I stood at the five foot tall gate in the black of night, struggling to reach my children for a kiss goodnight. The standard metal frame gate was lined with chain link, making it impossible to climb. A large, heavy padlock held it tightly to the tall “man gate” that butted up against it. It, too, was a “double,” reinforced gate. A dim light from the porch illuminated just enough of my 6 year old’s face that I could see the fear in his large brown eyes.
“Mama, why are we locked in?”
“I don’t know, Sweetie.”
“Is it because she’s mean?” he asked.
Yesterday was the first visitation scheduled post-divorce. I had called R a month ago and offered him this extra weekend since the kids would be on Spring Break. He has repeatedly complained that he drives a very long distance to only see the kids a few hours. The trip is cost prohibitive, and he has a hard time getting approval for the extra time off work. His boss is a “nightmare.” “It’s just so hard” on him.
Typically, I drop the children at his mother’s house at 3 on Friday, when they get out of school. At 8 p.m. I pick up whomever does not want to spend the night with him. At 9 the next morning I return the children who spent the night at home with me. He never wants them past 1 o’clock though I’ve offered for him to have them as late as he wants on Saturday. He lives four hours away and says that it takes him an hour to say goodbye to his mom, so by the time he leaves our town at 2 he doesn’t get home until 8 or 9. He doesn’t like sneaking in that late and waking up his friends. Besides, he has to open at work on Sunday at 6 a.m. and needs his rest.
So, it takes a 53 year old man an hour to say goodbye to his mommy. I can appreciate that. But, he leaves at 2 p.m. on a four hour trip and doesn’t get in until 8 or 9? And, he’s concerned that he’s waking his hard partying friends at that late hour on a Saturday night? Hmmmm……okay.
Somehow though, his choice to see the children for only four hours on Saturday is painful evidence of his victimization. Others, everyone, is creating a crisis in his life that prohibits him from spending quality time with his offspring.
So, I made the call and offered up an exchange in weekends, which would allow him more time on Friday with the children. Being Spring Break, he could have them all day on Friday in addition to his usual four hours on Saturday.
I only offered Spring Break in an effort to show that I’m trying to be amicable. I am trying to cooperatively co-parent, even though I see through his baloney.
So, Friday rolled around, and I pushed the kids to get around. It takes twenty minutes to get to R’s mother house from ours, and it was quarter til nine. At that moment E’s phone rang; it was his dad. E look confused and was repeating that he didn’t know, he didn’t know. He looked at me. I asked if he needed me to take the phone. He told his dad that he was giving the phone to me, and R agreed.
He called one of the children, five minutes after we should have left for the visitation rendezvous, to say that he wasn’t going to be there. He needed to take his mom to get her pills and then they were going grocery shopping. He asked if we minded just waiting for a phone call. He’d call us when they were done and let us know when it was okay to come over.
I took advantage of the opportunity to speak with him (we usually do not speak at all; he arranges his visitation through the children) and told him that J and D had run fevers and had headaches the day before. R then said that they didn’t need to come over; they could skip the visit. He was worried about his mom, since she lives alone, and didn’t want her to get anything from them. I assured him that they were on the mend and wanted to visit him, but I just wanted to let him know to perhaps keep a distance between them and his mother and push the water down them.
He said he’d buy some food that would be easy on their tummies when he was shopping with his mother. Seizing the opportunity, I shared with him that D has said she is always hungry at his house, so I was sending some applesauce and other snacks that would be easy to digest. There was no need for him to buy extra, special stuff; I would just send it with the kids.
He stated, “That little girl can just put away the food.” He claimed that he is constantly offering her something to eat when she is with him. He then kicked into a little monologue on how he tries so hard to respect what I’m doing with the kids, how he only gives them the kind of food that I normally do, he doesn’t want to go against that. It’s all just so hard for him because it costs so much money to buy food for the kids to have at his mom’s, but it goes bad before he sees them again. So, he has to buy food every single time he comes down.
Then, he dropped the pity bomb. He wasn’t feeling well either. As soon as he pulled in his mom’s driveway and got out of the car, he threw up. In a momentary lapse of sanity I took the bait and said, “Oh, so, you’re sick, too?” “No,” he replied, “I’m not sick. It’s just work. Well. And. The. Other stuff. You know.” He said “you know” like it was top secret government information.
Oh, gasp! He’s throwing up over the divorce? Over losing me? Goodness! Could it be?!
Whatever! I found it interesting that he didn’t throw up until he pulled into his mommy’s driveway, where she could see his pathetic state and console him properly.
We hung up the phone, and I folded clothes while I waited for the phone call. So much for dropping the kids off at 9 and then working out and shampooing my carpets before work.
I put the clothes away, and we waited.
Finally, at almost 11 o’clock he called. They were home from their shopping trip, and I could now bring the children to him.
All four children had been adamant that they absolutely did not want to spend the night with their father, so the plan was for me to pick them up at 8. However, they’d only been with their dad about twenty minutes when I got a call from my 16 year old. He told his dad he didn’t want to visit, and his dad accepted that. Now, he wanted me to drive back across town to help him escape.
I took him to work with me, and young R spent Friday afternoon polishing cultured marble showers and cleaning toilets. He preferred that to spending the day with his father.
We finished up around 5:30 and stopped by my uncle’s house to visit. Uncle M’s nephew (from Aunt M’s side) pulled in just ahead of us. T proceeded to regale us with tales of his bachelor exploits all evening long. Before I knew it, it was time to pick up the other three kids.
In the interim though, J had decided he did want to spend the night with his dad. He ran wildly toward my car, drooling jelly beans, stating that he had changed his mind. I asked what he wanted me to bring from home for him, and he could barely talk as the red glue kept his teeth together.
J’s teeth are chalky. He has been subjected to a ridiculous amount of dental work and is set to go again next month. Jelly beans, taffy, and the like are off limits. But, he’d had an entire bowl. So much for respecting what I’m doing with the kids, feeding them like I do, and not going against what I’m trying to do with them. So much for food that is easy on a sick stomach.
I made J spit the jelly bean out and I let him know that I wasn’t happy that he had chosen to eat them. He began to wail and sob, as only a child high on 16 oz. of sugar and artificial color can, saying that he wouldn’t spend the night with dad, he’d never visit dad again.
I drew him into the car and onto my lap and assured him, “You can spend the night with Dad. It’s okay for you to love your dad and want to be with him. But, YOU have to make better choices for YOURSELF. YOU have to learn to say no thank you to things that aren’t good for you and not accept everything you’re offered.” I then, again, asked him what he wanted from home and told him I’d hurry back with it.
When I returned though, I was blocked by the mammoth gate. Sixteen year old R tried to climb it but couldn’t. His long arms and legs weren’t enough to catapult him over it. He rattled it. He looked for another way in. Nothing.
I texted E, but he didn’t respond. We waited for five or ten minutes and, finally, E and J appeared in the shadows. That’s when J realized he was locked in, like a prisoner or an animal. There would be no goodnight hug from Mama. There would be no escape should Dad go nuts. No easy rescue should E have to call 911. And, I’m quite certain it was all nothing more than a head game. A game meant to let the kids know they were trapped, to let me know I was being denied access to them. And, there was nothing any of us could do about it. My children and I were separated by a concentration camp style enclosure, not allowed to touch.
The next morning at 9:15 it was still shut but not locked. For the first time ever, my boys didn’t come out to see me after spending the night with their dad. I pulled out to leave for work, as young R and D stood waving goodbye.
Shortly thereafter, I received a text message that I needed to pick the kids up around “noonish” because R needed to get his tire fixed before he headed back up. I recall that he just put brand new tires all the way around last summer. He’s always had a thing about his tires.
I tried to be amicable. I offered my ex-abuser time with his children during Spring Break that I was not obligated to offer. He responded with CONTROL. I offered a 9 a.m. drop off. Instead, he CONTROLLED our morning and made us wait for him. He tried to CONTROL me with his emotional manipulation and self-pity. He fed our sick son excessive amounts of candy; he will CONTROL what the children eat, and he will CONTROL the mood swings and extra dental visits that I have to deal with as a result. He then locked that hideous gate when he knew that I was on my way with toothbrushes and pajamas for the children. He would CONTROL my contact with the boys. He then rolled back the pick up time to yet another hour earlier, interfering with my work schedule and CONTROLLING my work day.
It was 27 hours of games and CONTROL, waiting and running according to his whims.
However, that’s the best he can do now. That’s all he can do now. Twenty seven hours once or twice a month as opposed to 24/7 for sixteen years. I can handle these games.