A clarification. The situation I describe during this present series occurred eleven years ago. Were this a present crisis, had my son's mother not sent him home after winter break, I certainly wouldn't possess the focus to write a word. Today, my son's mother and I remain cordial, proud of our college graduate son who is currently traveling the world during a prestigious postgraduate fellowship year.
Such accolades were worlds away when I returned from a New Year's Eve holiday to hear a voice mail stating there was no reason to travel to the airport that evening, my ten year old son would not be sent home. (Read my last post to learn about the details and emotions of discovering one's child will not return after visitation as agreed upon.)
Insomnia barged in that first night and held me hostage. I experienced the cycle of denial, anger, and resolution familiar to most victims of tragedy. I do not write the words, "victims of tragedy," lightly. Though my son was awash in maternal love, I felt the fury of someone whose trust had been violated, who felt powerless and lost.
As a teacher, how could I possibly spend the next day surrounded by children while the child I'd raised solo for half of his life was thousands of miles away? I didn't last that first day, leaving at 11 am to return home and call my son's mother incessantly without response until, after sixty minutes, my phone calls were barricaded by busy signals.
I don't honestly know what I would have said had I connected. I knew my son was okay, any ambivalence he felt overwhelmed by the attention of his mother. His grandmother and aunts were also suddenly omnipresent in his life, an extended family he didn't know well but that, I'm sure, felt wonderfully warm and inviting.
Had my sole intention been my child's well being, I may have paused to consider his relocation holistically. Here was his birth mother committing to his care. Her studies almost finished, she'd recently become engaged to a well connected professional who clearly had the means to send our child to an exclusive day school. Would living with his mother be so bad? She loved him, would care for him and provide him with opportunities including a private education, extended family, that I could not.
Five years of single fatherhood obliterated such reasoning. My perspective? He was taken from me--I would get him back. Who possessed him was hardly the issue; I felt the urgency of any parent who's lost a child.
As a single parent I rarely went out, so I'd always look forward to the few hours when my son would go play at a friend's house. I'd imagine all I would accomplish in his absence, perhaps I'd see to a movie, catch up on reading or take on some other project. But once he'd depart for the afternoon, I'd rarely feel the motivation to do much of anything. What I really wanted was for him to come home.
In single parenthood our children become our primary companions. We establish mundane routines normally shared by both parents in a two-parent household. A single parent and his child discuss the day's news, trade gossip and contemplate trips, budgets and household chores. The environment becomes empty the instant that companion exits.
Now, in his absence, kept against my will, I was rendered catatonic, unable to read, teach or function. The passing days do not ameliorate this experience. Conversations with lawyers only offered guarded optimism, citing our flimsy parenting plan, shoddy divorce and lack of Washington State residency. Disturbingly, the state where my son currently resided not only had failed to sign on to Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, it was the only state in the U.S. to operate under a completely different judicial code.
When I finally locate a lawyer who felt as strongly about returning my child to Seattle as I did, I hastily signed the retainer, calling frequently (and at great cost) to hear his reassurances, like a child being cajoled back to sleep after a bad dream. But this wasn't simply a bad dream. My son was gone.
As parents, we cannot rest when our children experience pain. Far from injury, my child was likely joyful in my respects, warming daily to his mother's long absent embrace while I bled in his absence. I would not rest until he lay down to sleep in his Seattle bedroom, not half a continent away in what was now his permanent bedroom within his mother's house.