There are many things I would like to teach my children as they grow. I think that everyone should know how to swim. I think that everyone should know how to find worms and how to bait them on a hook, even if they think it’s gross and only do it once. I think that everyone should know how to cook a basic meal where all four food groups are represented. I think everyone should know how to be truthful and, when the truth would be hurtful to another, how to soften it if necessary.
I think everyone needs to know that life is rarely fair.
I would like it very much if my children could learn that last one without feeling like there is a constant push-pull going on between their father and myself, but guess what! Life isn’t fair, and in this way it is particularly unfair for them. Nothing is fair in divorce.
I’ve cycled through a number of stages when it comes to how I view my part in this process. Waaaaaayy back at the beginning, I was resolute in my certainty that I had saved my children from something much worse. Let’s be clear: That’s not an indictment of their father, but of our marriage and the circumstances we were in. I grew up in a household where divorce would have been a preferable alternative; I was not going to put my children through a similar misery. So the first stage could be termed the I Am Right stage, where my Mother Bear instinct says I was 100% correct and I have done my children a service.
The second stage is where reality sets in; although many things are far better, other things are worse. Reality is hardly springtime and sunshine and rainbows. It’s hard—a different kind of hard, of course, but not without problems. And because in my particular situation my children were being told this was MY choice, MY fault, I suddenly had an outlet for the maelstrom of feelings I’d been dealing with: Anger. The second stage is the Red Hot Fury stage, where I am struggling to make a new normal while having to field questions like “What does it mean, ‘you’re selfish,’ Mama?” and always having to be the bad guy.
In the third stage, compassion comes creeping back to me in drips and drabs. I find myself mired in Guilt. The kids are stuck in the middle, and although I’m doing what I think I need to do for them, I cannot fix this entirely. It’s an inherently broken situation. I begin to see their father not as someone intentionally difficult, but as someone who is deeply hurt and unable to repair. Everything he does that makes me want to scream is born of a deep sense of having been horribly wronged, and whether or not I agree that to be factual, it’s his reality. I am the agent of destruction in this scenario, and although I still hold my decisions to be the right ones under the circumstances, I’m beginning to see that no one wins when anyone is still hurting.
The fourth stage is slow to come, and my grasp on it is tenuous. It is the closest thing to Acceptance one gets to have in a situation full of woulda-coulda-shouldas. It is acceptance that life isn’t fair and we can only do the best we can; acceptance that the various realities may NEVER align and that my time is better spent tending to the things I actually can control and nurturing my children as best I can. Even when they’re mad at me. Even when little fists beat on my back while hot tears are smeared on my chest.
I spent a big chunk of my day in court yesterday. It’s been over five years since I asked my husband at the time to please leave, and life is still unfair. I sat and listened to the opposing counsel announce the unfairness of my “unilateral decision” to “tear these children away from their father” so many times, that eventually I used the sheet of paper sitting between myself and my lawyer to communicate that this would work much better as a drinking game—every time he says “unilateral,” I get to have a shot. My lawyer responded that at least I know what unilateral means, as most of his clients don’t, and for a moment I almost laughed; it was so absurd, all of it, and four hours of concentrating on not throwing up can use an injection of levity, however small.
I watched an entire strategy mounted on the premise that This Is Not Fair And We Need To Make It Fair, and I admitted (several times) that yes, it’s not fair. The image of King Solomon would not leave my mind—the only way to make it fair is to cut the kids in half, and while that might meet some criterion for fairness, it’s clearly not the answer.
Life isn’t fair. Divorce is at the sucktastic end of the unfair spectrum.
I felt sympathy—extreme sympathy, actually—towards my ex’s position right up until the moment he nearly spat with anger when indignantly complaining that Otto refers to the children as “our kids.”
Because clearly that means that he’s being edged out, made irrelevant, and replaced. Right? It couldn’t mean that Otto has the patience and endurance of a saint, that he has willingly stepped into the middle of a really difficult situation and done his best to care and provide for these kids… kids who are trapped in an unfair situation; kids who wanted nothing more than for him to vanish, in the beginning; kids who did everything in their power to shove him away; kids who he is perfectly clear already have a father, but for whom more love can never be a bad thing.
Life isn’t fair, but that unfairness must take on a much greater magnitude if your life view is that love must be meted out lest someone gets more than you or usurps what is yours. I find that really, really tragic.
The judge elected to deliberate overnight and today we wait to hear the verdict on how and where the children will be spending their summer. I can tell you without knowing what he’ll say that the answer will not be fair. There isn’t a way to make it so. Whatever he says, I will think it’s too much and their dad will think it’s too little. The kids will end up there at some point when they want to be here and here at some point when they want to be there. It won’t be fair.
I have to believe that it will be okay, somehow. I sit here and try to push King Solomon out of my mind’s eye. Instead, I replace him with Chickadee and Monkey as grown adults rather than the gangly weeds they currently are, and in my vision they are whole and happy and whisper to me, “We love you. We love all of you.”
It won’t be fair, but it will be enough.