I Hope I Never Forget When I Couldn’t See My Kids

Last night during Shabbat services, a friend tapped me on the shoulder.

“Your son’s crying in the kid’s camp. He wants you.”

I felt a split-second of annoyance, and then hurried to hold an overtired boy who needed his tears dried.

On my way home later,I thought about that split-second.

In December 2013, almost three years ago, I was released from a rehab hospital. I moved into a sober living in Culver City, three miles from Eira and the kids. I was eager, I told their mother, to start seeing the kids again.

Eira was cautious. In July, I’d disappeared on them, walking out the door one afternoon not to be seen again for nearly four months The children had been heartbroken and confused. My son had looked for me under beds and in closets, a perplexed but determined expression on his toddler face.

Eira did not trust me not to bail on them again, bailing back into drugs or alcohol, or worse, bailing into the permanent decision from which there is no return. She wasn’t wrong to worry.

We agreed I would see see the kids for two hours on Sunday afternoons, and I would be allowed to give them their Friday night blessings. (An important practice in Jewish culture). That would be all, at least until a track record of stability was established.

At the synagogue one Friday night that December, Eira hovered as I placed my hands on each child’s head and recited the birkat hayeladim. I said it slowly for each, savoring the Hebrew I barely understood, knowing that each word drew me closer to goodbye.

“Say night-night to abba,” Eira asked the children, and we hugged. Chuchi looked bewildered, Heloise looked solemn. “You’ll see him on Sunday,” my ex promised.

I started to cry, and walked out.

A few minutes later, I stood on Robertson Boulevard, and peeked over the fence into the yard where the children were playing. I watched Heloise chasing her friends; I watched a tired Chuchi nestling in the lap of one of the centre’s professional nannies.

I ached for my babies, hot tears splashing on the pavement.

I watched an exasperated father start to lose his temper with the small boy pawing at him. “I need to go,” the dad kept repeating, while his son pleaded for “one more minute.”

I looked at the dad’s face. “You fool,” I said softly, “you absolute fool. You have no idea what you have.” I wiped my eyes and walked to the bus stop for the ride back to my sober living. I was already counting the hours until Sunday afternoon.

You know what comes next. A few months later, I got out of the sober living, began to rebuild, and though the road is long and the climb is so much steeper than I thought, fought to get to the point where I am trusted with the children.

Sunday afternoons were joined by Tuesday afternoons, and then the fullness of Fridays, and some Saturdays, and… here we blessedly are.

Now, I am with them often enough that I too — sometimes — get exasperated and bored. I’m lucky enough to remember, most of the time, what a privilege a parent’s exasperation and exhaustion can be.

And I say to myself, at times like that, “You fool. How could you forget?”