I woke up this morning face to face with my daughter. She’d come in to my room and climbed in bed with me during the night, but she hadn’t covered up. And it’s cold out. Her face and arms and hands were chilled and smooth, and her feet were like little popsicles. So I lifted and pulled and tugged to get her under the covers, and I stayed there with her for a moment to warm her up.
These are the beautiful moments.
When I’m just looking at her. When she’s deep asleep and safe, getting warm under her mama’s blankets. When I’m watching her in wonder. Thinking about how amazing she is.
And longing to give her a better life.
She’s nine now, and she’s been living a life of high conflict since she was born. The conflict belongs to her parents, and because of that, she doesn’t know any other way.
It takes two, right?
So what’s wrong with me? I’m part of the equation. Can’t I just make it stop? Can’t I just walk away? Can’t I just rally and smile and shake hands and move on?
Why am I still stuck in this cycle?
It must be the worst thing I could do for my daughter. To not just walk away.
I haven’t walked away. But I clearly understand parents who do—or should I say, parents who do whatever it takes to end the conflict.
I’ve thought of the Biblical story a hundred thousand times. The one where the King says that he’ll cut the baby in half when two mothers are fighting over it, and the real mother says, please don’t! She can have the baby. Just don’t do that.
And that makes me wonder if I’m selfish or bad for staying. Because my mere presence in my children’s lives rallies a dark force within my ex-husband’s core, and that force is entirely directing at pushing me off the edge of the earth.
He used to tell me that I don’t deserve to be here.
And he has a deep thirst for revenge.
Because I left him
and tried to make a new life.
I thought at the time that I’d be breaking the cycle. Everyone talks a lot about that. Get out! Go back to school! Heal your soul! Raise your head! Elevate your life!
Protect your children!
And then the reality of the day-to-day sets in, and that reality doesn’t protect your children. Seven years later, and the court at best ignores us. The attorneys cost too much. The system rewards aggression. And there’s nowhere I’ve found in that dynamic where “protection” and “peaceful escape” can come true.
At least not that I’ve found.
And so since I’ve been writing and thinking about longing, I thought I’d bring this all up. Because when I was lying next to my daughter this morning, I felt it in my heart. Longing for the life I want to give her. Longing for a time when my assets weren’t depleted. When my credit wasn’t destroyed. Longing to be the mom I could be without the daily assault and constant trauma. The woman I could be if I could save my kids from living out lives in which their dad tries to use them as a weapon against me. Consistently. Without fail. Year after year after year. I want to be that better woman. I want to save them from all this. I want to take them to Disney before they grow up because they’ve always wanted to go and it’s almost too late and I’m not even close to having the kind of money it takes to make something like that happen. I’m not even close to having rent this month after I pay my attorney to explain to the magistrate why my ex doesn’t actually deserve to have full custody even though he filed for it yet again. I have to pay my attorney to explain why I should still be allowed to exist as a co-parent. And I want to be more than that. I want to be the best kind of mother I can be, regardless of anything. I want to be these things for my daughter, and for my sons. I want to make even a few of their wishes come true. The things they only talk about it in the quiet at random moments.
The things they wish for.
Mostly, they don’t wish out loud much at all.
And that’s something I long for.