Well, it finally happened. A clear-eyed understanding of their pain and anger and confusion about their other mother moving to Florida. And it was so simple and straight forward. I guess memorable moments aren’t always dramatic.
It started with a post on Facebook about an anguished father, raising money so he can fight for custody of his son.
The girls were looking over my shoulder and made me click on the link. It’s a sad story. He was the primary caregiver for six years. Then he and his partner broke up, and the ex moved across country with his son. The ex is the biological parent. Actually, that part’s not clear. What’s clear is that the man raising money is not the biological parent. He was just the stay at home dad for six years.
Part of the argument in the fundraising plea is that studies have shown children are better off with two parents raising them. When we got to that part, I thought, “Uh-oh.”
But I didn’t say that. Instead I took the political route.
“This is why gay marriage needs to be legal all over the country. Gay people can’t adopt in every state, and so sometimes when they split up one parent has no rights to see his child. If they were straight, then legally both parents – whether biological or adopted – would have a right to see their children.”
They nodded. Silently. They didn’t want to go down the political route.
“And I think it’s horribly unfair when gay people hide behind the lack of law in divorce cases.”
They nodded again. I relented and took a more direct route.
“By the way, that is not what happened with Uma.”
“But she moved to Florida,” Dixon said.
“Yes, but I would be perfectly happy if—“
“You want to get rid of us,” Delaney said, clearly joking, and slapping her hand over my mouth.
“No,” I tried to stammer out, “I would be happy if...”
“You want to get rid of us,” she said again, laughing.
I garbled out another answer, then playfully tried to bite her hand.
This comes from another discussion we had a few days earlier. I have spent the summer at home and have consequently spent almost every waking moment with the girls. Since we are most definitely nocturnal beings, their hours have gotten later and later, especially since Olympic coverage ended at 11 most nights. They told me the other day that I’ve been way too short tempered for the last week or two. I answered that they’re lucky my temper held out this long and that I needed a break. So Delaney took it to its most likely extreme.
“Seriously,” I said when she took her hand away from my mouth. “I would be very happy if Uma lived near here and picked you up on Sunday and had you till Tuesday night or you would come home on Wednesday after school. I would be happy to have you see her every other weekend like you used to.”
I got up to empty the dishwasher. This seemed like a good time in the scene to put some space in the blocking.
“If you and Uma had stayed together,” said Dixon, “would we all have moved to Florida?”
“If Uma and I had stayed together, we would all probably still be living here.”
“But she moved to Florida for a reason.”
“But if we were together, staying with us would have trumped the reason she moved to Florida.”
“Then why did she move?”
I paused, put away some dishes.
“She moved to Florida because being near the ocean is healing to her. She’s happy there. For some reason she could not be happy living near us. And she was not happy living with Coco (her grown daughter who lives an hour and a half away). When she told me she was moving, I wasn’t happy about it, but I knew it was the best thing for her.”
I looked at them.
“The problem is, it’s not the best thing for you.”
There was a silence. Delaney was standing at the table browsing on my computer. Dixon’s crumpled face showed the computations going on in her head.
“Why is the beach more important to Uma than her children?”
There comes a time when raising kids when you can’t fix the hurt. You just have to let them feel it. And you have to affirm the pain, affirm the validity of their feelings, without taking them away.
The reality is that their Uma loves them very much, misses them horribly, and is tortured by the idea of having a half life with them. It’s much easier for her to be away than to only see them – and me – part of the time. She stuck close longer than I thought she would. And the other day she asked if I could look for employment in the south, so she would be within a day’s drive. But if she’s going to be tortured without us, she needs to be a in a place that makes her feel alive and whole.
I understand that. And I understand that for my children, it’s wholly unfair.
We stood in the kitchen for a while in silence, me putting dishes away, Dixon staring somewhere in the vicinity of the floor, till Delaney broke the spell.
“Can I take a cooking class?”
Dixon and I laughed, and I teased her about the non-sequitur.
“Hey, I don’t hit things head on,” she said. “I go around them.”
I’m still pondering how to handle that one.