Friday, April 27, 2012

Stay Focused, Eyes on the Prize, Follow Your Instincts

I'm shaking with adrenaline. This is what happens when I've been exchanging emails with my ex about his time with Twelve.

For over two years, I've been dealing with an annoying legal situation that he initiated. Basically, after five years of almost no contact with Twelve and three years of two or three annual visits, he wanted me to pay for half of the costs of her visiting him six times a year. While I obviously have no issue with her visiting him as much as possible, there's no possible way that I can afford to pay for half of the cost.

His income is five times mine. He pays less than ten percent of his income as child support.

The short version is that after months of fruitless negotiation, we ended up going to trial, a process that cost me thousands of dollars. Thousands. We now have a very expensive official document that indicates the time he's supposed to spend with Twelve. I am highly motivated to follow this official document; after all, I spent the equivalent of two years' rent on it. When it says that he "shall have the child for two (2) three-week blocks" in the summer and that "the summer parenting time may be exercised as one (1) six-week block" if "the nonresidential parent has maintained regular meaningful contact with the child since the parties' separation," I am all about doing what it says: Two three week visits sounds about right.

He wants one (1) six-week visit. Keep in mind that from age three to age seven, Twelve saw her father perhaps three times. There may have been a half dozen phone conversations. She's never once received anything in the mail addressed by his hand. I have pretty good powers of reading comprehension and scored really, really high on the verbal portion of the GRE, so I'm confident that his contact with "the child" has been neither regular nor meaningful since we separated. Therefore, logic indicates two three-week visits.

Now, I may not have an extensive knowledge of child development; I haven't read any books on the subject of how long it's okay for a twelve-year-old to spend away from home. I haven't really even grilled my Child-and-Family-Therapist friend about it. Guess what? I don't need expert advice on this one. I've got instincts, and the thought of Twelve going for a six-week visit gives me an awful feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach.

I don't believe in 'mothering instincts' as an essential characteristic of females who gestate and give birth. There are plenty of women for whom mothering doesn't come naturally and doesn't feel instinctive. For me, though, being Twelve's mommy has been almost 100% instinctive - or at least felt that way. Yes, I've had excellent resources in the form of a middle class family and a very committed and involved full-time mother. Even though I've undoubtedly learned a lot without necessarily knowing it, the practice of mothering has been very natural for me. So, when I say that Twelve being gone for six weeks straight this summer seems like a terrible idea, I mean that TWELVE SHOULD NOT BE GONE FOR SIX WEEKS THIS SUMMER.

Finally, common ground with Sarah Palin! 'Mama Bear Mother of Twelve' it is, then. I shall order a new batch of calling cards.

Would Twelve survive being gone for six weeks? Undoubtedly. I've been convinced for several years now that Twelve is going to turn out just fine (unless she makes really bad choices or something catastrophic happens). Is being gone for six weeks best for her? Not in a million billion bajillion years. I'm certain of this, deeply certain, fundamentally and really truly certain.

She's in a delicate state, Twelve is; a fragile developmental balance of positive and negative. She still knows who she is and is confident of her self-worth and identity. She hasn't yet - quite - fallen off the cliff of adolescence. She's started to tentatively experiment with stomping away and slamming doors, but she still wants her bedtime backrubs. She completes her daily tasks with marked halfheartedness, but still initiates utterly ridiculous poke-and-tickle giggle-fests with R.

Something deep in my being says that being gone for six weeks isn't a good idea. I can't quite articulate why (see above), but my instincts have been damn good for the last twelve and a half years, so I'm inclined to trust them, despite my ex's heavy-handed demands.

Stay strong, Mama Bear! Stick to your guns. Don't let anyone convince you that you don't know what's best for Bear Cub Twelve. Calm down, deep breaths, don't hyperventilate. Fight off the adrenaline. Have a cup of tea.

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