The questions have started, in earnest.
There were a few here and there when I first came back from Phoenix. From S - "Mommy, do you still love my Daddy?" Things like that. (How do I answer that? How do I translate the real answer to that question for a 4-year-old little girl who loves princesses and still believes in happily ever after?).
The questions have become more frequent, and much more difficult to answer.
I had a conversation with C a few weekends ago over a Dr. Seuss matching game. I'm not sure what came over me, but I suddenly had to tell him how much I love him and how my leaving last summer had nothing to do with him or his sister. His question, which I stupidly was not prepared for, was "then what did it have to do with?"
I do not know how to answer these questions without hurting them more. I do not know how to answer these questions without saying mean and nasty (albeit true) things about their father. I refuse to do that to them. My mother did it to me, and I have not and I will not speak ill of him in front of or to them.
S likes to reminisce. She is constantly saying things like "remember when we went strawberry picking when I was a baby and I ate so many strawberries my face was all red?" She seems to have a "remember when?" for everything little thing.
Last night, as I was rinsing the shampoo out of her hair, she said, "Mommy, remember when we used to take a bath and if we didn't have a cup to rinse our hair you would tell us to put our head back and we'd rinse it with the water that comes out of the bathtub? That was fun. We used to take baths with you all the time. Mommy, why did you leave our home? Don't you miss us?"
It was like a sucker punch to the gut.
"Yes baby. I miss you every day I'm not with you. I missed you every day I was away."
The other question, the first one...that took a little longer for me to answer.
"When I first left I was only going to stay a few weeks. But I decided to stay because I needed to figure some things out."
Of course, what was going through my mind, what I almost said, was radically different. I stayed because I was broken. I stayed because I allowed your father to break me for 9 years and I didn't know how to put myself back together in North Carolina. I stayed because I didn't know what else to do. I stayed because I knew I could never support you on my own. I stayed because it was the only way I could ever really, truly, finally get away from your father for good. I stayed because I was tired and sad and lost and the desert held an unexpected and strange healing for my soul. I stayed because I'm selfish and horrible. I stayed because I found a friend...much more than a friend.
And I wanted to tell her that I came back because I missed her and her brother so much it hurt. I came back because I had to face it, all of it. I left my father and I left my friend and part of my heart in Phoenix when I left to come back here.
I didn't say any of that. All of that went through my head in about 10 seconds. And by the time I had given her my safe answer, she had already moved on to something else, something that didn't have anything to do with the pain I have caused, or any of the other adult things they bring up from time to time. She was already telling me all about her bath time doll, Belle, and her bathing suit and how her hair turns pink and how she likes yellow soap and yellow lotion because her skirt is yellow. But I know, underneath all of that kid stuff, the bigger questions are still there.
I know I need to let it go. I know I need to stop feeding all of this guilt, stop letting it have power over me. I need to let it go and move forward. But it is so hard. Much harder than I thought it would be, if that is possible at all. I'm back, I'm here, I get to hug them and kiss them and spend time with them. Even though part of my heart is still in Phoenix, I am here, and I need to focus on the future and all of it's possibilities.
But I wish there was some kind of instruction manual for these questions. I know there will be more, I know they'll probably never stop...I just wish I knew the best way to answer them.