Some of you, maybe all of you, may know that I supervise lunch hour and afternoon recess at a couple of our local schools. At one school, I police kindergarten lunch hour and mediate sandpit disputes and check boo boos and administer band-aids and ‘side hugs’ as needed. Then the bell rings and I say a quick ‘have a good afternoon!’ to “my” kindies and rush off to my next school where I supervise afternoon recess in the yard. This is my second year doing this, so many of the students remember me from last year (and I remember them!) and that awkwardness is mostly gone when they approach me. For the most part, they all pretty much know what answer that they are going to get from me in most situations. And they know that I will march beside them and help them to figure out their disputes. And they know that if they’ve crossed the line or run out of chances, that I will send them to visit the office for further discussion.
But last week was different. There were no disputes to settle. There were no lines crossed. There was just a little boy, close to, if not actually, the same age as one of my boys. He has bright eyes, a wide smile and always looks just a little bit more mischievous than your average bear. On this day he was sitting in the grass, on the edge of the sandpit playing with a few other boys and they found a chunk of asphalt in the grass and ran it over to me, excited to show me their discovery.
“Coal! We found coal! Lookit! Lookit! Missus!”
“Ah, guys” I said smiling at them “that’s not coal, it’s a lump of asphalt. Like the stuff the basketball courts are made of. A piece must have broken off some…” Most of the boys wandered off at this point.
“Court?!? My mom’s going to court today!” Exclaimed my cherub-faced friend
“Oh, is she a lawyer?” I half-asked and half-hoped.
“Nah. My dad’s in trouble,” he said, still sitting, legs splayed, on the grass and looking down and picking at his pant leg. He shrugged his shoulders.
“Oh. Parking ticket?” I replied, with concentrated effort to keep my voice light and smiley.
“Nah. He’s in trouble for breaking a window and running away from the police and then at the hospital…” He looked up at me and added “they done a divorce.”
*Cue shattering the of my heart.* I felt it in my chest, broken. I felt the tightening above my ribcage and understood why this little dude had so many ‘line crossing days’ last year. And I felt so angry for this little boy, who has been told too much and witnessed far too much and who, despite his assertions to the contrary, it’s not “okay.” And I could see in his face that he has no way of really making sense of what the hell the adults in his life are doing to him and to each other.
Lord, I’m old and I don’t understand what the hell the adults in his world are doing to him. Or why. Or how. Or if they even understand the pain they are inflicting on this perfect little human THEY chose to bring into THEIR family. And then chose to blow his world all to shit and expect him to deal.
He did not need to know that his dad broke a window. He did not need to know that his father was arrested. He did not need to know that his parents are in court again. But he knew. And somehow, he was still able to find his smile for me that day. And try to reassure me that it was “okay” and “no big deal” and that it was okay that he couldn’t see his dad right now because he could maybe probably be able to see him soon because of “the yellow house.” Which I can only assume is an access/visitation center.
And you know what? I GET it. You meet someone. You fall in love, like, lust or whatever and you have a baby, by design or circumstance. And then things just don’t work out. Maybe there are substance abuse issues, maybe there are maturity issues, maybe the romantic relationship was just never really meant to be. For whatever reason, “forever” didn’t last. But as soon as you have a baby, you are a family. FOREVER. And like it or not, you both have to figure out a way to make sure that your baby still gets to have his FAMILY. So, you put your shit aside (I don’t care if she cheated on you or he’s an asshole) and you make nice. You celebrate family events together because you are a family for as long as you have that child in common, you’re a family and you OWE it to your child to be an adult.
And believe me, I am not casting stones. I am speaking from a place of hindsight being 20/20. My eldest son grew up without his father around for most of his life and for no other reason than his parental units were too young and immature to see the bigger picture and both thought that we each knew what was best for him. Neither of us realized or acknowledged our duty to act like and to BE a family, that even when angry with one another, that duty existed because we decided to bring another human being onto the planet.
Single parenting is hard. Co-parenting is hard. Parenting in any capacity is hard, and that is why I’m constantly striving to do parenting better and to NOT repeat past mistakes. Oh, and I am happy to report that my son now has a relationship with his father and his father and I are finally mature enough to be friends again but even if circumstances were different, and friendship was not realistic, I do believe that with maturity and this magical hindsight, that we would still now be able to be cordial with one another, if for no other reason than to align for the amazing human person in whom we share a common interest.
I guess after this post is written and all is said and done, my real message is simply:
Please let us stop breaking our children’s hearts. One ounce of kindness at a time.