I love autumn. Pumpkin, cloves, campfires, and the smell of hay sate my aromatherapy needs. I can walk angst free through the forest without reptile-induced apprehension. I am chilly today and happily anticipating the unpacking of my favorite fisherman knit sweaters and boots, but at the same time, I am melancholic. Today is my daughter’s birthday. I have spent nearly 30 years utterly devoted to my two girls. Before they were born, I had wandered aimlessly though life without a purpose often questioning my existence. I spent quality time looking in the mirror and loathing the person looking back at me, and then, in a single moment, a nurse placed a tiny little human in my arms, and I suddenly knew why God had put me on the earth. I was born to be mamma. I embraced that privilege with vengeance. I had the good fortune to be able to cease working outside of the home so I could be June Cleaver. I was classroom Mom, PTA Mom, field trip Mom, Sunday School Mom. I invented helicoptering before that term came into vogue. I bought a house a block from the school so I could always be there before, during, and after school. Then one day I came home to find divorce papers in my mailbox. No warning. Not only did he want a divorce, but he wanted the kids too. Children he barely ever saw because work and his social life took precedence over spending time with his family. Now he wanted out and to take apart that family, so he could start a new family with both the secretary he had been seeing, and the money from the joint accounts he had drained unbeknownst to me. There I was, a stay at home Mom, blissfully raising my life’s joy, helpless to fight back against the team of mahogany and brass lawyers that he had hired, who just happened to play golf with the judge assigned to the case. A judge who was going through a divorce of his own and hated women at that point in time. I did not work, so my attorney came out of the yellow pages. I lost after a year of being treated like a subhuman entity in court day after day. Everything I knew to be good in the world was gone. I moved out because he also got the house, and I was suddenly a visitor in my children’s lives, the person they saw a few times a week. I was not there to comb their hair or read them stories every night. I was not classroom Mom, or PTA Mom, I was no one. The only identity I knew was gone. He quickly remarried and I was relegated to the role of “other,” while he, and his new wife, and the two additional children they subsequently produced became family. My girls spent time with me, and we found ways of staying close. I wept every time I dropped them off “home” and returned to the place I lived but which would never be a home. For every birthday, and every holiday my time was negotiated while his was automatic. Nothing would ever be the same. My daughter is living with me now with her family while they wait to close on their own home, but even now, I am the outsider. She has a husband and two children of her own, and they spent the day…her birthday… with her father …her family. I will see her later…the after- thought…the outsider… perhaps before they go to bed. My other daughter and I are still close, but she lives in another part of the country now. I listen to so many other parents who cannot wait until their children turn 18 and move out. I hear them say that they cannot wait until they get their lives back. I didn’t have a life before my children, and every time I log into social media and I see their profiles laden with photos of family and I am not in one single image, I feel a stabbing pain sear through me. I thought I no longer had any heart left to break, and yet there it is…every time…ready to shatter anew. What hurts the most is I know that I did everything right…too right, and it did not matter. Had I been addicted to crack, sold my body on the street, neglected them, abused them like so many mothers of the foster children that my sister raised, the system would have done everything to award me custody. Being a good mother worked against me. The pain will always be there I suppose…every time I see a mother walking her children in the park I will be reminded of the loss…a wrong that cannot ever be righted. Autumn will always be bitter sweet. I should be on a hayride going apple picking with my family, but that is a privilege that now belongs to another. I will fight today the depression hat wants to consume me.