It was months before my daughter’s sixth birthday. Although she had been on many vacations, she never traveled with her dad. My happiness at his agreement to take her away shifted into heartbreak when he decided to plan a trip without her. My only solace in his decision was that his trip overlapped with a vacation I was taking her on.
“Are you kidding me?” It was days before our vacation, and I could feel my eyes burn. As it turned out, his trip would begin when we returned home — he was going to miss her birthday.
“Am I going to see Daddy when we get home?” Our trip was coming to an end, and it seemed I couldn’t hold out any longer. I sat down to prepare for her reaction and told her the truth.
“It just doesn’t make sense!” Over the next 15 minutes, I could feel a stabbing pain in my chest as her yells slowly became quiet sobs, and she at last settled into my lap. “It just doesn’t make sense. All I wanted for my birthday was to go away with him, and he’s going away without me.” Her voice was practically a whimper.
I pushed back the tiny hairs stuck to her mucus-streaked face. “It doesn’t, my love.” I slowly circled my palm on her back, imagining the bright sun shining on us. “It doesn’t make sense.”
I wiped the tears from my eyes before she could see.
A few days after her birthday, we went for a walk in the neighborhood.
“Does my daddy only think about himself?” she asked, completely unaware of how wise she seemed.
As the pride swelled in my chest, I knew I had to stay calm. I paused, looking up at the sun, letting the warm rays wash over my face. Up until that point, I had assumed it would be years of missed birthdays before she thought his behavior could signify anything other than something fundamentally wrong with her. I felt years of concern slide off my shoulders, confident she was better armed to deal with her father than I ever was.
I considered my options. If I said “yes” I would be disparaging her father — something I was not suppose to do, something I didn’t want to do. But if I said “no,” I would belittle her discovery. I wanted to encourage her to question her father, but I also wanted to honor their relationship and my daughter’s need to navigate it for herself.
“Well,” I said. “I cannot say exactly what goes on in his mind because only he knows for sure.”
I leaned down and look her in the eyes. “But when I look at his actions and the decisions he makes, its the most logical conclusion I can think of.”
“Okay.” She smiled happily and skipped off singing, recovering from the conversation in a way only a 6 year old can.
Time passed, and she was going to her father’s house. Before leaving, she cried to me that she didn’t want to go. I wanted to encourage her to stay. I wanted to keep her from him, but I knew that it wasn’t my place. As her mother, it is not my job to keep her from her father. Its my job to give her what she needs to heal and let go. I told her I would miss her, too.
“Daddy! Daddy!” Her eyes glazed over, and she smiled with joy at their reunion. He greeted her with a loving embrace. She grabbed his hand tight, clinging to the connection she desperately wanted. I followed behind them for a moment, smiling.
Then I said goodbye and began to prepare the space within me that my daughter would need for her next letdown.