I could pass it off as just three. But the truth is, that’s not being honest. And I’m in the business of honesty so I’d prefer to tell you the whole truth. No matter how “crazy, lazy, or stupid” it makes me look.
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Please keep in mind that this story includes other people and my perception of their role in my circumstances at that time. There are always two sides to every story. This is only my side.
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The day I had Baby J I was happy I woke up in labor.
Not because of anything in regards to the pain, or that it was more comfortable starting in the morning as opposed to the middle of the day. I was relieved because I was hopeful, since I was in labor first thing in the morning, that my children’s father would not drink that day.
Up until that day, and for the previous 3-4 months he had been drinking what felt like, every day.
So much so I had begun attending al-anon for help in coping with it. He was 21, and everyone told me it was just a phase of his age, etc. Regardless of what it was, it was profoundly bothering me, and I needed more help with it than I was getting from friends and family.
Roughly 23 Hours after my labor began, our first son would come into the world.
Non-parents get angry when they are told things like “you don’t know what love is until you have a child…” and while that may be hard for them to hear I can say this:
You won’t know the depth your love can go until you have a child.
Sure, you might love your spouse more than any other person you’ve ever met. But the day you hear that first baby scream from your womb or your significant others womb, you will know, without a doubt, that there is another living being on the planet for whom you would die. No questions asked.
The next month would be a whirlwind.
Unprepared for motherhood and the emotions that come with it, not to mention the always rockiness of mine and my child’s father’s relationship would lead to my newborn son and me leaving him.
I remember him getting angry with me over the babysitter I had chosen. Arguing with me and yelling at me with the baby in his arms, I decided was the last straw.
The fighting was non-stop before, with the drinking and the constant belittling me in front of friends.
But now it was never-ending and a dark cloud of gloom and terror that followed our little new family around.
I begged my mother to take me and baby J in, and thankfully she did. At the time, my child’s father to me just looked like a hot head of temper and rage. I didn’t understand his behaviors or his motives just that he scared me and therefore I did all I could to stay protected. In a possible poor decision on my part, I tried to hinder his ability to parent his child because I didn’t trust his rage.
I didn’t know if even he knew his limitations.
I knew he was drinking a lot, so I didn’t trust him not to drink. I knew when I was around he was short-tempered, easily stressed and I thought he would lose his mind if he had to care for the baby alone.
He rarely in that first year fought me much on this, to be honest. I still don’t know, to this day if the way we were doing things during the first year after my son was born was right or wrong. I don’t dwell on it much anymore.
Me and baby J found ourselves a tiny little apartment near my new job and close to the sitter I had chosen for him.
At 19, I quickly found out just how hard it can be on your own. I was struggling immensely to cope with the stress of life. Never being able to keep the house orderly or even clean. My dishes would sit for days before I would finally do them. I was embarrassed to have friends over and even more embarrassed when social services would come to check in on me and baby J.
My ex-didn’t stay my ex for much during that time. We weren’t together on our online profiles, but we still saw each other often.
Our relationship is hard for me to call a mistake.
I learned so much from it, and I know it impacted who I am as a person, parent, and partner now. But it’s hard not to wish it was different. It was painful often and still is to retell. But the role it played is vital to my newfound passion in life. So I don’t store regrets in my consciousness. I view everything in my past as a lesson learned, the hard way but still learned.
Surprisingly, my son’s father didn’t fight me much on seeing him that first year. He would come over to visit us, bringing diapers or wipes to help me out. And he made the best of the times he would get with him.
If I could easily say who threw the first stone in our situation, I would. But the truth is we were both making so many mistakes at that time in our lives it’s still hard for me to tell.
Do I assume he wishes he would have done more then? Yes. I do.
Do I wish I hadn’t been so possessive over our son and keeping him away from his other family? Yes. I do.
But you don’t know what type of parent you will be until you become one. And at 19 I barely knew what type of adult I was, let alone a parent.
I did what I thought was best for my son at the time. I genuinely thought I was protecting him. I can’t go back, so as I said before. I do my best not to dwell.
Around this time, I was working a full-time job as a receptionist for a local addiction clinic. I was paid, $8.50 hourly and worked roughly 35 hours a week. If you do the math, you will realize that before taxes I was being paid $297 give or take. I was spending $20 per day on a babysitter to watch baby J, which was cheaper than any other reliable care I had found. After my check, I would pay my babysitter, and I had $197 to get through the following week.
It felt like nothing. Less than nothing.
I totaled $800 per month income and my rent was $600. It was enough for gas, and a few groceries and sometimes diapers. I received food benefits from my local department of human services, but I started to realize the importance of a better paying job. A job that might require a degree.
My mother paid my rent for me during this time, so I could try to pay for my other expenses. Car insurance, electricity, & phone among them.
Many months I had to request assistance from the Department of Human services for emergency relief for my power or my water bill.
I was ashamed of how much I was failing. And I hadn’t hit rock bottom with that shame yet.
After a year away from my children’s father, I decided that we should try again.
Looking back now, I can see that I was starting to believe a lot of self-doubts that had been told to me. The main one being that I couldn’t be self-sufficient. It was a fight my children’s father and I liked to practice often.
I struggled with cleaning and staying motivated towards a goal. Something I now understand as part of my ADHD but I thought, as well as he did, that I was just flawed.
Combined with his constant reminders of how I really “Couldn’t do it on my own…” as well as my self-doubts from always struggling I ran back to the security of him, his house and his ability to pay his bills.
Had we resolved our issues? No way.
Were we still fighting often? Yes. All the time.
But I thought that every young couple probably struggled with these things. That perhaps I just needed to grow up and let things go. I needed to try harder and not get on his nerves so much.
I was convinced by him, and my own self-loathing that the majority of our problems were likely from me.
He wouldn’t be so angry all the time if I had just picked up after myself. If I didn’t let his drinking bother me, we wouldn’t have fought so often.
If I can be what he wants me to be, we can be happy.
I wish I remembered more from the year between us getting back together, and then me getting pregnant with our second child, but I honestly don’t.
I know that we were excited for our second baby. We felt like we had worked out our problems.
Looking back now, I don’t remember having many friends.
Perhaps that was how we were doing so well? He was the only voice to whom I listened. I didn’t weigh his words against anyone; therefore, he was right by default. I didn’t argue or question his manipulative tendencies.
That was until I made a friend.
Roughly one to two months before my second pregnancy I made a friend, and we quickly became very close. She was smart and had been with her boyfriend for the same amount of time me and my child’s father had been together. They had two children and had them young just like we did. They were innately good parents. That was important to me.
Unlike many other young mothers I had met, I wasn’t partying often. I wasn’t leaving my babies with their grandparents to go to the bars. I didn’t care about that stuff enough to do it often, and neither did she.
We had both breastfed our babies, something I hadn’t found in many other mothers my age. And we shared a lot of the same views of things. We preferred to be responsible, and the voice of reason in times of chaos.
I think with her help; I started to gain my voice again.
As women will do, we vented to each other a lot. She would never have told me to leave my child’s father, and she never did. What she did do, however, was made me wonder why we fought all the time. Primarily by asking the right questions. I started to question how our home operated. Why it always felt under a cloud of constant turmoil.
I’ll never forget the day it finally got through to me. She couldn’t take my whining about him anymore and the constant need to vent off my fear. I called her to complain per usual and instead of her sometimes advise or try-this suggestions she just said
“Lacy. He always does this to you. You know this. So either deal with it, or end it. But I don’t care to hear about it anymore.”
Immediately, she was no longer enabling my addiction to my toxic relationship.
I knew she was right, and I wanted to leave, but how? I was seven months pregnant with our second baby and terrified.
I had no money; I had been fired from my most recent job a few months prior. I was at a loss and didn’t know what I would do.
The only asset I had was my van.
Even though we had purchased it together, we had put the title into my dad’s name. Still being under 25 years old, insurance was expensive, so we paid my dad monthly to cover insurance for it. With the title in my dad’s name, a call to him to ask about selling it was quick. I decided to put it up for sale to gather enough money to get out on my own again.
This relationship repetition is a trap that so many women fall prey to in toxic relationships.
I’m going to venture a guess, but I don’t imagine many women who don’t have an underlying mental illness end up with toxic marriages or relationships.
Well, taking ADHD for example, we already struggle with life stress. We are unorganized, not timely, indecisive, and impulsive.
If we are undiagnosed, we think we are just shitty adults who don’t know how to adult.
Add in the presence of a controlling spouse, who is good at pointing out our lack of independence we dive deeper into self-doubting. Becoming more and more reliant on them and their ability to thrive. It can keep us running back to toxic partners after we again get out on our own, only to realize we still don’t operate well independently.
I sold my Van and used part of the money to pay into a lease.
Moved the few belongings I had when I was seven months pregnant into my new two bedroom apartment. I then used the rest of the money to purchase a very cheap but reliable vehicle.
The day of my second’s sons birth I would hit my highest peak of happiness I would feel for the next four years.
Walking into my newly leased apartment with a newborn and 2-year-old all alone, I felt the deep despair from years prior sink into my chest.
I had a broken futon, a T.V. that sat on the floor, a crib, a borrowed toddler bed, and my bed.
That was it.
I had managed to garage-sale a few baby items like a bouncy seat and a gliding swing. But I was broke, jobless, a now single mother of two and the realization of it hit me like an Acme anvil.
I questioned everything.
Did I make the right decision, leaving my ex?
Were things THAT bad?
How can I even call myself a good mother, I can barely provide?
I’m nothing, I don’t have a college degree, and I don’t even make enough to pay to keep the water turned on.
My ADHD symptoms had practically subsided during my last trimester of pregnancy, allowing me to achieve 3.8 GPA in my college courses. But with the return of just-given-birth hormones, they came back with a vengeance in the fall when I tried to attend fall college courses. Still unbeknownst to me that I even had ADHD, I thought “Here I go again. Giving up. I can never stick to anything…” and I flunked out of my college classes.
The baby was born in July, and by November I had hit an all-time low. I had just dropped my classes and knew I needed a full-time Job. I had begun the search, but Christmas was around the corner.
I knew I wouldn’t find a Job that paid well enough in time to make Christmas for my sons.
After dropping J at state-funded daycare that day, I went with Baby C to stand in line for Old News Boys Christmas Help. It was a two day only window to get on the list for help with Christmas gifts. The line of people wrapped around the building in the downtown area near where I lived.
It was November in the midwest.
To say it was Cold was an understatement.
I had Baby C bundled in his Car seat asleep, but I knew once the cold seeped into his winter body suit, he wasn’t going to handle sitting in there much longer.
Pulling out my cell phone, I dialed my old babysitter.
“Hey, Sweetie!” She answered in her confident and always loving voice.
“Hey! I’m standing in line for Old Newsboys Christmas help right now, and I have [Baby C]. The lines long, and I’d hate to stand in it with him the whole time. Would you mind if I brought him to you to watch him for me for a few hours so I can get this done?”
“Ummm. Hang on let me ask [Husband].” I could hear her hand cupped over the mouthpiece of the phone, asking her husband if he minded. He loved my kids so I knew he would likely say yes.
When she came back on the phone, she gave me the go-ahead to bring him over.
When I arrived at her house, she came out to greet me.
“Hey…” she said softly. “Go ahead and put the car seat in the van.” she motioned to their family van.
“Why? Are you guys leaving?”
“No. I mean yes, but you and baby are coming too. Hop in.”
Confused, I did as she asked.
Once I got in the car, she explained that we were going to Wal-Mart. She further told that she and her husband were going to buy the boys and me a Christmas.
I cried as you can imagine.
“We are going to do this, but just promise me one thing?”
Expecting her to say something like “you’ll get your shit together,” “you’ll find a good job,” or “you’ll pay us back when you can” I shook my head yes. I braced for the strings attached to the favor. Strings I was used to receiving any time I asked for help from anyone in my past.
“That when you finally get on your feet, you’ll pay it forward. “
“Absolutely!” I breathed a sigh of relief. I was indeed in awe.
That woman gave me hope for my future.
Why? Because she believed in me. She knew where I was, was temporary. That even though, I was only halfway through making mistakes and figuring shit out that eventually, I would. She had faith in me, and at that moment I saw my first ray of hope at the end of the long tunnel.
I would soon find a Job.
A full-time job, with benefits and even retirement potential. With weekends off, and bonuses. I was ecstatic.
I would receive assistance from the state for food and insurance until I could afford my new companies benefits. For the first time, I would finally start receiving child support from the boy’s father.
Things were looking up, and I was happy.
I was starting to save money; I managed to purchase a few more items of furniture, on my own of course. I still couldn’t keep my house spotless and organized, but I managed to wash the dishes regularly.
Baby C turned 1, and things kept looking up.
That was until I received papers.
My ex-had filed for a change of custody of my children.
Don’t worry, it’s just the end of Act 2. We have two more.
Read Act 3.