Monday, August 31, 2009

Missing the children

Three days of driving left my neck sore and the cold stark landscape of New Hampshire to the balmy swaying palms of the east coast of Florida.

The usual sense of joy that accompanied this southward journey was joined by a strong feeling of sadness, as this trip was different from others.

I pushed the 9 button on the condo elevator and felt my heart weigh heavily.  The same button that required careful negotiation to decide who would get to push it, Sam or Emily.  My finger was where their fingers had been only months before.  I could feel the coolness up my arm and smell the chlorine dripping bathing suits, seasoned with salt.  But I couldn't hear the stream of consciousness talk, the open conversations with strangers, some of whom listened, some of whom did not. I couldn't touch and hug the cool supple skin. 

Upstairs to a once-lived in grandmother's home.  A grandmother of two children, Sam and Emily.  And long before those two were born, it was the home of festive dinners hosting the kids' future parents, courting and in love.  Married in Florida 6 1/2 years ago.  The dream and the grandmother were left behind to move to a better, unknown place and the condo was seldom seen but for annual visits.  The grandmother was seldom seen until she moved to the cold north, leaving behind her dream also to help the struggling couple and to be with the missed children.

Resentments grew, jealousy raged, secrets once told and received tenderly with compassion were now distorted into unrecognizable monsters called lies.  One judge, limited, overworked, governed the outcome of so many lives with inadequate time to handle this business of his.

The children know nothing of this.  Only that divorce stinks and they don't know, at the ages of 3 and 6, where to place their allegiance, whose fault it must be.  The parents have it easier than the children as they can simply hate each other despite the stacks of love letters offering a gazillion percent certainty that you are the one.  The bridal dress sits neglected in a closet in the condo in Florida where we were married.

6 1/2 years ago I turned forty and boldly stumbled into the worst mistake of my life.  I've now given up the dream I had worked hard to earn, living in Florida, having a boat, a secure future. and am stuck in a place I despise because the two most important people in my life are here.  I dream of showing them all the knowledge of the southern waters that I learned, taking them for beachwalks, fishing, camping trips where we could snorkel and gather dinner.  That won't happen, made more painful by the fact that it once was mine. 

6 1/2 years entitled her to half of my money and half of my children and I was lucky in each case to keep half.  Cracks in my armor were attacked by hammers and chisels after the kisses were wiped away with alcohol and the once tenderly placed bandaids were removed.

An impulse can be costly and being an impulsive person, even if only one who tries to please, is a dangerous way to live life.  An expensive way to simplify things. 

When we started the divorce process, we were required to attend a class on divorce, discussing the process as well as the impact on the children.  This really provided no help at all.  More helpful would have been a class discussing the marriage and its failures, and why it was necessary to end it.  Whose fault was it?  Who turned out to be unfaithful to the person he or she purported to be before getting married?  I guess that's what marriage counseling is for, except that it does not work.  Perhaps it should be required as an ongoing part of any marriage so that it might be there before it's too late.  Perhaps the classes should be given before one gets married, explaining the realities and harshness of lives together, and allowing one to be realistic and tear up the love notes filled with lies while there is still time to save yourself, rather than years later when filled with bitterness, anger, and children that have to suffer through it.

There should be a divorce penalty.  There should be a required waiting period before getting married, just like before buying a gun.  There should be a required waiting period before having children.  There should be a required waiting period before having a divorce. 

I receive a letter from my attorney saying that the court has set a hearing date in a few months because apparently "the court" has become tired of waiting for my wife and me to submit a parenting plan.  Instead, the judge will dictate one, along with the help of the well meaning, but limited in her knowledge of my family, Guardian Ad Litem.  Of course I can't be impatient when I request a court date and have to wait months.  I have lost faith in justice.  THE COURT where justice is served like soggy food in a cheap Chinese buffet.  I recall early in the divorce, the emphasis on the welfare of the children.  At this point we have two people who hate each other working together to devise a parenting plan that serves the needs of their children and puts their own hurt aside.  A true system of justice would have a judge call each parent to see how it is going.  "Oh, you're making good progress, the kids are doing well?  Great, keep up the good work but please try to get it done soon" would be nice.  What we have is a machine without emotion, trying to move a large pile of papers from the inbox to the outbox.  Humanity is not served.  Nor are children, except perhaps children who are truly in danger, who are sent to places I know nothing about.  I'm not sure how much faith I'd have in that process if I knew more about it.  Our society is too busy making money to care about social well-being.  It's expensive.

I wonder why the process of marriage is formal, as if it were a contract.  I know of no other contract that is so important, and no other contract that is so easy to get out of.  Try breaking your lease.  It's harder than breaking your marriage and far less important.  I have important looking papers telling me that my marriage is official, a marriage "license".  People who are denied this option fight for it.  I can understand the desire to be treated equally, but I can't help but wonder if they're better off.

People speak of the resiliency of children in divorce.  I have not found this to be a soothing salve.  Ultimately it seems like an excuse for a system that pays little attention to the real needs of children and is unwilling to pony up for the services that would really help them.  This is typical of social programs in our culture.  Choose what is cheap and explain it away.  Kids are resilient.  Don't worry, they'll be OK.  Addicted?  12 Steps.  Cheap, and a dismal failure.  Expensive to society, but we are more interested in how much our house is worth, until an addict moves into the neighborhood.

I push the nine button and walk the familiar steps, feeling tears start to build.  Tears of loneliness, tears of sadness, and tears of pain for two children who had parents that shouldn't have passed the test to be allowed to have children.  Two sweet children who are confused and damaged, even though the system, and everyone else, says how well they are and will be. 

I resist the urge to throw away the wedding dress.  It is Emily's now.  I start to pick up toys from our last hurried leaving months ago, hula skirts, beach toys, stickers from the dentist, and start unpacking my own things.

Are my children resilient?  I suspect that depends on how my ex wife and I behave.  Everything I've read indicates that the most important factor in helping children adjust healthfully to divorce is to have parents that get along.  This seems to be an area where some resources would be worth providing, considering the large number of children of divorce who will grow up to become adults, changed, if not damaged, by the failure of their home to remain secure and reliable.

I could go upstairs and read, undisturbed as I had so often wanted to, and I would.  I would see my friends and be able to stay out late.  But there is no justification for two selfish people ignoring the vows of marriage to pursue their own happiness while letting the children manage.

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