What Must Divide

Court is over. For now.

I still need to file a child support motion so I know I’ll be back sooner than later.

But tonight, I’m three days out from finally being done with the bullshit neglect charges that have resulted in him getting almost nothing that he filed for but gave me decision making powers over medical and educational issues (something I thought would take a couple more years to get the judge to grant).

And my daughter is over for her first overnight since court.

For the first time in six weeks he let the therapist recommended Facetime call go through. I saw her in her fuzzy PJs, smiling as she ate one of the dumdum suckers I sent with her to share with her dad and brother and tía. We smiled at each other and then I let her off the hook after a couple minutes. I don’t want to take his time. I always ask: do you want to talk or do you want to go? So far, it’s always go.

Her therapist said it was important for her to just know I was still there, still loving her, in order to help anchor her.

I love you with so many hearts you can’t count them even, she said as she held up her hands in a heart shape before saying goodbye and hitting the red X.

When I got home, I started cleaning out a closet. One I can’t clean while she’s here or she’ll be so up in it that cleaning will be a dream. It’s that closet we all have that always gathers everything. That I organize at least twice a year. And, still, it’s almost always too full near the door to close easily.

I had put the blue vinyl copy of The Lumineers III album on for the first time in months and months. The album that got me through the last half of September 2019, when I finally called it quits for good. The album that ripped my heart out and pieced it back together and helped me mourn so, so much last fall.

As I sang along and moved stuff out of the closet to sort through it all, I found the claim receipt from the jeweler I took my engagement ring to in August of 2017 to get cash and trade-in values on it. The only thing that’s left of that damn ring now that I’ve mailed it to the jeweler who will make it into something altogether new.

I looked at that claim receipt and the tears welled up. I tucked it away behind my shallow shelf of nail polish instead of dropping it in the shoe box of to get rid of/recycle. I sat on the step stool I had pulled out to reach the upper shelves of the closet and breathed quick, shallow breaths as I thought about the woman I was before September of last year.

She feels like someone I don’t even know anymore.

Wow, I haven’t really cried over this in a while I thought as I did some deep breaths and let the tears run off my chin and onto my knees.

Court puts me in survivor mode. Task task task. Focus focus stay focused for-fuck’s-sake-stay-focused mode.

Now? I can feel again. And again. Move past just surviving. Again.

I belong to numerous online support groups for parents like me.

Nine months ago, they were lifelines.

I am not alone.

Holy fuck, there are so many of us who understand the small assaults in a way no one else can.

So many of us who can tell the person who knows they should leave, but just can’t seem to make that leap, that life will get better – be so much better – once you come out of the confusion and collapse of your current life into a whole new one free from the emotional assaults.

The posts from these women (& men) make my chest ache for them while my heart fills with gratitude that I am no longer lost in that place.

Now: I chime in with experience. Court experience.

I’m a version of a success story.

Fuck. Me. This hell I’m in. It’s one of the better stories.

Today I commented back and forth with a woman whose sixteen year old son refused a visit with the dad and now mom has to be scared that she’ll be held in contempt. Her son was born a girl. And has a narcissist for a father. And the night before he refused to go back with dad, Dad’s girlfriend refused to call him by the right pronoun and made a joke of his life. And dad joined in. Didn’t step in for his son. So he had texted his mom that he was having SI (suicidal ideations) – using the acronym because mom and son have been here before – and mom had to decide whether to call in a wellness check because dad can’t be bothered to do the hard work of actual parenting or hope that texting her son through it would be enough for one more night.

The son made it through that night but refused to get in his dad’s car after a routine doctor’s appointment the next day and instead went into his mom’s car and stayed there. Refused.

Kids often buck the orders even though we adults are terrified of what that means for us long term.

So mom came to us all and asked what to do besides the emergency court motion she already had in place. How to protect herself. From the potential consequences of doing the right thing for her child.

I read another woman’s post asking when her ten year old daughter would get a say because she was refusing to go with her dad and mom knew she had to make her go or she might lose custody altogether. Dad and his wife left her at home all alone while they worked instead of letting her spend daytime hours with her mom, who was working at home, because winning was more important than the child’s desires. Comments stacked, from multiple countries, from parents whose children had, sometimes, successfully, but most often, unsuccessfully, refused visits with the toxic parent. Comments outlining the stark reality that neither court nor child services will care about the ten year old being left home alone day in and day out.

Family court is weird. And faulty.

Even though I’ve been luckier than most, I feel breathless each time I have to face it.

We spend an hour with a mediator, who makes recommendations to the judge that are likely adopted unless you show a reason they should not be taken wholesale.

An hour.

With a parent in the room – or on the phone – who has no qualms – zero – about lying.

In our most recent session, as I tried to correct an ‘error of fact’, x yelled over me: Stop lying!

It doesn’t matter I have the messages to back it up. The mediator doesn’t look at that before writing her report.

In fact, the last report took two weeks to get. I finally contacted her and asked for it. And it had important details, like what the current custody is, wrong.

So in the hearing, at the last second, I had to make sure the judge understood that. My lawyer had told him but he didn’t get what exactly she meant. And x wasn’t going to correct the judge because it was in his favor. But not in my daughter’s favor.

An hour with a mediator. And then maybe twenty minutes in front of the judge.

And then, boom: a court order.

Your child’s life laid out in handy increments and bullet points. Letters for the mediator recommendations, numbers for what you asked for instead (or in addition). Your notes scribbled on the report until the final draft comes, weeks later, even though the changes, generally, are immediately effective.

It’s a game. And so you strategize. If you will be happy with B, but it would be awesome if you were granted A, you ask for A. Then B is a compromise and the court loves compromise.

And – bonus: if you get B, x thinks he won and you lost, so maybe he won’t come after you so hard post-order.

You come away winning (for you, meaning that you protect your daughter as much as you can right now) while letting x think he won. To protect you both from his wrath.

What a fucked up system.

An hour and a half at most for the actual layout of your child’s life to be decided.

I’m lucky.

I’ll say it again: I’ve been lucky.

I’ve worked hard. I’ve done a lot right. But I’ve also been luckier than most.

And still: my daughter needs therapy to process the things her dad says to her. She needs therapy to build boundaries and critical thinking skills, because I CAN NOT (for her own well-being) tell her the truth about her dad so she has to be equipped with the tools to see it for herself.

So she doesn’t take it on herself.

Children take the blame. Always. Unless we show them how not to take that burden on for us.

I can’t tell her: Baby, it’s not you – you are infinitely lovable and valuable – it’s just who he is and how he behaves. It really has nothing at all to do with you.

I have to let go that he’ll buck medical advice in regards to pandemics because it’s inconvenient for him and he hates rules. And I can’t ask for certain things, or he’s sure to do the opposite.

I have to let go that he will maybe feed her, maybe not. Will maybe feed her stuff that, literally, makes her shit blood. Because I just made that up anyway since I’m such a liar.

And you can’t go to the courts with all of this. Pick your battles is a common mantra, and has a whole other level of meaning, for those of us parenting with sociopaths.

I cried tonight because I’ve spent the last two months in mama bear mode. Because I’ve been bullet-pointing and message-confirming the shit out of two and a half single space pages of bullshit he did in just one month that fucks with her tender little brilliant mind.

I cried because what I did worked. He didn’t really get what he wanted. And I got a little more of what I need.

Because, at least for now, for tonight, I can cry.

My daughter won’t hear. I don’t have a pending court date. And I’ve made progress.

It may have cost me thousands of dollars to fight his ex parte, but thanks to a judge who isn’t shining things on, I have a little more protection than I did before his bullshit filings.

I cried because everything I went through in the last two months is, in fact, a blessing of sorts.

Think about that: I weathered being called a psycho and abuser and liar and I have to recognize that as a blessing.

I cried because so many of these mamas (& papas) that I commiserate with have even less. And my heart breaks for them.

Why do you say all this personal shit? Ugh. Why would you even share this?

Because for those of us in these particular trenches, silence and solitude is the norm.

Fuck that. This is hard. Really fucking hard.

So hard that some parents give up custody and move away and huddle into a ball just so they can live free from the attacks.

Really. They do.

People who love their children just as much as we do.

And I get why.

I can’t do that. I just can’t. But I get it.

(If you know someone fighting this battle, don’t minimize it. Tell them you know it’s hard and you know you can’t really understand but you are thinking of them, sending them love, sending them strength.

We need that. Our kids need that. Need us to stay connected so we can stay strong and protect them as much as the law will let us.)

I cried tonight because I’m tired and my daughter is only five. And these other mamas are fighting years ahead of where I’m at – so I know I can. But I’m tired.

Tears. A word that can be very different things.

For me, it’s both tonight.

Sometimes we cry it out: the tension, the pain, the frustration. Sometimes even the wins. So we can refocus and re-calibrate. So we can rip apart the bad stuff and piece it back together and make it strong again. Stronger.

Until our next court date, I have a normal again. Not my ideal normal, but not the worst, either. Blessedly a good distance away from the worst. I can work with this normal.

I kept that appraisal receipt because that ring wasn’t worth much more than that tiny cotton candy flavored dumdum sucker my daughter waved in front of that camera, both literally and figuratively.

Me, keeping that ring and remaking it, eventually, is worth it all. Her self, my self, our future, her future. The truth.

Remembering how little it was worth before recreating it anew is my water right now: sustaining and draining and what will keep me afloat.

So I let myself cry. To buoy me. To pull apart what needs to divide. To fill my cells and push me forward.

Published by UnGastheLight

I write to be able to live and live because I can write to make sense of it all.

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