When I was in the mental ward, it was mostly girls in their teens with messed up track records and eating disorders. But my roommate was from Kellogg, a top-ten business school.
I thought it was insane that she was there. She was so smart. She was going to be great at work. Her only problem was that her fiancé had just broken off their engagement. I thought she would be fine—there are so many other men to be had. But before I could ask her to explain, she tried to electrocute herself in the bathtub, with a blow-drier, and she was moved to the high-security ward.
That has been on my mind as my relationship with the farmer has unraveled.
Which makes me want to sleep.
I kiss my sons good night and then walk through a kitchen full of dirty dishes to my bedroom, thinking going to bed would be a good way to escape. But I can’t sleep. Probably because I used that trick earlier, when I came home from work and slept for a couple of hours before I took my son to cello.
I was not sad while I slept. But I was sad at cello.
Even since our first date, the farmer has said that he does not want to date me, but he does it anyway. Over eighteen months, we pretend things have changed, but really, here’s where we are:
The farmer owns about 100 acres on his own. He farms with his parents by putting his 100 acres with their 500 acres.
His parents have said that he will inherit the whole farm so he can keep farming the way he has, on 600 acres, for the last 20 years.
They do not want to guarantee that the farmer inherits the land. They say maybe they will give the farmer a guaranteed inheritance after they see if they like farming with him when he lives with me. They want to wait to see if I make their life hell.
I finally fall asleep and wake up to my seven-year-old saying, “Can you wake up? Is it morning? Can you ask [the farmer] if we can also have sheep when we move to the farm?”
“It’s not morning yet,” is what I tell him.
“Then can I sleep with you? And where is [the farmer]?”
“He’s not here.”
This is what I say. I’m not sure how long I can say it with any credibility. But luckily it’s the middle of the night, and my son is consumed with the idea of doing animal chores every morning with the farmer. My son has plans.
I lay in bed between my sons who realize something is wrong because ever since the farmer came into our lives, I’ve guarded my bed from them relentlessly, but tonight I let them in.
In bed I think about the farmer’s lawyer, who says depending on farming land that the parents control is a totally insecure way to live. Our days with the lawyer are over, though. It cost the farmer $5000 and he has, literally, nothing to show for it. Only discussions with the lawyer about how the farmer has to leave his farm.
I lay in bed staring at the dark ceiling. The boys breathe heavy and warm in my ears and tears drip down my cheeks and when they pool in my ears they are cold. I tell myself over and over again that the farmer does not want to farm on his own land without farming with his parents. I have to accept this.
He asked me to move to his farm, with my kids, living alongside the risk that his parents will tell him that they hate me so much that he either has to get rid of me or stop farming with them.
So I won’t move there. Because I think that if the parents, down the line, hate me enough to force the farmer to choose me or the farm, he’ll choose the farm. So I figure he should just make that choice now, before I move to Darlington, WI with my kids.
And he’s picking the farm.
Did you see the movie Monsters vs Aliens? The girl who turns into a monster breaks off her engagement because her fiancé is a jerk. I wish I could become a monster. I wish I thought the farmer was a jerk. I wish this were a movie, and my kids scratched the disc, so we’d have to stop watching, because the end of this is too scary.
The next morning, I wake up at 5am because I’ve been waking up on farmer time for so long. I sulk for an hour and then the kids wake up. I make lunches, make breakfast, make beds, make jokes (the knock-knock kind) and the kids are happy, and it makes me feel like I’m doing something right.
I went to the book fair at the school the night before. We take out one of our new books and I think maybe the kids are having a charmed life and I am overestimating the impact of farmer abandonment.
Then my four-year-old says, “Mom. Look!” and he shows me an eraser in the shape of an ice cream cone.
“Did you take that from the book fair?”
“Yes. Aren’t I sneaky?”
“No. It’s stealing. I told you we’re only buying books. That means you can’t take anything else.”
We talk about stealing. My seven-year-old asks with eyes full of glee if his brother will be going to jail.
We finish breakfast and I tell myself not to think about the farmer. I tell myself to focus on making the returning of the eraser a good lesson about fairness.
I would like the farmer to sell his 100 acres to his parents, who are willing to pay cash for market price, and then buy a farm somewhere else, so that we start fresh, together. I told him I’d move anywhere in the world that he wants.
He wants to stay right there. With his parents.
In the car, on the way to school, I tell myself it’s hard to be sad over losing someone who is choosing to farm with his parents over starting a life with me. But I’m distraught over telling my kids that the guy they have completely bonded with is going to disappear.
Proving that kids know everything, even stuff they don’t understand, my seven-year-old catches me off guard with his backseat chatter: “Who is coming to your birthday party next week?”
My four-year-old chimes in with a list of his own friends.
I say, “You two are my best friends. So I think it’ll be a party with us.”
The seven-year-old says, “What about [the farmer]? You love him, too, and he loves you.”
I turn the music up too loud.
I need to find some child psychologist to tell me how to tell the kids what happened to the farmer. So when they clamor for the Beatles I put on Ob La Di, Ob La Da, and the kids sing out loud. When I have been pretending that things are fine with the farmer, Ob la di seemed like Paul McCartney’s sunny summary of marriage and kids. Now the song feels like John Lennon’s ironic jab at the morons who think marriage ever works out to be happy.
I drop the kids off. Psychology Today says that depression is contagious and you usually get it from your mom, so I try to be extra chirpy during drop off. Except when we are returning the eraser.
I only go into my office when I have to, and today I have to because we are having an all-day meeting with the CEO who has flown in from DC.
We are talking strategy and he says that startups are always changing. The strategy changes, the tactics change. He says it has happened at every startup he’s ever had.
I console myself that he’s had two, huge exits. I hope that the rule of past performance predicting future performance will skew more toward his former exits than mine.
I try to focus. I wonder if they can tell when I am thinking about the farmer and when I am thinking about the company. Sometimes, when I think I cannot get myself back to thinking about the company, I excuse myself to go to the bathroom. I try to say smart things every now and then. I want them to think I’m smart.
I hope I am an exception to the rule. For broken engagements. For single parenting. For startup exits.
But I know that none of us is an exception to a rule. We are just regular. And another rule is that we are all lost sometimes, and being lost is okay. I am lost right now. I don’t know what is happening in my life, and I am scared to think of any of the reasonable outcomes.
But I actually know a bit about being lost. I’ve been through it before. I have been jobless, and I’ve figured out what’s next. I’ve hated my career, and I figured out how to switch. I’ve been dumped many times by many men, and I’ve always thought no one would ever love me, and I always fall in love again.
But there’s no magic solution. Being lost cannot be avoided. The best thing to do is to try to focus on something else. I know from past experience what works: Reading, writing, cuddling with the kids, dating men who write good emails, and cooking recipes that call for lots of sprinkles.