“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