The Time I Almost Became a Long-Distance Parent
I’m not used to sifting through fire, broken bones, in order to find “home”. Home means various things to people. Home also can change, is a variable almost, how it can be spoken for (and, to) in ways that differ, depending on the location of feet and heart. Home has always been a special place I could locate, I could trail my fingers across and find the grooves in, to trace my belongings. But, it is hard. When I originally wrote this, almost a year to this date, I think I might have had three mental heart attacks. I am not sure what that means exactly, but I’m going to assume for myself it was indicative of my stress levels at the time. When I wrote this, my daughter was not in the same state as me, and so, I grieved. The grieving being the layers involved in that story, how that story was created, and how her mother and I bore the weight of said story.
As a parent, there is a certain kind of love you hold for your seedlings that only another parent of a human child can understand. It lurks in the glint in the eyes as you walking and passing other fathers, other parents playing with their children, in what seems like, in the far distance, the model for parenting you expected and wanted. You question and look back at the crumbs left over, right? You count the steps taken, marking the foot prints to get back to where you lost yourself, where you lost whatever control you had and gave away. It does feel like the blinking of an eye almost, the time that has passed.
My daughter was one year of age, and already then I would watch her in videos and see her body elongating, her speech tightening. Every day another day of suffocation, because video could not capture all the smiles, the hand raises, her grabbing for things. They tell you yes, you will miss things: she will be in daycare or have a baby sitter, she will have a nanny or you will be working, supporting a family, and so someone else will be tasked in those hours and times with her raising. But, this is different. Distance does not only make the heart grow fonder, it grows bitter and hard and cold too if left for too long to be idle in its lonely. Lonely because there was a time when your arms and her arms felt like one movement, one puzzle piece linked by the arches and ends, and every minute pf every day feels like the dissolving of the dream.
It was the night I saw a video of my daughter walking, and I wasn’t there to see it myself. That. Breaking, and crying, and slamming things; the shame and guilt and regret all cobbled together. They tell you about moments missed, but they don’t explain what the daggers do, where they land, and that you will never get them back. No one tells you how that will sting, or taste like. Nobody prepares you for that feeling. No one tells you how it feels to be separate. No, no one explains to you what that searing feels like. No one shoulders the breaking that transpires when you are negotiating time for a child. The feeling of wanting to burn everything thing down, the want to melt building wiring, airplanes, your skin; looking for fabric or metal to rub your flesh against to make the friction matter. To make the matter dissipate between the two of you, the three that is the tree of your existence. What will you do, young man? You ask and ask…how much more can you give, will be taken from you, will be accepted. How right are you, how wrong have you been?
I went to my safe space the next day: Whynot coffee shop — tired and hungry. I keep drinking water there; more thirst, over and over. I kept getting up and drinking water because I was trying to save money, and myself. I debated if I needed a movie, or a cry, or a hug; a fuck, or a smile, a hand, an apology. But really, all I needed was my little person. The world will offer you what you ask for. I am not used to asking for things, whether blatant or implicit. I am dependent on my own arms for solace. So, asking for assistance is a space my body has no knowing of. Looking around at everyone, and while struggle is relative, mine felt like death, like a wavering wall of empty knocking my chest air back anytime a coo happened near me, or a giggle that could be mistaken for the mouth of my little person. The struggle was mine, and mine was a strong, persistent one. And I believed mine was worse than everyone elses, because that is what pain does. Pain sends signals to you nerves, pushing the buttons that go “this is more important than anything else happening to anyone else, and you will pay attention.”
So, there I stood — the long-distance parenting book did not tell you about this. The book did not mention the harm you want for yourself for being in a place where the dark has made a base for. I keep drinking water. I wanted to be full of something else. Water took me back to my body. We are bodies of water. I can swim here, I suppose.
There is the potential to want to starve yourself, to a beg star and a God for a reprieve, but that is not possible. James Baldwin said something about your right always being someone’s wrong. There will always be a space where what you want will be in direct conflict with the want of another, especially if another is tied to you. Children tie you to them. The string is long and elastic-being; it stretches and it is not yours. Our children are not ours. They are their own selves, and with that begins the juggle of keeping and letting go. People will judge you for your choices, and whether you can face the mirror of guilt or not, your view will shift a little when people point fingers at you and say “no, you are not the example, you are not the light you speak of.” You will watch friends parent, and wonder how you have wandered into this forest, this encampment that feels like armory is building rank inside of you. You look at other girls who are women and you look at her pictures and think of how much of this time will be lost to her, will grow on her. Mae Jemison went to the moon. You want your baby to go places, too. You want her to taste things and places and people. You also know the want will never be enough. You know plenty who have “wanted”, who have put and pushed desire to the front in hopes it would them to the home they yearned for. When I was younger I would eat mayo and toasted bread each Friday night. My daughter has not had to do that, but was the distance the same? How much love can save a forest? How much giving can keep the earth from throwing itself off a cliff? These are the kinds of things the long-distance book did not answer when I ordered it from Amazon. You prepare and ray and then you see the preparation turn to dust, the prayer to gas; it chokes you out of your room. They will tell you self-care but there are limits to that caring when you parent, no? Because, responsibility. There is a balance you will fight for, until your hands tire. And you may punch a wall, or cry in public, or yell in the middle of Union Sq., because you want that thing back, you want her arms and little toes back. Someone should have told me that from that far away you will never feel like a parent, or a whole person; that you will always be missing yourself somewhere because their is a part of you floating about that is not as close to you as it used to be. And that will be the hardest part. And you will consider the options: maybe you move, maybe you do other harder things. How good are you at deprivation? How long can you hold your breath?
How much of it is sacrifice? How much of it is ego? How much are you willing to part with in order to move on, and let go? Faith is not something you can touch with your hands. I am not sure of anything anymore. I tink I am drinking my body. I think I am thinking less, doing more; being. But the lesson, after her return back to our city and her home, was this — in the end, no matter where she may go, no matter where she may grow, the love will carry us through.