In 2001, my children were 2 and 4. I had suffered a massive stroke while pregnant with the 2 year old, leaving me extensively and noticeably physically weakened and unstable.
It wasn’t easy having 2 little toddlers to care for alone with such extensive physical handicaps, but I was grateful I had recovered enough to provide them a momma and could still attempt to manage a home for us at all.
We lived in rent-controlled subsidized housing as my only income was $500 per month disability plus whatever temporary jobs I could get that accommodated my disabilities. It was a very nice newer townhouse though and it was in a decent neighborhood where my kids were safe to play outside. My ex, their non-disabled father, was making around $800k or more a year. With his income bracket, I was entitled to a significant amount of child support, but because I feared angering him and I feared him resenting our children if he was forced to pay the several thousand dollars a month support to which we were legally entitled, I gratefully accepted the $200/month he chose to pay and I simply adjusted our lives to live the best I could manage for the 3 of us on the total of $700/month.
He lived about 3 hours away from us at the time and in addition to not taking him to court and demanding enforcement of reasonably appropriate child support, I also drove our children half way to his house for his visits to ease the travel burden on him.
I had an old beat up Honda that my dad had helped me purchase shortly after I’d left my children’s father. My ex had driven my prior car into the automobile graveyard in efforts to preserve his own car from too much wear and tear and when that car of mine died a few months before our first daughter was born, he went out and bought himself a new car, leaving me without a car- not even the old but dependable means of transportation I’d had before we met.
So this little beat up but dependable Honda my dad had helped me obtain was precious to me for our independence. It was how I got to work any jobs I was able for extra money to live on; it was how I, even with severe physical limitations, was able to occasionally safely take my two children under the age of 4 to the park or beach or for an ice cream treat; it was how I helped make their dad’s busy successful career life easier by driving them half way to his house for weekend visits whenever he requested. Sometimes if the fatigue was too great for me physically to safely make this drive with 2 little kids, my dad being a godsend of our lives (and our safety) would not hesitate to make that drive helping their dad out on my behalf.
This had been the practice for as long as I’d been split from my babies’ dad. We didn’t once deny him this extra consideration. We just made it happen every visit he wanted, no matter the burden or inconvenience for us. If I couldn’t do it, my dad did it for me. Period. Zero complaints and zero exceptions.
But once in 2001 when they were 2 and 4, I had serious car trouble. The tie rod on my car was worn bad. I had obtained a repair quote. The price to fix the tie rod was around $500.00! I didn’t have that kind of money obviously. And to make matters worse, the mechanic warned me that it was so close to snapping in half completely that he strongly urged me not to drive the car at all until it was repaired but that if I had to drive it prior to repair to make sure I not drive far, not exceed 35 miles per hour, or drive it on highways. He warned that if the car was going over 35 mph and hit any kind of bump at all, the tie rod would likely snap in half and it could cause an immediate and possibly fatal accident.
My dad helped my children and I so much already, I didn’t want to ask him for this repair money. So, I just didn’t drive with my children in the car around that time unless it was totally unavoidable and I could stay safely under 35 mph. During this time, my dad drove my kids and I mostly to important events. Of course, in this time, my dad did all the half-way to their dad’s house driving with my kids to meet their dad as the route half way to him was over an hour of highway driving.
One week while my dad was out of state on vacation, my ex wanted his weekend visit with the usual additional assistance of being met half way in the middle. He had informed me on a Wednesday that he wanted them that coming Friday for the weekend.
I panicked because my dad would be out of state that weekend. So I immediately went about calling several friends to ask them to drive us if I paid them gas money for the trip or asking if i could borrow their car. On Friday morning, I was still calling friends and acquaintances trying to secure the hour and a half one-way highway ride for my children and me to meet their dad.
Incidentally, their wealthy dad who paid less than one-eighth of the legal child support we were entitled to for his part in providing for our children- money I could have easily used to afford either the car repair I needed or possibly even a newer car altogether- had recently purchased a shiny reliably new SUV for himself.
Around noon on Friday, having been unable to secure any driving assistance for this 3 hour round trip jaunt to make my ex’s life a few hours easier, I called him to explain that I couldn’t meet him half way this time. I explained the tie rod, the mechanic’s warning, the money I didn’t have for the repairs, that my dad was out of town, and my many unsuccessful efforts to get a ride or borrow a safe car.
I’d explained the entire situation to him on the phone struggling to use my face and shoulder to hold the phone and my one hand/arm that still worked since my stroke to fix lunch for our two freshly napped and hungry toddlers. There was a long silent pause when I was finished explaining.
Finally after more than 30 seconds of uncomfortable silence on his part had passed, I simply said, So…. I’m really sorry I can’t meet you half way today. You’ll need to come here to pick them up or we’ll have to reschedule for next weekend when my dad can drive them to meet you half-way….
Still dead silence on the other end of the phone. I was getting frustrated at this continued total silence (an annoying trademark of his) because I had one working hand and could not finish getting my 2 and 4 year old their lunch while on the phone sitting and waiting for him to break this extensive silence in reply to my situation.
So finally after waiting forever again for him to reply and getting absolute silence, I finally spoke again and said, Mark, I’m really sorry I can’t meet you this time. I tried everything I could think of to manage it, but I can’t possibly drive our babies an hour and a half on a highway to meet you today. It’s not safe, but they’re also hungry right now and I need to hang up to finish getting them their lunches, so I really need you to speak and tell me if you want to come pick them up this time or reschedule for next weekend, ok?
Another 2-3 second pause passed. He finally spoke. He didn’t offer to help me with the repair money to fix my car; he didn’t say he’d drive this one time the whole way to pick up our children; and he didn’t say, okay let’s reschedule for next weekend when your dad can meet me.
Nope. When he finally replied, he screamed, JUST PUT THE KIDS IN THAT GODDAMN CAR AND FUCKING MEET ME HALFWAY NOW!!
I’d dealt with his terrifying fury while we had lived together and had literally spent the past 4 years sacrificing and accommodating anything he wanted just to avoid the terror of his anger even while living 3 hours away from him. So when he screamed this, I just started shaking from head to toe.
And after every narcissistic trait he’d shown me from the day I’d met him, I was still beyond shocked he would literally demand I put our two little babies’ lives in actual danger just to save himself a longer than usual drive. He was willing, no demanding, that I risk his 2 and 4 year old children’s lives for no reason at all except his added convenience.
But I feared him. And I constantly feared him holding these things – any little thing he didn’t get his way with- against our kids out of anger toward me. I feared he would resent our sweet little babies these things and their relationship with him might be compromised. I wanted better than that for my babies. I couldn’t stay in a relationship with their dad but I was committed to doing everything in my power to ensure they enjoyed a strong relationship with their dad like I was so grateful to have with my own dad.
So, I did what any well trained narcissistic and domestic violence abuse survivor does, I followed his irate demand and put my two little children in my death trap of a car and drove them the hour and a half to meet him.
It took me just over 3 hours to drive an hour and a half drive going 35 miles per hour all the way. I was a shaking nervous wreck the entire way scared to death of every unforeseeable possible bump in the road.
But I didn’t want my 2 little toddlers to know how terrified and panicked I was on this endless slow drive, so I popped in the Sarah Evans CD they loved so much and we sang at the top of our lungs, while I drove 35 mph on the highway and acted silly in the front seat making them laugh the whole slow ride through hell to make their dad’s life easier that day.
It seemed like forever getting there but I was never more relieved in my entire life than I was that day when we finally got to our destination.
I exchanged the children into their dad’s shiny, safe, brand-spanking-new SUV, and I turned right around and drove 35 mph the entire way for the 3 hour long (hour and a half drive) back home sobbing in enormous relief that I’d gotten them there safely and praying to God my dad would be back home in time on Sunday to meet him half way to pick them back up.