Tiny Orange Trousers

Seth had to get a lead test. He was serious little boy and hadn’t grown much hair in his one year on earth, but he was trusting and interested in the world around him. The hospital was fun, with bright lights and automatic doors and he was having a pretty good time. Wearing his incredibly spiff orange trousers, he marched boldly ahead of us down the hall to the lab. And the next thing he knew, he was being held down on my lap and he was being hurt. The look on his face right before he started crying haunts me yet. His world shattered, my heart broke, and just as quickly, I did everything I could to comfort him. I cuddled him, we nursed, I told him he was brave and that everything was ok. Everything was ok. Just maybe not exactly quite the same ok it once was, and maybe I cried about it later in private, ok, I’m sure I did. That first loss of innocence and trust was just the beginning, and my Mama leap of faith was, and still is, that we would both survive and be happy regardless.

A couple of days ago, I got my ex’s reply to the settlement papers my lawyer and I gave her in December (we’ve been separated for years but are only now attempting to get a legal agreement in place, at my insistence). It is a great sadness in my life that Sarah and I have such completely different world views that we are virtually unable to agree on anything, because it really impacts our children negatively. Our differences are why we got a divorce, and this is why we need legal help with our custody arrangement. My biggest concern right now is that Seth is being brutalized by the crazy schedule Sarah insists on (I’ve been fighting her for years on this), where the boys have to shuttle back and forth every couple of days, rarely getting a chance to settle down at either house. This actually seems ok for Owen, who is a very go-with-the-flow kind of person, but it’s really working poor Seth’s last nerve. Friday, as we were about to get in the car so I could take them to Sarah’s, he started yelling at me, accusing me of treating him and Owen like property, “something that has to be shared, like a book!” There are still pieces of my heart on the kitchen floor from that one, as much as I rushed in to reassure him that I know he and his brother are people, not property. How can I protect Seth from Sarah’s dismissive, counter-intuitive parenting when it’s true, we do share custody? I can’t, even though I’ve enlisted a lawyer and put much of my life on hold to try.

When I was an adolescent, my mother drove me absolutely crazy by infantilizing me, reminiscing about how cute I’d been as a baby, exclaiming over my changing body and interests. Her way of letting go of my childhood ended up making me feel guilty about growing up – something I was conflicted enough about already – like somehow I was disappointing her by not remaining a child. I know she didn’t mean to make me feel that way and was only going through her own heartbreak in her own way, but it’s made me very wary of doing the same thing with Seth, who is so ready to bust out of the family and make his own way. Still, his toddler self has been much in my mind’s eye of late. He’s in 6th grade this year, and goes daily into battle at the middle school, a place that is rapacious and mean, that sandpapers off his innocence, and from which he returns home snarling and swearing. I know he still needs me, of course, and I also know I can’t protect him from peer pressure, pushy girls, indifferent teachers, and we are working on how our relationship needs to evolve (one of us more consciously than the other, admittedly). But these divorce issues are none of them of his own making, and I so wish that Sarah and I could more amicably work out a better way for the boys to share two houses and two very different styles of parenting.

Nothing for it but to just keep doing the best I can. Even the happiest and intact of families come up against the harsh realities of the world, and Seth and Owen are hardly the only kids around dealing with divorce – they’re not even the only ones dealing with divorced parents who are gay. Seth will know when he’s older (and perhaps knows on some level now) how firmly in his corner I am and how hard I’m fighting for his wellbeing. Whatever his armor – tiny orange trousers or Ax-soaked Abecrombie and Fitch t-shirt and baggy jeans – he is marching boldly away from me, out there where the wild things are, and I am loving him like crazy as he goes.

(This is nominally part of the blogswarm that Freedom to Marry is doing —  I’m a little hesitant to include it since it’s sort of the flip side of happily married but it certainly is part of the spectrum of queer families, and I continue to believe that we need recognition and legal help when our marriages disband. This is their link: http://tinyurl.com/ftmweek)

Published in: on February 9, 2009 at 3:11 PM  Comments (1)