She’s six years old and she has been away from home for more than two weeks now, visiting my ex-husband in St. Louis. All I know is that two weeks is way too long for a mommy and a little girl to be apart. At least it is for me.
The longer Anna is away, the more surreal the rest of my life starts to feel. Our house is unnaturally quiet. I find myself wondering silly things like, “Do I really have a daughter?” “What it is like when she’s here with us?” “What if something happens to her while she’s gone and she never comes home?” I know those are terrible thoughts, but your mind starts to play tricks on you when you feel so out-of-control as a parent.
When Anna is not with me, I worry. And little worries soon escalate into the biggest worries imaginable. That’s how it works with mommies. It doesn’t help that Anna won’t really talk to us while she is gone. If I got a daily phone update from a happy little girl who was bubbling with information about her day, that would be one thing. Instead, I get a begrudging “Hi Mommy” and “uh-huh” and “nothing” and “Bye-bye Mommy.” And that’s about it. Sometimes I just want to reach through the phone and squeeze her rosy little cheeks and say, “What is wrong with you? Can’t you see that your mommy’s heart is breaking here? I just need to know what you’re doing and if you’re happy -- can’t you at least give me that?” But she can’t.
I think distancing herself is a coping mechanism for Anna. She says she doesn’t like to talk on the phone. I think it’s more that she can’t dip her toes into one world when she’s stuck in another one. It would be too hard. And I accept that -- begrudgingly. I guess we’ll talk when she gets home.
I always wonder how other divorced parents cope with these custody visits. I know I have it so much easier than most -- since we live so far away, Anna only visits my ex-husband a few times a year. The two-week summer visit is by far the longest one. I know there are other families who make this transition every other week or every other weekend -- or even every other day. I can’t imagine how chaotic and disruptive that must feel for the kids, the parents, and even the half-siblings. Now that my son is three years old, my husband and I have noticed that he is completely affected and out-of-sorts when his big sister is gone.
And then there is my ex-husband. Clearly, since Anna only visits him a few times a year, that means that he has to go for months without seeing his daughter. I would go stark raving mad. I do feel bad for him -- I really do. My heart actually hurts for him. But then there is a part of me that always thinks, “But... this was his choice, not mine.” He was the one who decided that he didn’t want the responsibilities of a family anymore. He knew that if he got the divorce he wanted, there was a risk that I would remarry someday and move across the country. And he was okay with that risk then. I don’t know how he feels about it five years later -- I’m guessing probably not as good. But it is what it is. You have to live with the consequences of your decisions. Even when it means that you are not getting to see your daughter grow up.
I don’t write about my divorce much. The truth is, even though it was terrible to go through at the time, I’m really happy about the way my life has turned out. God has blessed me so much by bringing my current husband into my life and giving me and Anna a new, stable family. But sometimes -- especially during custody visits -- it just needs to be written for the world to see: Divorce sucks.
If you have kids and you’re thinking of “escaping” your marriage, I would really think twice about it. No matter how well your life turns out, having to share your children with another family will be one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to do. And it never gets easier.
Photo Credit: jellaluna.
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