He said, ‘If you’re gonna play the game, boy
You gotta learn to play it right
You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away…’
The Gambler – Kenny Rogers.
This is what ‘co’parenting with a narcissist is like: Your kid trips running back to them to hug them goodbye one more time at drop off – she trips over a box you left at the bottom of the stairs that she’s already walked past twice – and as you grab her arm and keep her from falling and pull her toward you and say ‘ay, mija, are you OK?’ He stands a little taller and says, ‘maybe you shouldn’t have that there’.
You know this game. You know it too well.
So you ignore it and kiss your daughter’s shin and stand her up to go to him.
And he says, ‘I’m just saying’ and shrugs his shoulders and smirks what he thinks is a smug superiority but you now recognize as a delusional, pathetic cruelty.
You say, ‘thank you for the input’ not only because you know this game, but you know that your daughter doesn’t need to be in the middle of any of this.
He hugs her and says, ‘maybe your mom should try to keep you safe.’
And then your daughter turns around to face him after already starting to walk away and tells him, ‘she can have that there – it’s fine – it’s her house.’
And your heart breaks a little right then.
Because she doesn’t know the game yet. She defends you. While her leg stings. As she ends her hug. As she walks back to you.
Her tiny little heart and mind is right where you didn’t want it when you ignored his bait.
In the game.
Right in the middle of it.
When she gets inside and you’re both safely upstairs and out of earshot of him, she tells you she’s a little mad and thinks you shouldn’t have had that file box right there.
She says it matter of fact and you’ve been working really hard to help her name and find words for her feelings and so you’re proud of her for telling you that. For being able to say it so clearly and calmly.
You apologize. And ask her to make sure she says her goodbyes before walking in and up the stairs so there’s no confusion.
You don’t want to close the door too early and seem rude, you say. She says she understands.
You both hug.
And your heart breaks a little more.
Because she was upset about it but hid all of that in front of him and defended you.
In. The. Game.
You console yourself that she feels safe with you. That she’ll tell you the truth even when she thinks you might not like it. Even when the truth is that she is a little upset with you.
This gives you hope. For her. For who she’ll grow up to be, despite.
And there’s also this: you didn’t take the bait. He swung three times and you didn’t take it. He struck out.
Those of you who’ve been on that metaphorical porch know the Herculean feat it is to not call that person out on their selfish, delusional bullshit.
The spiritual muscle it takes to stay silent in those barbed moments.
Know the circles you find yourself lost in the arc of as you try to, first, defend yourself and clarify the truth and then, by the end, you just try to understand how you ended up the one to blame for it all and why you’re crying and how in the fucking world you got lost in the words so thoroughly that you have what they literally call a kind of abuse amnesia so that you can’t even remember what started it all.
It’s why so many smear campaigns work so well. Those of us being baited can look downright crazy before we learn to be quiet and document. To shut up and keep walking. To show the truth only to people who will listen. People who will believe.
I have a video court date this week for his accusations of neglect.
So I could have predicted exactly what he would do if she tripped or fell or scratched her face or got a bruise this week.
And I also know what a normal, sane person would say about the incident tonight. I don’t get lost in the reality he tries to create anymore.
I could have predicted exactly what approach he’d take in that exact moment.
That doesn’t stop the disappointment at being one hundred percent right about that (and him).
Doesn’t make not laughing or not flipping him off or not telling him to fuck right off with that crazy shit any easier, though. Not really.
It makes it possible. But not easy.
And it doesn’t stop you from wishing on anything wishable that your daughter, already at five years old, didn’t feel the need to defend you to someone she should feel safe being honest around. Someone who should never put her in that position.
Doesn’t keep you from mourning the fact that she won’t tell him she wishes that box wasn’t there, too, because she already knows, in that wordless place children have, that he is attacking you in those innocuous little sentences.
I wish. On all the stars.
That she learns faster than I wished she’d have to a year ago. How to not play the game.
That she learns quickly that I don’t need defending.
Mama’s got this, baby.
Let’s just get to the bandaids and the apologies and the plans for how to do it better next time.
The rest is all a game we can’t afford to play anymore. We’ve got much better stuff to do.
Let him make it a game of solitaire.