Recently I made the heartbreaking decision to let my nine-year-old son go live with his dad.
Overseas. A 12-hour flight from our little seaside village.
Often when other mums and dads hear this they look at me in horror—like I have just committed parenting suicide.
I needed to make sense of their reactions and perhaps explain how it got to be this way, and why it’s okay. (Even though it doesn’t actually feel okay).
First of all, I don’t personally know anyone else who has done this, but I would like to reach out to those who’ve also had to make a hard choice for the goodness and happiness of their children.
I live in an incredible community where the families are all different but totally in tune with our tamariki (kiwi kids). There is a sense of shared and single parenting, the usual soccer on Saturdays and ice cream sundae Sundays. Children are everywhere in our village, having adventures in the two huge parks, on the big old wooden swings, the skateboard ramp and swimming in our glorious beach. We dig our kids to the moon and back. But who doesn’t? All I wanted after my divorce was for us three—my daughter, my son and me, to live the rest of our days here, happily.
But when my ex-husband decided to move away, I was devastated for my son. The absolute highlight of my son’s week was Friday night at five when his Dad arrived. Sunday nights after drop off, my son would cry himself to sleep and miss his dad all week.
The news of his father’s departure was torture, and I worried about the pain that my darling little man would feel.
When it was time for goodbye, my son crumpled into my arms and I was so damn mad. I slammed the door hard on his dad.
The space in him was visible immediately. His little light switched off and refused to shine. My little man was overwhelmed with sadness.
He spoke to everyone about it, and my dear, close-knit group of friends and family and I did everything we could to distract him. Nothing worked. His hurt enveloped him like a spider’s web that he couldn’t scramble out of. His school work suffered and he became clouded, like a little storm was constantly brewing above him.
We read books about grief and gave him lots of gentle guidance and room to move with talking and listening and trying to be positive about holidays and happy times to come.
But the longing looks at his mate’s Dads and the hole in his soul became too much for me to bear.
When his father came home for a brief visit, I witnessed them in the park together. His dad threw my son upside down and high in the air. They had endless games of football and were forever laughing and play-fighting. The energy they had for each other was wonderful, but hard for me to watch. His dad offered him boy-energy, man-to-man, big strong hands.
The decision I had to make kept me lying awake in bed for the next few months. I asked all the saints and gurus I knew for an intervention, for some kind of answer or improvement to the situation but my son’s sobbing into his best-loved bear never stopped.
Every night, without fail, this was his method of eventually drifting into dream land. Dreams of his dad. And he would come into my bed in the early hours and beg for me to let him go.
My reaction was still always, instinctively no.
He was my baby. My boy. My chipmunk-chubby-sweet-cheeked-child. There was no way. Just no way.
I thought that it all might get easier. It didn’t.
And after 18 months, I finally quietly relented and surrendered. If it was going to make him happy, I had to do it. My dearest sister said perhaps this is his little path, and the local school principal agreed—let him have an adventure.
So. I packed him a small suitcase, and like Paddington, he went off to the airport, my little lad with his Dad.
I pretended to be excited about his fabulous experience to a foreign land.
But with his plane overhead I melted down into the sand.
And now it is me who cries myself to sleep. It physically hurts not being able to hug him when I want to. The ache inside my body is so heavy some days, I feel like I am holding huge stones in my bones. My silent tears could fill a southern river, ten times over. I would move mountains to have it some other way, and I pray every day, that his Dad will return so that we can start sharing the caring and take turns at raising our son, like we used to.
But for now, we face time. When his shining face appears on my screen, I see an absolutely gorgeous boy beaming at me with a smile as big as a half moon. He lights up my room. Mumma, he says, guess what we did today!
I don’t think he has a need to miss me. Because he knows he has me, unconditionally.
I am not always brave, but I am determined to show him that distance doesn’t matter when it comes to how strong a mother’s love is.
I write to him about nothing, and everything. I show him that it doesn’t matter if he is day and I am night. I tell him how far my love can go, and that I don’t mind that he has the hot yellow sun and I have a hillside with white snow. I tell him that we can love each other above and beyond our different seasons.
We are like the burgundy autumn heart leaves blowing in the breeze.
In the heat I will send him new boxer shorts, in the cold, Starwars socks!
I promise him that I am always going to know what he wishes for and what is ‘in’ for him. Ninja turtles, superheroes, lego or X-Box.
I show him, our love is international but still so beautiful.
And I tell him we can tackle the turbulence. That what we have can change dimensions and survive the unusual conventions.
I seal every skype deal with a blown kiss and tell him he is brilliant. I tell him I am so proud when he scores a goal or builds a new toy-city, and I listen to him read out loud.
I am going to visit him in his new country and have him show me around the asian markets and teach me about what local food is his favourite, and how to have manners in mandarin.
I want to watch him scooter around his new neighbourhood. There are no cars where he lives so we can explore the streets on foot and meet and greet all his new friends from his international school.
People say I am strong. I’m not. It’s like working in a f#*king hard job, every day. With no pay. Letting him go is by far the toughest thing I have ever done in my life.
I miss him like crazy. I tell him he is still my angel and our long distance love is powerful. (But secretly I want so badly for him to be back at our kitchen table, and I say a little prayer every time I light my meditation candle)
I have to remember that sons also need their Mums. And one day he will walk through the door again and I will hug him like he does his soft panda bear. And not let him go for a really long time.
But until I see him again I tell him even though we are on different time zones, we know that when we both hold our green stones, we are together.
We hold each others hearts in our hands.
We hold them tight and we whisper goodnight.
Across the stars. Across the universe.
Author: Larue Deluka
Image: flickr/Katsuhito Nojiri
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock