Yesterday, I saw my children for the first time in 17 weeks. The reunion was intense: my daughter and son ran to greet me, shouting my name, and leapt into my arms when they reached me. My six-year-old son clung to my neck like a monkey; my nine-year-old daughter merely nuzzled my chest softly as I stroked her hair and fought back tears.
Then we sat down in my mother’s living room, and I listened to all their news, gabbled at that 78 rpm speed so typical of excited children: what they’d learned at school, what books they had read, what sports they had played. For a brief moment, the champagne of emotion washed through me – fizzy, fun, intoxicating – as the emotional bonds of parenthood rekindled, and I connected again with all that is best in me, those facets of personality I strive to possess on a permanent basis – to be kind, attentive, caring, humble.
But as is so often the way in the muddied maze of divorced parents, the grey clouds soon gathered as innocent comments made by the children began to form a composite picture of what was happening at the other end of the line: letters and presents that had been posted but had not arrived; inconsistencies in the reasons given why the children could not stay with me at weekends.
As I listened to this with growing irritation, I noticed that my children are now realising something is amiss between Mrs Mummy and Mr Daddy Man. My six-year-old suddenly announced that his greatest desire would be for everyone he loves – parents, Grandparents, aunties, uncles – to “all live together in a big house”. He then asked why this wasn’t possible, but in a rhetorical kind of way, speaking more to himself than to me. “Don’t we have enough money, Daddy?” he asked. My attempt at a response stuck in my throat like a wishbone.
My daughter is nine, and sharp as a tack, with a quick, agile mind far beyond her years. She said nothing on the subject, but her eyes as we parted spoke volumes. She does not yet possess the language to vocalise her thoughts on the situation, but the dismal, spiky shadow of divorce’s after effects already creeps behind her, mirroring her steps, waiting for the chance to trip her, bloody her nose and beat out a little of the child from within her.
As we kissed and embraced at our parting, I thought suddenly of my ex and of all the years of pointless bickering and petty hatreds that have filled the gravel pit formed by our failed relationship and that lie now between us like brackish, stagnant water – the slightest stirring of the scummed surface releases all sorts of foulness. And I realised the irony that, as my children grow towards maturity, part of me is constantly stumbling back towards the pettiest facets of infantilism . . .