For the record, I know I’m always saying thank you. I uh… couldn’t really think of anything for her to say.
Dedicated to all those parents out there, estranged from their little ones
It’s that time of year again; the time when she normally would have been buying wrapping paper, picking a cake, and digging all the presents and little things she’d managed to get through the year out of their hiding places. Her children’s birthdays were only a couple of weeks away.
She wasn’t doing that this year. She hadn’t done it for the past two years before. Not since the youngest had moved out. For her, they were gone.
When the break had first been made complete – this break that started as a crack and had slowly been getting bigger despite her best efforts to be nice, to be fair, to be the good one – she crawled away to lick her wounds and grieve for a while. In a couple of months, she felt brave enough to send birthday and Christmas cards to their address up north. At first she didn’t get anything in return, which she expected. Then one day her eldest contacted her by email to thank her for the card, to complain that their father wouldn’t help them with transportation so they could get jobs or go to college, and to say hello now and again.
She knew better than to get hope from that. She’d read posts on forum after forum, all from other estranged parents. The story was always the same. The children come back to you briefly, and then the other parent gets wind of it and before you know it another heavy hand has been dealt and the children don’t speak to you anymore. For those estranged parents it was like their children had died. The cruelty was just that complete.
For her, though, it’s not like the children are dead. Rather, it’s like they’ve become a part of him, that man. The cheater. The abuser. So she doesn’t cry at night that they might as well be dead. She sits, instead, at the kitchen table drinking tea and licking a wound that will never go away. She’s been wronged, and she knows it. She also knows there’s no way to undo it. The kids could come, sure. They could sit at her table with her and talk about the weather. But she’d know, as she should have known before it happened, she could never trust them to talk about more than the weather.
So calculatingly she chooses not to buy gifts and cards this year. She almost did. She did last Christmas – sending the carefully chosen gift cards out with care and no expectation of return. Two months later the eldest contacted her again, but it was a short message. They’d moved before Christmas, it said, and although they did get their cards they’d only just gotten them last week. They’d been kicked from the house they’d shared with their father’s girlfriend and her parents. The eldest couldn’t give her the new address until “the drama died down”. They’d lost their job because of this and didn’t have a way to get a new one. But if Mom wanted to send another card in the future, she could just send them to the old address and they’d get their things eventually.
That was over a month ago.
At the time she read the message, stood up, and paced a while. It hurt, it really hurt, but more than anything it pissed her off. That was their father talking, even if the eldest didn’t mean to sound that way. She knew, though. Oh yes, she knew intimately every drama queen move that man made. She knew the over-complications and the excuses. It was always something with that man; some excuse not to work or improve upon his situation. A short while ago she’d noticed the eldest was turning out the same way.
It had been that way since the man left her, she’d mused. He’d never held down a job. There were no school photos. Visitations were always at his convenience, to the point that she found herself cancelling family plans for his last minute demands on more than one occasion. There were times he chose not to visit at all because he had a party to go to. He never wanted to give her an address to where he was at, as if she were going to do something to him in his sleep. Well, he always was a little paranoid – and charismatic. He once had several people convinced that he was terrified of her when – the secret truth – he had come at her with a knife one night because he’d heard a rumor.
Knowing what she knew, she blocked her eldest child from further contact that day. She’s cried a few times since then, but there’s no going back.
“There were people behind you, watching,” the youngest had said to her one day while barely hiding the amusement. “You were just getting on to me, and I was like keeping my face straight cuz there were all those people staring at you in the hallway.” The event had been a typical one for many families. The youngest had snuck to school in clothes that would make a whore blush. Mom had caught it and come down to make the youngest one change. Which meant that everyone and their nosy brother had witnessed the exchange in the school hallway.
But more, she realized that her youngest had taken on this very frightening trait from that man. It should have been a red flag, but she had trusted her child so completely.
Sometimes the TV shows heartfelt scenarios with battered women being defended by their brave sons and daughters. Seeing them makes her cry, because that never happened for her. Not in twenty years.
In twenty years the kids loved him so completely they adopted more from him than she could consider healthy. To them he could do no wrong. She wasn’t interested too much in portraying him as the bad guy through the years, but a little fairness was certainly in order. It angered her when the eldest came to her, blaming her because they didn’t have their social security card because that man had said she was keeping it from them. (Couldn’t they just get a new one themselves?) Or when she was accused of only wanting child support – that was just plain ludicrous. Hadn’t she voluntarily lowered the payments twice and then had the case closed?? It bothered her to the core when she found out that man and his mother were both going around telling people she was “unstable”. It still bothers her. Wasn’t she the one working her ass off to support the kids with no child support?
She overlooked all the times that man couldn’t be bothered to make an effort. She ignored the snide remarks that man’s girlfriend said on occasion and merely redoubled her efforts to be friends. For the kids’ sake she put up with a lot, no matter how much it hurt, because divorce counselors and other people in authority had told her that was what she was supposed to do. Be fair. Be nice. Don’t try to estrange the other parent.
Too late, she realizes that what those idiots had told her was how to be the bad guy and lose everything. Should have been wicked, she mutters sometimes. Not that she had it in her to be like that.
Should have taken them away to a far away state and never returned. Maybe then, she thinks, they wouldn’t have adopted his philosophies on how to treat her. And, possibly, others like her in the future.
So the birthdays have come, and for the first time she doesn’t lift a finger. She grieves, yes. She grieves. She knows there are estranged parents out there who would be furious at her decision. And there are a lot of ignorant idiots who blame her for not rebuilding the bridge.
She’s estranged from her children, but it’s her children that have made it impossible to be anything more.
Her eldest has blamed her repeatedly for the divorce. That man was the one who cheated on her. That man was the one who gave her a black eye for the first time in her life. That man was the one who had her so isolated that when he left she literally only had rags to wear.
When an ex-boyfriend threw a bowl at her head, her youngest said it was her fault.
When that man screamed curse words at her over the phone because she couldn’t make immediate arrangements for the visitation, the youngest was on his side.
There are so. Many. Times. that come up in her memories when there’s no getting around it: the biggest thing the children learned from their father was not to respect their own mother. Their mother is a punching bag, something to be taken for granted. So unwittingly they carried on their father’s abuse agenda as willing pawns, as is the case with most estranged parents.
When breaking the cycle of abuse you have to make sacrifice. You have to walk away from people you love if they’re hurting you. You have to love yourself enough to be strong. Others on the outside will blame you. They always do. They only see simple equations where the higher maths of the heart are lost.
But that doesn’t mean not buying those cards doesn’t hurt. Staying and being strong hurts.
She sits at her kitchen table drinking a glass of milk before going to bed. She doesn’t look at anything in particular, but she’s not staring off in the distance either. She’s just there, nursing her wound.
In her heart of hearts she makes a wish. It’s for her grandchildren, the little ones she’ll never get to meet. She prays deeply that her children’s children are taken away from them. If there’s any justice in the universe, she whispers, then my grandchildren will not know their parents.
Take them away- so that they can truly know love.