Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Missing Twelve

Twelve is spending spring break with her other biological parent, about two thousand miles away from where I'm spending spring break with R and three thousand away from our home. I've spent the last few days trying not to think about it, but I've finally given up and thought about it:

I hate this.

It's not so much that I don't like being away from Twelve. Her whole life, I've not minded taking a few days' break now and again. True, now that she's Twelve, I've been more reluctant to spend time apart because I am so cherishing this time and so fearing its end. However, the yucky feeling in the pit of my stomach these last few days is mostly about the 'other biological parent' part.

I don't want to go into too much detail here because I can feel the adrenaline flowing, so I'll just sketch out the basics. When Twelve was an infant, I was married to her dad, but his participation was minimal - let's just say I think he changed a diaper occasionally. When she was 18 months old, he moved out. He saw her a couple of times a month for a day at a time for the next couple of years. Then, when the army moved him out of state, we pretty much did not hear from him for about four years. I think he saw her once during that time, called a few times, never once put a stamp on anything addressed to her.

When Twelve was seven, I got an email demanding that I put her on an airplane and send her, alone, to the other side of the continent for Christmas. I demurred: Surely it would be better for her if you came here to visit? She's never been on a plane and she hasn't seen you in two years.

No. Put her on the plane. You are keeping me from seeing my child. I will take you to court.

Eventually, fearing expensive legal hassles, I gave in. I negotiated him down to a length of time that I could talk her into being comfortable with. Reluctantly, I packed her suitcase and drove her to the airport.

What did she do? My precious girl hugged me goodbye with a smile and sauntered nonchalantly down the gangway.

Even now, more than four years later, I still get choked up thinking about it. Somehow, all by myself, I had raised a girl who could do that. Just hop on a plane like it's no biggie. (When I tell this story in person, there's even a carefree sound effect: 'Doot doot doot doot dooooooo.')

Now, of course, Twelve is a seasoned traveler. She packs her own bags and complains about long flights. The last few times, she's flown on an airline that doesn't require her to have the special unaccompanied minor service, and she loves it. In December, I was reminding her to ask someone at the desk to help her find her connecting flight, and I could see the wheels turning: "I can see you thinking! You're thinking you're just going to figure it out for yourself, aren't you!" I exclaimed. Twelve smiled sheepishly and admitted to it. We both grinned.

That's my girl.

If only she was going to visit someone else, someone I trust. We've got people like that, in Colorado Springs and Boston and Winston-Salem and Atlanta and small towns in coastal Maine. But she's going to spend time with someone whose emails to me are hostile, threatening, demanding, and intimidating. Someone who recently dragged me through a ridiculously expensive court battle, even though I repeatedly offered to settle - and on terms much more favorable to him than what we got. Someone who has never once contacted me just to ask how Twelve's doing. Someone who, I've concluded, doesn't really give a shit about her except to 'have' her in his family.

To Twelve, I refer to him as 'your dad,' entirely for her benefit. I blame the English language for not providing a more accurate term for those who are a bare something more than sperm donors but don't do any of the parenting. It makes me crazy angry that such people are allowed to take credit for the wonderful children that other people raise. For twelve years, I've dedicated my life to the project of Twelve, and done it pretty well. Guess why she was able to hop on that plane with aplomb when she was eight? Guess why she's so helpful with your little girls? Guess why she's so much fun to give presents to? Because of me, you jackass. Admit you've done jack shit to raise her, quit being a douchebag to me, and take some time off work to actually get to know her.

Ugh. I keep hoping that eventually I'll make sense of this; that I'll achieve closure. Maybe I'm thinking about it too much, or not enough, or ineffectively. Maybe I am secretly hoping that someday it will just go away, somehow. On Saturday, Twelve and I will meet at the airport and take the train home, and - if I'm lucky once again - everything will be fine, back to ever-shifting normal.

Cross your fingers for me? Thanks.

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