When my daughter comes back from her father’s, my heart is never so full and so broken at the same time.
Tonight she has spent hours gushing over how much she missed us, how much she loves us, and how glad she is to be home. She has shows infinite affection: “Mommy and Daddo, I’m making your bed up for you. Hold hands while you come see the stuffie I picked for you to cuddle. Mommy, I know your back hurts so I will rub it and make it feel better. Daddo, you are the best Daddo in the world! I love my family so much I don’t even have words!” The kid is literally bursting with gratitude.
So much so that instead of being grateful in return, my mind begins to race into the nether. Is this “normal” shared custody behavior? Is this a sign of abuse/neglect at her fathers? Is this a manipulative ploy for more treats? Is this all perceived affection to feed my own mommy-ego? Is this really happening at all?
You might think that I’m being pessimistic, but there is a darker side to these reunion day confessions. D will often come back from DB’s house jovial, saying it was a “good weekend.” Frequently,however, it’s “I don’t remember what we did. Or, I don’t want to talk about it.” Which I respect. If she compartmentalizes, so be it. In fact, bravo to her for finding a way to cope in her newly 5 year old head.
Yet there are things that unsettle me beyond her silence. Its when she enters the door and immediately reenacts how she held our family photo to her face while going to sleep at DB’s house. Clad in her coat and snow boots, she is narrating the photo to her stuffies while “daddy said SHHHHHHH!!!!!” Or when she blithely recalls, “Daddy puts his face right to mine and (growls through gritted teeth) ‘STOP.IT.’ When he says that I think in my head that my Daddo never talks to me like this. He’s always kind to me.”
D had her first meeting with a therapist last week. In the meeting, the therapist told the story of “a little girl she knew” who sometimes had mixed up feeling when she was at her Daddy’s house, because she loved her daddy but missed her mommy too. D enthusiastically responded: “I know what mixed up feelings are! Like being nervousited! Nervous (she gestures with her right hand) and excited (she gestures with her left)”
The therapist and I exchanged equally stunned looks. Then she questioned D: so, is there are word like nervousited that explains how you feel when you are at Daddy’s house?
D pondered. She played in the sand table. Then she responded… “Love-a-mad.”
And we let that one linger with just a simple “ummhmmm”. Because there were no words, but somehow we had to muffle the sound of our hearts breaking so audibly in the room.
So tonight, upon D’s return, I couldn’t help but feel like she and I both are sentenced to a life of mixed-up feelings. The question is, how much of them can we share with each other? How much is safe? How much merits any attention? Can we silence them with back rubbing and laughing until you can’t breathe and cuddling endlessly? Or will they creep up in nightmares or conflict or moments of fleeting insecurity?
As always, thanks for listening. I know the breaks are too long. But the idea that you are still there comforts me through the mixed up moments.