“Luca doesn’t undertand why you couldn’t fly him home for Thanksgiving,” said his boarding school therapist on the phone today. “From his point-of-view, it’s just a couple hundred dollars, and he’s like, ‘c’mon…really?‘”
My chest got tight and my cheeks got hot. I struggled to keep my voice steady as I gave a context to my decision.
I am paying to fly up to his school next month for his graduation, I said.
I am paying to fly him home for Christmas, I said.
I have spent thousand of dollars this year traveling to parent workshps, renting hotel rooms and rental cars, and flying Luca home for home visits. The money spent on Luca has meant less money to spend on Franny, and no money for a family vacation, I said.
I don’t get child support. I don’t have family money. I have a husband whose business has been hammered by the economy and much of the money used for Luca has come out of his pocket, I said.
I have to draw the line somewhere, I said.
I didn’t say this next part, but this was the thought running through my about-to-implode head: There is a recession going on, for Chrissake! Some people can’t even afford Thanksgiving dinner! Cut me some slack!
Here’s what I did say:
“Prince is flying Luca to his grandparents’. He will be with his dad over Thanksgiving.
“No,” said the therapist. “He’ll just be with his grandparents. His dad’s not going to be there.”
I was embarrassed that I didn’t even know where Prince was going to be. Keeping tabs on him is like tracking a CIA operative. I said some defensive things about the financial discrepancy between Prince and me, in a quivery voice.
“That’s the logic of it,” the therapist said. “For Luca, it’s emotional. He’s hurt that you’re not flying him home.”
I wanted to tell the therapist that I know exactly how Luca feels. My family lives 3000 miles away, which has made visiting often prohibitive. When my now-deceased father remarried, he traveled all over the world with his new wife, but they rarely came to visit me and my kids. They did not offer to fly us to their house for the holidays, and it was painful to know they were celebrating with her children and grandchildren but not us.
In part, this was because my father and his wife had different financial situations: she was well-off and he lived on a fixed income. I don’t know how they negotiated financial expenditures, but their decisions didn’t include many visits with us.
I did not explain any of this to the therapist but I sat on the other end of the phone letting disappointment and anger roll over me. I hate that Luca has to feel the way I felt: alone on a holiday that seemingly every other person in the universe spends with family. Feeling absolutely no gratitude when the season tells you you should be bursting with it.
The more I squirmed in my chair, cursing a situation I couldn’t change, the worse I felt. So I employed the only technique that made any sense.
The situation sucks, the feelings are crappy, but there they are. The more I let go of the mental struggle, the insanity of not accepting something that can’t be changed, the more distance emerged between me and the feelings.
I imagined the thoughts of scarcity, with the accompanying visceral sensations, floating by, as if I were staring out a car window watching trees disappear behind me.
And then I consciously replaced the harpies known as if-only and it’s-not-fair with a gratitude list.
We have a big house.
We have plenty of food.
We have nice cars.
We have jobs and health insurance.
We have enough disposable cash for movies, some dinners out, new clothes for the kids, and Christmas presents.
And I realized, things could be worse. No, Luca’s not spending Thanksgiving with his parents, but he does have two parents who love him. He doesn’t have to risk his life to be educated, he doesn’t wake up every morning to the sounds of gunfire, he hasn’t watched his family members, or his homeland, ripped apart by weapons of mass destruction.
And maybe, growing up with one parent who does have to think about money will enrich Luca in ways that his future inheritance won’t. Maybe he will learn not only to be grateful for what he does have but will also feel compelled to help those with far less.
“I have never felt that anything really mattered but knowing that you stood for the things in which you believed and had done the very best you could.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
“The situation sucks, the feelings are crappy, but there they are. The more I let go of the mental struggle, the insanity of not accepting something that can’t be changed, the more distance emerged between me and the feelings.” Thank you for this. I used it myself and realized that the ongoing battle with my husband’s ex-wife and my daughter’s mother [that tends to escalate near every holiday] is nothing compared to what my friends and family are dealing with in Israel. I’m giving thanks for all the love my family has for each other that no one can take a way or put a price on.
I’ve got to say this post makes me incredibly sad but not for the reasons you probably intended. Sometimes all kids want is your time. The “big cars” “nice house” and boarding school are trappings of something they’d happily trade in for more time with parents. Not being fobbed off to grandparents, not missing out on seeing their parents on key occasions but just time together to be cherished.
I suspect this isn’t what you want to read but I’d have given my backteeth for more time with my working parents and it’s time that will never be recuperated – unlike the fast cars.
If money’s that much of an issue, why not bring him home where he can be with the family all the time rather than a couple of times a year?
I understand your reaction, Scotty. Not sure how much you know about this blog, but my son is actually in a residential treatment center for behavioral issues. He will be returning full-time to where we live in January and starting school next year.
Regine Franck says
Not having any say or control in such a situation must be horrible for a teenager. I suppose there’s no way he could have earned some money at the center in order to contribute to a ticket?
That’s an excellent question, Regine. Come to think of it, I do think he has some of his money saved up there…not sure his dad would have approved him using it for a ticket to visit his mom. Long story.
Well, in my own way, I can certainly relate. 10+ years worth of relating. What people often don’t realize reading a post like this is how much goes on behind the scenes depleting our emotional as well as financial reserves. And, there’s the fact that we effectively have far less control thananyonebelieves when the other party involved has bucks.
As for Thanksgiving, I’ve been asked repeatedly about my boys, and while they would like to come home and hang with friends I told them no this year as I did last year. Not in the budget. They both have an alternative, together, and it’s fine. I also have an alternative and it’s low-key and cozy and it, too, will be fine.
They’ll be home for the December holiday during which time the cost of feeding them will be an item not in any budget, as it has been for some time.
Once down that deep deep financial black hole of divorce, for some of us, even if “business” is going fine, there is no recovery in sight.
Each day is a gift. A healthy child is a gift. A true friendship is a gift. Still being here – at 50 or older – and loving, contributing, learning – gifts.
There is always much to be grateful for, and as Bruce at Privilege of Parenting once said to me, and I remind myself often,Giving is the best cure for not having.
He couldn’t be more right.
That gratitude list?
Pauline, while I cannot relate to your post on a situational level, I do empathize with you. How difficult and frustrating it must be for you to not get to see your son at will–for various reasons. My boys are both 3,000 miles away and while finances are not always the issue, not being able to get to them or have them get to us is hard. You are brave to discuss this in an open forum where you are subject to comments from those who do not know or understand the back story. Thank you for your honesty.
Elizabeth Aquino says
I am so sorry — this must be heartbreaking — but I can understand and admire your use of “radical acceptance.” Perhaps it’s judgmental on my part, but there’s a part of me extremely angry, too, that your son’s father will send him to his parents when he himself is not there. What the hell?
I don’t understand it either, Elizabeth. But I am trying to extend Radical Acceptance to all parties involved!
Pauline- hope you’re doing well despite all of the above. I’m sorry that this type of thing is hitting you at this time of year. The holidays are difficult enough without piling on more guilt. It’s pithy and silly but I really despise this time of year. Just enough guilt, stress & food to equal misery. I try to stay positive but honestly, I’d prefer to just sleep till January 2nd till we all go back to normal.
Don’t ever doubt that you do enough for your son. You’re truly being his savior in so many ways because he cannot save himself. I just hope he will gain that perspective as he gets a bit older.
Thanks, Nicole! I think, after this last year-and-a-half in treatment, he’s figured out that I’m not so bad after all.
Lucy Pritzker says
Sometimes its about reframing things. I spent my childhood Thanksgivings flying to Florida (ALONE!) to my grandparents. It was our tradition and I cherished it. My son stays at his school for Thanksgiving and he looks forward to it because they do a polar bear swim in their lake each year! I wonder if there was a way to make Thanksgiving his grandparents’ holiday- a special time for just them. Probably not, but it’s a thought!
That’s a good thought, Lucy, and it’s interesting to hear your son’s take on his Thanksgiving — sometimes I think we stress ourselves out at holiday times thinking we need to adhere to rigid traditions.
I think that’s fine, but I would just make sure that truly understands that you’d love him to come home, but you honestly can’t afford it. Perhaps you can skype or something with him on Thanksgiving itself?
I think he understands that but the Skyping is a good idea — I hadn’t thought of that.
Weeping Oak says
Pauline, I’m just catching up on your blog, so i only have part of the story, but in one post the therapist referred to Luca’s sense of entitlement, and yet here, she/he seems to support that same entitlement. Yes, it would be great if you could fly him home, but you can’t and it is not a bad thing for him to have to accept that. My kids have been fairly entitled through much of their lives, but things changed. We have a lovely home, and lots to be thankful for, but they still refer to the way things used to be. Their father offers access to luxuries, but the price for them is accepting him into their lives as an active alcoholic. They realized it was not worth it. I wish you a lovely Thanksgiving.
Thank you, “Weeping Oak.” I’m not sure that the therapist was supporting Luca’s entitlement…I just think he wanted me to be aware that he was feeling abandoned. I think it’s a complicated issue for him because he doesn’t know where he fits in in either family and I think there’s been a realization that there’s a certain level of emotional abandonment from his dad even when he’s with him, if he’s not reflecting well on him. But, yes, I was a little surprised that the therapist couldn’t support my financial reality…the average person could not have afforded all the airfare and hotel fare and rental car fees I’ve spent the past year-and-a-half flying to visit Luca or bringing him home. That’s what I want my son to get at some point — that he lives in a rarefied world with his dad (and also the boarding school kids, whose families are loaded) that is simply not reality for most of the world. I’m glad your kids are figuring out the situation with their dad. It’s so much better than chasing after someone who’s never really there. Happy Thanksgiving to you too!
How did the school celebrate Thanksgiving with Luca and any other students who stayed over the holiday? Was there an opportunity for the therapist to get Luca on the phone during this conversation so that he could participate in it? The therapist’s side of the conversation doesn’t sound helpful or constructive for Luca or you. Perhaps not being with you during Thanksgiving will help Luca appreciate Christmas and other occasions that he *does* get to spend with you.
Pauline, your strength amazes me. Reading your blog is helping me deal with my own drama. Please have faith that Luca will understand eventually — he’s already grown to understand much more about his father and his mother, right?
Tina — he understands much more, yes. And thank you for your kind words — I’m so glad my blog has been helpful for you.