I wasn't a mother until my daughter was eight months old. Up until that point I didn't think I could be credited with more than carrying her through a successful (though horrific) pregnancy and buying the things she needed before and after she was born. I would wake up when she would wake up and we'd have a snack around 3am with the Golden Girls. I would strap her into her stroller and wheel her around my apartment complex at least once a day. In the summer I would take her down to the pool where she would immediately fall asleep so I could finally have a few minutes by myself to sit in the hot tub and wonder how in the hell my life had come to that moment. Then she would cry and I'd have to stop thinking and take her on another walk around the complex. During these times, I never connected with her. I don't remember much else about the first eight months of my daughter's life except that she never slept. This also meant that I never slept.
My shift was coming to an end at the hotel. I had walked back into the sales office to pick up my stuff and head home when a coworker came to tell me that a police officer was up front and and waiting to speak with me.
"It's probably my brother."
"Is your brother black?"
"He's not your brother."
I walked up to the officer and introduced myself. I don't remember if he introduced himself or not, though I'm sure he had to on account of his job. The officer handed me some paperwork and explained to me that I'd just been served. The paper said that I was being sued by Mr. Dumas and that he was taking me to court to fight me for custody of this eight month old baby he had yet to acknowledge. All I remember about that moment was running back to my boss' office and telling him I would need the following day off from work.
"Why? Is everything okay?"
"No. I'm being sued. And I'm going to fight this son of a bitch to the end if he ever thinks he's getting his fucking hands on my daughter!"
There. I'd said it. And, most importantly, I'd felt it. I became her mother. And I knew that I would have to play tug-of-war with him and I tried desperately to not use her as the fraying rope between her father and me because I knew her father would pull on her until she finally came to pieces. He'd done it to me and I'd left his sorry ass because of it. This man, who called himself her father on a legal document to sue me, had made a decision to join the military and head to bootcamp four days before she was to be born, had never signed her birth certificate, and had seen her only once. He wasn't good enough to be her father. And I had a feeling he never would be.
That was nearly eight years ago. In the room next to mine sleeps a beautiful little girl who just attended her first Girl Scout meeting last night and is on her way to perfecting a backward kickover in her gymnastics class. She rarely talks about her father and when she does it isn't in a positive light. I did everything I could (and things I never wanted to do) in order to encourage some kind of relationship between these two strong-willed individuals. He blames me for her stubborness. I pat myself on the back for teaching her to not bend to his will because I know, firsthand, that his will could potentially turn into abuse. He tells my daughter that she should make more of an effort to be in touch with him. I console my daughter and remind her that he's the adult and even she says he should act like one. He says I feed things into her brain. I tell myself that schizophrenia runs in his family and I shouldn't take all of these hurtful comments personally. But I do.
He has so many issues to work out. None of which are because of me. All of which combined at some point in his life before he even met me. But why confront those demons when I'm the one with a name? Scream at me, yell at me, curse at me, and tell me I'm going to hell. It's easier, I guess. I have a name. Those other issues also have names but to call them by name would only confirm their existence. They'd be outed. They'd become real and have to be dealt with. It's easier to deal with me.
By dealing with me, he ignores me just like he ignores his daughter. But every now and then I get a phone call from him asking how I am. I tell him that we are fine. He begins talking about God and how I'll be forgiven and how he (Mr. Dumas) has forgiven me. During the most recent call, he talked about all the incredible jobs he was offered and asked me what I think he should do. I didn't give him my opinion. He decided to take the job in England. It's a safe distance for him to not ever have to interact with his daughter and still use his job location as an excuse. She's not clueless. She knows he's not around. She sees her friends play with their daddies and she joins in. She doesn't want her daddy around because he's weird, he says creepy things, and he makes her feel like she's disappointing him. My child told me this. My heart broke for her but I couldn't let her know. I wouldn't want her to think she's disappointing me, too.
The judge agreed with me. About everything. The judge gave him too many chances to redeem himself, to admit he'd made some mistakes, to say he was willing to try to fix his life. But all he could do was talk about me and what a horrible person I was and how my family was brainwashing my child. The judge got fed up and called out his decision right then and there, in the courtroom in mid-January of this year. All visits with her father are to be supervised and I was even sensible enough to choose his parents as the supervisors. I couldn't imagine my daughter making her monthly appearance at a state visitation center and I hoped her paternal grandparents would encourage some sort of contact. My daughter hasn't seen her father's face or heard her father's voice (or those of her grandparents) in nearly ten months.
My daughter and I are each other's best friend. Not a good idea, you say? Yeah, I said that once, too. But that was before her father turned her into a game piece. And that was before he told her that terrorists were trying to break into our house and steal her away. And that was before he started to cancel visits and forget birthdays and nearly drink himself to death and expect her to feel comfortable around him after no contact for eight months last year. I've had to help her put herself together after nearly every encounter with her father. Of course we're each other's best friend.
I raise her with my own beliefs, some of which I never knew I had. Most of my decisions are in agreement with the way I was raised. Some of my child-rearing decisions leave my parents shaking their heads and talking at me about consequences and the tragic effect my decision could have on her future. I sit around wondering when I'll ever feel comfortable in my own skin, knowing that I am my own worst critic but still feeling like I'm constantly being scrutinized by people who have no idea what it's like to have to do it alone. But any time I see my daughter worrying about what others think, I remind her that quirky people rule the world and that I wish I was as brave as she is when I was a kid. Sometimes I wish I was as brave as she is even now that I'm an adult. That makes her smile.
And isn't that what a mom is supposed to do?