I sighed sadly as I looked at the clock: 5:45pm, Friday night. My ex would be here any minute to pick up our son for the weekend. I’d get him back at some point on Sunday, exhausted, disheveled, and dressed in precisely what he was wearing now. We’d never formalized a custody arrangement, instead, we worked it out ourselves. My ex was fairly anti-establishment (also: anti-me). So the drawn-out court proceedings, dueling lawyers, and battles over who got visitation at what time for which holiday seemed like it would have the most impact on the only person in the whole situation who really mattered: our son.
Most of my friends – at least the ones who were happily married or happily single – thought I was nuts. The ones who had been through it, they understood where I was coming from. I just prayed that I was doing the right thing for my son. So many ethical choices; the lines in the sand crossed every-which-way. How the hell was I supposed to know what the right choices were?
We’d worked it out so that my husband, Dave, and I took care of the Monday through Friday kid-stuff. This included schooling, doctor visits, play-dates, therapy for his autism (something my ex firmly refused to acknowledge), shopping for clothes and toys, and all other parental responsibilities.
My ex whisked him off, removed the sacrosanct routine that autistic kids often cling to, kept him up too late, and neglected pesky things like personal hygiene. He wasn’t negligent, just forgetful. And, I thought, the change in routine was actually pretty good for the kid.
6:00: Time to make the donuts, er, put a coat on the kid. Like clockwork, my ex rang the doorbell. He hugged his son warmly before giving me the hairy eyeball.
“You aren’t going to send him in THAT, are you?” He sniped.
“Yep,” I said, refusing to be baited. I hated taking the moral high ground more than I hated mayonnaise, thousand island dressing and John C. Mayer’s music, but I knew that the kid didn’t need to see us arguing over what was really no big deal.
“Really, Becky, you always send him in such crappy clothes…” He railed on about my failure to properly dress the kid, failing to note that he, of course, could buy the kid some clothes all by himself.
When he was done with his tirade (I’d sent my son to hang with Dave during this), I said simply,“Why don’t you take him shopping?” He rolled his eyes and called our son, who was non-plussed to be leaving. He hated transitions.
I hugged, told him I loved him and reminded him he’d be back home soon. The door shut with a firm finality behind them. The house, even with my husband home, felt…empty. Energy that had, mere moments before, been floating freely around, unencumbered, limitless; was sucked out in one greedy sluuuuurp. The thermostat dropped from a toasty 75 degrees to 60 when that door closed.
My friends – happily single and happily married alike – seemed to think that this was an amazing stroke of luck: weekends off? Parenting as a weekday job? INCREDIBLE. We should thank our lucky stars! Maybe if it had been by choice; if he’d gone with his grandparents or some arrangement on our terms, maybe that’s how we’d have felt.
But it wasn’t, so we didn’t. There were times when we enjoyed the freedom, certainly, but most of the time, we were acutely aware of what was not there. Like your tongue unconsciously dipping into the aching hole where a tooth was supposed to be, dammit, a constant reminder of what was gone. What should have been there. We’d go out to dinner – the two of us – and the conversation always wound it’s way back to our son. Even with our table for two missing one, he was there. We were free to do anything; everything, but what we really wanted was to be parents again. Anxiously, we’d spend Sunday awaiting his return.
Eventually, my son; well, an over-stimulated, dirty and exhausted version of my son would be returned. He required an hour of quiet downtime to recover from the weekend. We always popped in the only movie he’d watch, a documentary about The Planets, as we carefully washed him with a washcloth (he was anti-bath), changing him into fresh clean pajamas, while he ate his favorite; a bowl of dry cereal, as he sat entranced by the moons of Jupiter. When the movie was over, he knew it was time to brush his teeth and go to bed; his father, always the one who tucked him in. I could hear them on the baby monitor: “Goodnight Daddy, I love you! I missed you!” Dave echoed back, “Goodnight Buddy! I love you. I missed you too. So much.” It was only then that our house was, once again, a home.