Monday, May 9, 2011

The In-Between

The worst part of being in a "blended family" is, and I will not entertain any other opinions on this point, visitation. I don't care what other bug is up your butt, nothing is worse than being separated from your child. I hate it. It's not about some vindictive grudge thing against his dad. It's not anger about his stepmom. It's not about jealousy or sour grapes, it's about seeing an empty bed at 10 pm. It's that empty booster seat in the rearview mirror every time you back out of a parking spot. Or the empty space where the booster belongs if you try to move it. It's dust on his favorite toys. An empty seat at the table. It's the quiet, that damned horrible awful quiet that breaks your heart in the afternoons. It's a million tiny things throughout the day that remind you of what you're missing, who you are missing with all your heart.

But there is one thing that is worse than missing your child. It's getting ready to miss your child.

I HATE the final few weeks before a visitation. There's this sense of dread about it. Every time you try to plan something you are checking it against the date of departure. Every time you talk to someone about the summer there's the obligatory "Well, he won't be here then..." after they ask about summer camp plans. You're constantly reminded of it. And it tears you apart.

You want to keep things as natural as possible so you don't freak the poor kid out. You want to tell him you'll miss him, so he knows you care, but you don't want to tell him how much for fear he might dread going. So there's the "we're going to miss you but you're going to have so much fun" lie. It's not a lie in the truest sense of the word, but it's a lie by omission. The truth is more like "I'm going to miss you every second and it will be like having my heart torn out. I hope to God that you have fun because if you don't then I won't be able to bear having been parted from you. But please don't have too much fun, because I'm scared you could decide you want to stay there and that would kill me." You want to prepare him for what's coming so he isn't shocked, but you want to pretend it isn't going to happen at all. When you most need to be in denial you can't because your kid needs the truth, so you can't have the lie.

You find yourself trying to create a summer's worth of memories in a few weeks. You make a list of things to do, and suddenly you're a cruise director. Part of you feels like a total jerk doing it, because you wonder if you aren't trying to buy your kid's affection. You want to go out with a bang so you'll be remembered as a fun parent, hoping enough trips to the zoo will make him forget about all those vegetables you made him eat and how he didn't get to stay up late. It feels like the only way to compete with someone who gets him for two months and has no real responsibilities, no homework or school, to force on him.

And of course, this is when your child begins to test you. Sensing what's coming, no matter how much you try to pretend it's ok, your normally calm kiddo is suddenly schizo. One day he clings to you, wanting to be cuddled and held and babied. The next day he is defiant, pushing your every button and testing the limits to see whether the impending vacation has put a hold on the rules. It's about reassurance. He wants to see if you're still the same person you've always been. Is he still the same? He knows your love and he knows your limits, and by testing both he can figure out where he stands. During the time you least want to discipline him, the time when you most want everyone to just get along and enjoy each other, you find yourself facing the worst behavior your child can offer. The hell of it is that that best thing you can do for your child is to be consistent, which means not letting him get away with all the shenanigans. But every time you put him on time out, you feel mean and cruel and you really want to be hugging him. And when you are hugging him, it never lasts long enough for you. Again, in giving your child what he needs, you can't have what you want.

And there's the whole "trying not to slap someone" aspect. Every once in a while someone tries to "cheer you up" by reminding you that you can have a lot more free time with him "out of the way." People say that you are getting a "vacation." "You get more alone time with your husband!" "Do you have any special plans?" My only special plans involve finding a lawyer who can get a jury to accept that I snapped when I strangled you with my shoelace and can't be held liable. I do not delight in my child being away from me for an extended period of time. A couple of hours for a date night, that's fun. A weekend away, that's pushing it but it could be cool. Being apart from my child for two months is special torture, so don't act like I won the lottery or something.

Then there's the worry... I hate being late, so I start worrying early. I think of every bad thing that could happen. His dad's house is right on a pretty busy street. There's a strong riptide at the beaches. The fact that aliens haven't invaded yet means it could happen any time. I torture myself with everything that could go wrong, and every time it's about the same thing. I can't do anything to protect or help him if something happens. I'm powerless when we're apart. I can't comfort him or console him. I can't yell at someone on his behalf. I can't even be at his side for two or three days. No offense to anyone else, but in my heart of hearts you will never convince me that someone else could take care of my child as well as I can. It pains me to think of him hurt or scared or sad without me there to make it better.

At least when he is gone I can look forward to seeing him again. But in these last few weeks, all I have to look ahead to is saying goodbye. And that hurts more than anything else.

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