And then it was Angelina’s turn to dance. Her heart started beating like a drum and she couldn’t remember what she was supposed to be doing.From Angelina and the Princess by Katharine Holabird
This is what it’s like to ‘co’parent with a narcissistic parent
(this is what it’s like when you’re free): you work hard to make hand-offs smooth.
The x refuses to let that happen.
You problem solve and set a new routine with a boundary to try to eliminate the conflict. They call you petty and controlling.
They find a new way to try to start conflict.
You come up with a new work around and attempt at more peaceful transitions.
Shampoo, rinse, repeat.
Sometime in the beginning of overnight visits, you open the door for an overnight visitation and try to hand your child’s suitcase to dad and he plants his feet and stands still and stares at you. He doesn’t budge.
You are, somewhat surprisingly, a little shocked.
He says bring it to me.
Which would mean more time for him to make your child uncomfortable. More verbal jabs as you step down and then back up to the porch.
Every cell in your whole body hums nonononono.
Your daughter is the one who asked you to carry the suitcase out and hand it to dad because she needed two stuffed animals to feel safe going overnight and couldn’t carry both of those and her suitcase.
So you carried it out onto the porch. Even though you knew the risk.
Because she needed you to. Wanted you to. For her.
You go half the distance and extend your arm. He shifts his weight onto the other foot and says is it so hard to just bring it all the way to me?
As he says those words, he raises his eyebrows, smirks and cocks his hip.
Before he even finishes the sentence, before you can decide if getting closer is a good idea, your child sets both stuffed animals on the ground outside and runs up to you.
She reaches her little five year-old’s hand out to grab the suitcase and says it’s ok, mama, I’ll take it. I love you.
You don’t want her to have to do this. You see her teddie bears sitting on the dirty driveway. You look at her eyes that are pleading with you in quick flashes to let her help.
So you let go and say thank you, bubba and kiss the top of her head.
He smirks and walks over to her and says, full of sugar and sap, here, baby, give it to me, I’ll carry it.
She picks up her teddie bears and dusts them off and walks with him toward his car.
By Monday you decide to send her on the next overnight with only the clothes she’s wearing and let him provide clothes for his time. So your child can carry what she needs to feel secure and isn’t the one stuck in the middle of his rage for you.
After all, he’s a parent and not a babysitter, right? He can have what she needs. He should have whatever she needs.
Weeks later, he comes to the door and glares when you open it. He has his son glare at you. A smirk stretches out from the sides of x’s mouth when he sees how well he’s bent his son against you.
Your child retreats fully behind you inside the entryway, suddenly afraid to leave – but not really to leave – to leave you. Afraid for you even though you tell her it’s all ok, bubba. You go and I’ll see you tomorrow.
She runs inside and hides under a coffee table. Says she won’t go.
Screams she won’t go.
She runs and throws herself under your bed. Screams no again and again.
You spend twenty minutes making her feel safe enough to go.
Even though everything in your body hums nononononono.
Don’t make her go.
As you’re doing this, as you’re coaxing her out from under the table and modeling calmness for her despite the thrum of all your cells telling you this can’t possibly be what you have to do right now, x sends you several messages about how you need to follow the court order and get her out to him and you’re already in violation.
Within days, you decide that for the next visitation weekend, you will try saying goodbyes before you open the door and then try opening the door enough to let her out and immediately close it so she doesn’t see him seeing you and the way he looks at you.
You do it. It works. He doesn’t see you and she doesn’t try to refuse.
He sends you a message, within minutes of driving away with her, that you slammed the door on your own child as she was trying to say I love you to you.
Wow, good job, mom he says.
The door was gently closed. As she said I love you more for the third time, which you did not expect.
She wasn’t upset at all by the goodbye. She says this herself when she comes home the next day when you start to apologize if it felt like you cut her off.
It’s clear that you still haven’t found the right way yet to make it conflict-proof.
So you figure out a way to wait in the backyard for him to come for pick ups. You can hug her goodbye and send her off to him without him seeing you at all. She just walks down the driveway to him and when she comes home, you wait back there at drop-off time, gate open for her to walk through to show you’re there and waiting.
You can always see it’s him on your security camera and you make sure to say hello to her loud enough at drop off that he can tell you are there with her.
At first, he starts sending you messages that he can’t tell if she’s safe when he drops her off and you’re just letting her wander down the street.
He usually gets in his car and leaves without even waiting for your loud hello, but you say it louder for a while – make a game of fake scaring her (which she loves) or hug-tackling her to get her to laugh and say, out loud, Mama!
Sometimes, he just gets in his car and stares down your driveway for what feels like forever but is really only five minutes. When he does that it doesn’t matter how loud your hello is to her. He’ll still tell whatever story he wants.
Eventually, he sends you messages that she would stop trying to refuse his visits (yes, she still does this over a year out now) if you’d just walk her out to his car – it’s not that hard.
But you remember trying this early on. Her clinging to your leg or latching her arms around your waist and refusing to let go. You trying to hand her over to him, kicking and screaming, as you are legally bound to do until told otherwise, and him just standing there leaning against his car, calm and expressionless.
Everything in your body humming nonononono.
You remember him saying, in front of her, well, if you’d stop walking all the way out here, holding her hand, she’d leave with me just fine.
So you keep on with the new driveway/backyard routine. It works well. She’s still saying she won’t go pretty much every time, but you get her to make that walk every time, even when she spends twenty minutes screaming No No No at him down the length of the driveway.
Even when he lets her run back inside to you three times and sends several messages saying it’s your job to get her out there to him. Apparently for an endless number of times because he is leaned against his car, eating a bag of chips, not even trying to convince her to go as he types these messages to you. As you coax an angry child out the door too many times to count.
She goes a few weeks without actually refusing.
She cries on the way home when you remind her. She says, I just saw him yesterday!
She says, I don’t want to go but I have to so I will.
She’s resigned most days to going and so she does.
You start to relax and count on the ease of that driveway walk without even realizing it.
One day, weeks and weeks later, for reasons you can’t know, he stops her as she exits the gate and tells her to go get a jacket. Even though it’s 57 degrees and sunny and she’s walking out willingly and not refusing at all.
She refuses his request and tries to walk out to him but he motions for her to stop and go back and says over and over get me a jacket. He motions with his hands like he’s buttoning a coat and repeats a jacket – get me a jacket.
She throws her homework pouch down onto the driveway. It all spills out on the ground.
(You don’t know this part yet. You’re inside praying a mamas prayer that she’ll go.
As everything in your body is humming nonononono.)
She walks back through the gate and climbs the back stairs and comes to the back door.
You’ve gone inside to encourage him taking charge of his parenting time and to try to keep her from asking you to let her stay home. So you don’t have to hear, please, mama, I’m not going!
She pounds on the back door.
You know what’s been happening because you can hear it from inside.
You grab a sweatshirt and try to hand it to her and usher her back out the door.
You know he’ll call the police and you don’t want your daughter to have to tell them she doesn’t want to go and for this to stretch out if you can smooth it over for now.
At least until you have your pending court hearing over these episodes.
Before you can plead, again, with the court to let her have an easier schedule, better protections from his chaos, supervision so he’ll be on his best behavior.
You hold a sweatshirt out to her. She shakes her head no at first. She can’t even speak to you because she is so upset.
She stomps with her left foot three times, hard, and grunts.
You keep holding it out and say please, bubba, it’s ok.
Your body humming. Nonononono. Nonononono. Nonononono .
She starts to put the sweatshirt on backwards, so it would zip in the back, and her expression changes from pure anger to a tentative question mark.
You want to wear it like that? you ask.
Ok – that’s ok with me.
Even in that moment, right then, you know it’s the only control she feels like she has and so why would you say no to that?
You get her to go out to him but as you’re walking her down the back stairs, she asks you to walk her to his car.
You cringe inside. You know what that will mean, especially when he is this antagonisitc and agitated.
The hum in your body amplifies. The Nononos pushed together into just one long nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn sound.
You tell her you’ll walk her to bottom of the stairs like normal and she looks up at you, halfway down the stairs, her eyes suddenly seem to be turning down at the edges like frowns, in a way that lets you know she is about to cry, and she says please, mama, don’t be like Daddy.
Your chest constricts and you feel the precursor to tears in the corners of your eyes. Your breath literally catches in your throat and you make a small noise like air escaping your pores.
You walk her to the gate, despite the hum, and that’s when you see her papers and workbooks all over the ground, her hard case open and sitting in the dirt.
She’s standing next to that spot and staring at it, deflated.
x, help her pick this up, please.
He’s standing on the sidewalk and not moving. Your daughter stomps her foot and starts to cry.
Nope. Can’t. I’m not allowed on your property. Not. Allowed. Not gonna do it. Nope.
He says this over and over, as you go through the gate and help her. You stack the papers and workbooks in her arms to try to make this as fast as possible. He’s still repeating himself, loudly, and waving his arms to up the drama.
You walk back in the gate quickly to try to keep her from running back with you.
That damn hum. Nonononono. No. No. Nonono.
Her papers fall again.
You hear it and turn around.
You say please, x, help her with those. It’s your time and you need to help her.
Lots of things are racing rapidly through your brain so fast you don’t even consciously know until the whole ordeal is over that they are why you didn’t just walk back out the gate and help, again, when he won’t.
There’s the hum, but it’s also so many thoughts and they are all there at once and stacked on each other and you know you can’t listen to them all but they won’t be quieted either.
You want this all to stop and think if he helps her it will stop more quickly.
You want to get out of his sight so he will stop being able to target you so your child can feel safe again.
You know he tells the court he wants as much time as he can have with her and that he’s a parent, too, so you want him to parent. Even though you know that word might as well be a synonym for potato when it comes to him.
For all these reasons and more, including your own racing heart and scared core that knows he’d kill you if he thought he could get away with it, you ask him to help her again even though you should know he won’t do anything to end the chaos he’s clearly enjoying.
He starts in again with Nope. I’m not allowed. I’m not gonna do it. No way. Nope. That’s trespassing.
At least six or seven times.
Keeps chanting it as you walk back out and help your daughter carefully put her papers back into the hard case and you secure the strap back on it.
You mumble way to reduce conflict, x because you still fail just a little sometimes at saying nothing.
You kiss your daughter on the forehead and tell her you love her and then put your hand gently on her back to suggest forward motion.
She walks toward him but looks back and says I love you, more.
You go inside quickly. You see he’s sent you three messages while all of this was going on. You don’t open them. They can wait until tomorrow.
He sends you one more before he drops her off later that night. You leave that one to wait, too.
When your daughter comes home two hours later, before you’ve even closed the gate behind her, she says, Mama, remember when we thought Daddy was late and he was really scary and he punched the car?
Yes, baby, I do.
I was thinking about that.
How does thinking about that make you feel?
You pick her up and carry her in the house even though she’s a jazillion feet tall now and you don’t correct her that daddy was late because you know he’s told her the story that mommy was wrong about that so many times and it’s not important in this moment at all.
When you read the messages the next morning, they ask why you sent her out without a jacket in the winter. Why don’t you have a backpack for her. Does he need to get her one so she doesn’t drop all of her homework. The last one says that you clearly don’t respond to emergency messages in a timely manner so he should just be able to call or text you.
You wait a couple of days and respond to his messages with facts: a sceeenshot of the weather, the fact she said she’d just wear one of the ones daddy has in his car, that her homework didn’t fall but was thrown when she became upset that he stopped her from coming to him, that he had run halfway up your driveway just two nights earlier to try to make her hug him goodbye one more time at drop off that night and didn’t seem at all concerned there’d be any negative consequences.
You send this reply so it’s there for court.
And to make sure he remembers that you know the truth and will state it as many times as needed. If not to him, to court and to the world.
That you see very clearly now. And you are not confused at all. Hum or no hum.
You think, it isn’t surprising that your daughter has started having skin rashes and hive type reactions during or after every visitation for weeks now. And that they always resolve once home.
You keep a food log. You ask him to do that also and he lasts two visits before declaring he’ll just tell you if she eats anything out of the ordinary.
After three weeks of different skin reactions, you contact her doctor. At the doctor’s suggestion, you schedule an allergy appointment. At that doctor’s suggestion, you schedule a skin test.
You notify x of all of this, ask for his help to see if it’s some new soap, cleaner, lotion at his house.
He blames you every time.
In each message you send to update him, you tell him to please let you know if he has any questions or concerns. Crickets.
He’s refusing to give her the allergy medicine her doctor recommended to help get her body out of fight mode because you didn’t send any.
Even after you’ve stated twice that it’s his responsibility.
He keeps sending messages stating it’s noted that you didn’t send any. Second request. Third request. Fourth request.
An $8.99 bottle of OTC medicine.
It’s so hard not to say If you’ll accept the same rights as her babysitters, then I will treat you like one and provide everything.
It’s so hard not to say, Should I send water and food, too. A first aid kit in case? Some toilet paper to make up for what she uses at your house?
It’s hard not to cry over what your child doesn’t get. Over the middle ground he keeps planting her firmly in when he makes chaos all around him like it’s air to breathe.
Hard not to cry for what she must endure to know both parents, to try to love us both.
But you don’t. Cry.
Instead, you hold her on your lap, face to face, with her back exposed in an allergy specialist’s office as a physician’s assistant pricks her back twenty-eight times and she screams and screams and cries and glares at you.
You hum a lullabye in her ear and when that doesn’t help, you just repeat softly, your mouth right up against the side of her face It’s ok, baby, it’ll be over soon.
Over and over.
You’re saying this to yourself, too. Restraining a screaming child is a hell all its own. You want to cry. You want to scream, too.
You can’t. Not there.
That hum. Your body. Hers, too. You can feel hers saying nonononono.
You ask her, when the pricks are finally done, Are you mad at me?
And she says, Yes. You said it would feel like a scratch!
And she sobs with her whole body.
She lets you hold her, though. You let her watch videos on your phone as you wait fifteen minutes for them to be able to read the results.
She watches a video about a dog rescued by a sanctuary farm who learned to walk on three legs.
She leans into you and lets you massage her head.
You can’t even tell right then if your body is humming because the hum has started to feel normal sometimes. Like the sound of your own blood flowing.
Realizing that makes your brain start to hum.
Fifteen long minutes and then nothing. She’s allergic to nothing. Not a significant reaction in any of the twenty-eight pricks.
You are relieved to see what you already know: she’s not allergic to the cats. Or the dog.
But all those no’s along with the fact that there’s nothing to indicate it’s a food, means it’s likely what you have feared all along – it’s possible that it’s stress and anxiety coming out of her skin.
You’ve heard from someone (who x doesn’t know is talking to you) that she’s been ‘calmer’ on her weekends with him.
You know he hasn’t changed. So it’s her.
She’s holding it in. She’s learning fast what we all learn eventually.
She’s already told you she didn’t tell him about your dog dying a few months ago.
Because he won’t understand and he won’t care.
Same with many other things lately.
She holds all kinds of things in when she’s with him.
So it’s coming out of her body another way.
You leave that appointment exhausted and relieved and also newly sad for her.
These things are maybe ten percent of the things you’ve taken into your hand in the last year and had to turn over and over, side to side to top to bottom, to try to find a new way to do what the court says you have to do in order to make it as easy on her as possible.
What you endure is really nothing compared to her going through it. Going to him and being marinated in it, for even a small amount of time.
Tonight, he refused to do her homework with her in order to celebrate his birthday. He’s in his 50s and his birthday was the day before. He could celebrate with her on the upcoming overnight.
He made her watch a movie she’s already seen and made her stop her homework in the middle of it. When she gets home and none of it can be turned in for credit, she stomps her foot and starts to cry. Grunts at you and walks off to sit by herself for a few minutes before calling you over to the couch so she can read you Wrapped in Love.
After tooth brushing and pajamas and tucking in, she calls you back in to her room, after she’s already read you two more bedtime stories in that lovely, stilted, robotic voice of a child just learning how to sound out whole sentences, stumbling arrhythmically over new words or complicated sounds.
Mama! Come here, please.
She wants to read you a passage from Angelina and the Princess.
“It’s not fair! said Angelina.
Maybe not, her mother said gently, but things don’t always go our way.
You can still do your best with whatever part you are given, and that will help the whole performance. “
We’ll get through this, mija.
Mama’s got your back.
Even when all you feel is prick after prick after prick. Even when we can’t find a specific thing to fix it or even why those pricks have to happen at all.
Even (especially) when the hum in both of our bodies becomes deafening.
Or so normal we think it’s our own blood pumping, our own lungs expanding, our own eyes blinking to keep our eyes from stinging.
Together. We can do this.
We can make a song of this cacophony.
A love song.
It’s not fair, but it’s what we have.