Now that the custody bombs have stopped exploding and I am tiptoeing gingerly through the wreckage of my life, I feel relief that Prince and I were able to reach a settlement. I didn’t trust the custody evaluator, seeing the evaluation to the end would have cost another $30,000 before we even got to court, Luca might have imploded from the stress, and I might have crawled under the covers never to emerge.
The lawyers are nitpicking over the final language in the stipulation, but the basics have been agreed upon:
1. Prince gets full physical custody of Luca. We “share” legal custody, although in the spirit of reducing conflict, I gave Prince school choice, medical choice and mental health choice for Luca. I did not, however, agree to not speak to the parents of Luca’s schoolmates, as Prince requested. I guess he never learned about the First Amendment in school.
2. Franny’s timeshare stays the same, thank you Jesus. So she will remain with me 62.5% of the time. The exception is that Prince will HAVE to pick her up on the Tuesdays she’s with him, instead of making me chauffeur her to his house. He can exercise the option to take her on the Friday nights of her weekend with him, although he can choose not to if it’s not convenient. When I balked, my attorney said I could not force visitation on him. My hope is that he does not dangle Friday nights over her like a carrot. But that is a rather thin hope; Prince’s spots are never going to change.
3. I get zero child support. Zero. The vocational exams found that we have the same earning capacity, and Prince seems determined not to work. I was flabbergasted that his two homes, jet-setty lifestyle, and ability to shell out $50,000 a year in private school tuition wouldn’t factor in to the financial decision, but my attorney assured me that lifestyle issues didn’t effect child support, and Prince’s parents had “mysteriously” cut off his trust fund disbursements when the litigation began. There is an upside though: there are caps on my share of Luca’s medical and mental health expenses, the mental health expenses being enormous. That means that if Prince wants to send Luca to Sigmund Freud, and Sigmund Freud is out of network, Prince has to cough up the money over and above my half of the insurance co-pay. And finally: Prince has to pay for all of Luca’s private school through high school. Every penny.
So it’s over. The year-and-a-half of ex partes, depsositions, declarations, compulsive note-keeping, emergency sessions with my attorney, the hemorrhaging of money — done.
But what’s left, mainly, is devastation. My relationship with Luca is ruined — for now, perhaps, but ruined it is. He will not speak to me or see me. He will not take me up on my offer to spend a weekend at the beach town he loves and ride ATVs in the sand dunes. The last time he spoke me to me, he referred to his dad and his dad’s fiancee as “my parents.” So Prince has succeeded. He has succeeded in erasing me from the family portrait and sketching in a new mother.
Here it is, my secret confession: I wonder if I should have stayed. If I had stayed, might Luca have had a happy childhood? My kids would have grown up in the comfortable context of an in tact family. They would not have shuffled back and forth between two radically different households, having to readjust to the rules and norms particular to each. They would not feel that they have to choose between two parents, as in Luca’s case, or in the case of Franny, work so hard to be Switzerland.
If I had stayed, and I had sucked it up and gone along with the wishes of Prince and his family, my children would not have been raised in conflict. Perhaps Luca would not have been taught to look down on his mother. As much as his arrogance towards me pains me, the bigger issue is that the primitive ego defenses he has acquired via Prince’s parental alienation–projecting all that’s bad in his life onto me; splitting his parents–are sure to permeate his peer and romantic relationships. The sorrow I feel reflecting on the impact of all this on his future is even greater than the sorrow I feel about the impact on his relationship with me.
Perhaps, if we had stayed married, Luca would have grown up to respect women, to allow others to have differences of opinion. Would he not have been spared the internal turmoil of hating his mother, of severing the bond with the woman who bore him, nursed him, pushed him in his front-end loader down the sidewalk, laughed and clapped when he uttered something adorable in toddlerese, such as “Waiter, I’ll have a hamburger with meat and two buns”?
Now that eight years of post-divorce life have blurred and dimmed my recollections, I find myself second-guessing my belief that I had to get out or I would die.
Was I too demanding of Prince? Did I overreact when he informed me, upon my suggesting we write a will, that if I forced him to do so he would leave his money to his best friend? Was it really that odd when he balked at my desire to have a second child, informing me that he had no obligation to sire a second child because I had not specified that term in the prenup? When I finally talked him into a second child, should I not have protested when he insisted I go through a sperm-spinning procedure to produce a girl because “you couldn’t handle more male energy in the house”?
I had a lovely home in a gracious neighborhood, a home with an impeccably landscaped backyard and a kidney-shaped pool, a home that I imagined being the fun-filled destination spot for teenaged partiers. At the time, that home felt like Eden to me; did I fling myself out too quickly? Was it really so bad that my mother-in-law selected and placed every tschotke and stick of furniture? Was I being too demanding by wanting to know how our bills were being paid? Should I have cared less when irate vendors called me to complain that Prince was refusing to pay their fees because he objected to the way they wrote out their invoices?
Maybe Prince really did know better. Maybe I didn’t know how to pick the best pediatrician. Maybe I shouldn’t have breastfed so long, or at all. Maybe I should have let the flat spot on Luca’s head stay flat instead of having him fitted with a helmet to round out his scalp. Maybe I shouldn’t have burst into tears when I realized I’d lost my wedding band, and Prince informed me that he would not replace the ring because I hadn’t looked hard enough for it — despite the fact that I was six months pregnant and on bed rest.
When we were married, I grew to dread our vacations. We had to spend virtually every one with Prince’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Machiavelli, who planned the trips, complete with daily itineraries in which every meal had to be eaten together. Was I immature to feel lonely when Prince insisted on spending the winter holiday in Aspen with his family, leaving me at home due to my high-risk pregnancies? As time went on, more people in the Machiavellis’ orbit confided tales of the family’s back-stabbing, exploiting, ripping-off of other’s ideas: was I being soft because I cared about the rights of others? Was I too idealistic, believing that staying married to this family meant that I was colluding with bullies?
If I had waited things out, would Prince have loosened the reins? He and his fiancee, Sarah, take vacations without his parents. His mother has let Sarah decorate her own house. Prince even listens to Sarah’s parenting advice. I know this, because he and Luca tell me that Sarah makes all the right parenting choices.
Sarah is perpetually 75 degrees and is utterly unfazed by Prince’s character assassinations of me and the bizarre umbilical cord he has attached to Luca. If she knows of the Machiavellis’ reputation, she does not appear to take issue with it, or else she places said reputation in a little box, out of reach, and forgets about it.
When you enter her home, it is comfortably beige, devoid of any object or color choice that makes a statement. The children’s drawers are marked with type-written labels. The emergency phone list is encased in a silver frame, one on each child’s desk, the tops of which are spotless. When Prince and Luca engage in screaming matches, Franny tells me, Sarah simply goes into her bedroom and shuts the door.
If I had done that, if I had shut the door on Prince’s behavior, on his parents’ ruthless narcissism, would I have been codependent? Or simply savvy enough to accept the things I couldn’t control for the sake of keeping my family together?
Leaving Prince gave me things I would never have had with him: a husband who respects women and honest work; a stepson that adores my daughter; transparency around finances; an adult relationship in which I am an equal partner, instead of a second-class citizen relegated to the sidelines; a voice, and the drive and passion to express it.
But leaving Prince shattered my in tact family, and that is a Holy Grail that will forever be out of my grasp, and out of the grasp of my children.
- What about you? Have you moved on from your divorce, or do you have regrets?
- With the maturity that the years have brought you, do you feel that your marriage could have been saved?
- Do you have guilt for what your kids have had to endure? Or do you believe that they would have suffered more if you had remained in your marriage?