The Trip and the Tears

Each time I drop my two children off at their mother’s and my former in-laws’ apartment building, my heart rate spikes. Actually, it skyrockets. It isn’t normal to have such an elevated fear take over my system, for I’d like to believe I operate well under pressure when it comes to handling fear, yet it’s an emotion that’s merited at these moments, I feel, for I simply don’t—and cannot—trust them.

By itself, my worry is daunting, frustrating. That’s not a state of mind I want to have, especially on a Sunday night after each weekend of bliss with my kiddos.

To go from the unbridled contentment of having just spent 30-plus hours together to an overhanging few moments of dread as we walk up to the maternal family’s apartment complex, in the semi-dark shadows of our 7p.m. arranged drop off time, simply shatters such satisfaction. Yet when my 2.5-year-old son tripped last night on the first broad concrete step (just a few inches high) at the front of their building, as he eagerly rushed up after his sister to keep pace with her, and when he burst into tears, yet I couldn’t do anything from three meters away, it was more than a daunting, frustrating fear. It was the most disturbing, exasperating confusion that I’ve ever faced in my 45 years.

My heart was shattered as I stood at first and then walked away, knowing my son was experiencing the results of tripping and flopping down (e.g., bruised knee or skinned shin), yet my rational side repeated internally that I best not approach, fearing their actions if I advanced closer to lend a helping hand.

I’ve only had my kids for four weekends since the divorce papers were signed back in late July, and each time has been marvelous. We’ve shared countless bonding experiences, ranging from simple hugs and kisses on the cheeks to the playful pleasures of parks and playgrounds, the cheerful fun of indoor kids’ play centers, and the absorbing games that all kids their age like to play at home, my home. Their home for four days per month (how I wish it were more) it is.

This is all after six months of being forced apart.

For these four weekends together, evenly spaced out every two weeks except this past span of three—because August had a fifth weekend, we’ve balanced exciting outings with plenty of home time, for they certainly enjoy both.

At the time of writing, for the last two days, the weekend of September 13th and 14th (2014), we shared home-cooked breakfasts at my house, and then had lunches and dinners out and about. On this past Saturday morning, we had a blast at an indoor play center, which was a birthday party for a co-worker’s child, with 20 or so other overly excited tykes and elementary-aged wee ones running and bouncing about. Yet we shared memorable moments at home, too, with wrestling on dad’s bed after bouncing in unison and doing ring-around-the-rosy hand in hand, drawing pictures at their kids’-sized IKEA table, playing cars with my son as his sister played with her Barbie nearby. To help my son through the steps of putting colored plastic barrels and cubes together was just as meaningful as darting around at a playground. Moreover, both days allowed the running about and physical outlets they require when we went to said playgrounds, and a movie matinee on Sunday helped balance that out, too, with my son sitting on my lap the whole time, as I was holding hands with my 5.5-year-old daughter.

Having experienced six months without my children (which was NOT my choice) between mid-January and late-July, I have been eager to live each weekend together to the fullest. Each has seen such a balance of gratifying activities, and each has been so absolutely pleasant, but on Sunday nights, I crash hard. Terribly so, I miss them immediately upon dropping them off. In fact, I miss them even hours before, for each weekend, hitherto, has seen me feeling a deep sense of disappointment around 4pm, knowing that I’ll soon be without them, knowing I’ll be alone the rest of my weekend—and for the 2-3 weeks pending.

Going from the ultimate natural high of being a daddy again for 35 hours (which really doesn’t include their sleeping hours, which for my son was 12 hours this weekend) to the lows of returning to my two-bedroom apartment alone each Sunday night brings a plethora of debilitating, negative emotions.

However, even though that solo entry into my pad is accompanied by unbridled sadness, it is nothing in comparison (for five minutes, that is) to the spiked fear that overwhelms me when we arrive at their mom’s place those evenings.

Last night, about 5-6 meters from the front gate of their complex, I kissed my daughter and son goodbye. From experience, I knew their focus wouldn’t be on saying goodbye if we got any closer. It is just like when my son ran to me on this Saturday morning’s pick up, just in reverse. At about 4-5 meters, my daughter darted ahead when she saw her grandparents and mom come out of the shadows of the garden courtyard through the security door, and my son, three years younger, tried to do the same.

Yet on the first 2-to-3-inch, broad platform step, he tripped. Being just past the toddler phase, he’s still not completely sure of his footing. Thus, down he went.

I was startled.

I’d have gone immediately to him, naturally, as I did when he bumped himself while reaching into the kitchen drawer to get a napkin this past weekend. I’d have stroked his hair, asking empathetic questions, revealing my concern.

I was about three meters from him, but his mom and grandma were within two feet, and in a matter of 1-2 seconds, they were at his side, leaning over him, helping him stand. Grandpa was a meter or so back with my daughter.

Racing through my head were various images, but the one that dominated was my approaching quickly, and then mom and grandma screaming “Get out of here!” If they did that, everyone in earshot would have at least looked over. Others in their complex, if in the courtyard or coming out the gate or returning home, would have seen me, the foreigner, being confronted by two local women (who have both been known to create ample family drama in the past). If they created a scene, I would have been to blame for doing something wrong, guaranteed. I am sure their stories have tainted the guards’ perspectives, guards whom were quite friendly with me on a daily basis just a mere year ago.

I cannot trust them.

So I listened to him cry, seeing his face with tears streaming for a few seconds, from those three meters away. Rushing over to him, which my heart wanted me to do, wasn’t the best choice—though it would have been the right idea if circumstances were different.

His mom and grandma were picking him up, dusting off his front side. If I tried to interfere, it could have spelt disaster.

My heart was torn; my spirit, broken. It wasn’t fair. None of it was right.

Why on earth did it have to come to this?

How I wish she didn’t go down the various paths she has taken since we separated last October 5th…

When we fist separated, I envisioned us being able to go to the same Christmas parties, the same Halloween events, the same birthdays. Open communication with each other, about and for the children seemed best. It still does. Yet, who am I kidding. Nothing like that is possible.

It is too late to turn back the clock, to start over with how we’d deal with being separate yet equally important parents. That was apparent as my son stood there crying last night, having taken a fall, without me able to catch him or at least dust off his shorts. In fact, I would have taken him (and my daughter) directly to them if their maternal family had done things differently all along.

I am so sorry it has come to this. Sorry for my son, for my daughter, for me… and for us as parents to two beautiful children.

It should be different.

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