This is the question Francesca, my 9-year-old, used to ask me after she watched her dad pick up her brother Luca from school but leave her behind. On those occasions–every other Tuesday–I’d collect Franny at 3:00, then take her to get a a new pair of shoes or something else she didn’t need and I couldn’t afford so maybe she’d forget how crappy it felt to watch her dad and Luca drive away without her. Then I’d drop her off at her father’s house at 5:30, where she would stay until Thursday morning.
Just to clarify how truly nutty this arrangement was (and still is), here are the rest of the details: I drive 45 minutes to her school, hang out with her for 2.5 hours, drop her off at her dad’s–ten minutes away from school!!–then slog through an hour’s worth of rush-hour traffic back to my house. This also means that I have to take off from work Tuesday afternoons because I can’t spring for a babysitter to chauffeur her around for a couple hours.
You may be wondering about now: how did this happen? Why on earth did she ever agree to this insanity?
So my ex would sign the divorce papers, that’s why. Until last March, when the kids were still on the same schedule, and I babysat both of them until 5:30 on their dad’s timeshare Tuesdays, the arrangement was merely absurd.
We inverted Luca’s timeshare last year because it was clear he needed to spend more time with his dad. So Luca stayed with Prince, my ex-husband, Monday through Wednesday. Prince started picking up my son on Tuesdays–but not my daughter.
The arrangement was no longer just absurd. It was now truly sick.
No matter how much I pleaded with Prince to get over the technicality in the timeshare agreement and take Francesca with him so she wouldn’t feel like a second-class citizen, no mater how often I explained that timeshares need to be flexible to accommodate children’s changing needs, he refused to pick her up. Wouldn’t budge. He would threaten: “You are not allowed to violate our court-ordered agreement! If you do not drop her off at the regularly scheduled time, I will take you to court on an ex parte!” And then I started to realize that forcing my daughter on her father, who could not be bothered to free up his schedule to collect her from school, was not in her best interest. So I stopped pleading.
On those infamous afternoons, Francesca would ask me from the back of the car: “Why won’t my dad pick me up from school on Tuesdays? Why does he pick Luca up but not me?”
I’d glance in the rear-view mirror and catch a glimpse of her face. Sometimes she’d be fighting back tears. Sometimes she just looked puzzled.
Then I’d take a deep breath so I wouldn’t say something to the effect of: “This is not about you, Sweet Pea. This is about his need to treat me like The Help.”
Clearly, these were not words I could say. Nor could I sit her down with the DSM-IV, read aloud the diagnostic criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and say: “Remind you of anyone we know?”
Instead, what I said was:
“I don’t know why your dad doesn’t pick you up on Tuesdays. You should talk to him about it. You can’t control whether or not he picks you up, but it’s important to let him know how you feel.”
“I did ask him,” Franny told me one day.
“You did? What did he say?”
“He said it was your job to pick me up and drop me off at his house.”
There was this painfully loud silence in the car. I glanced in my rear view mirror as heartsickness, then resignation, traveled across Franny’s sweet freckled face.
And then I said the only thing left to say, the only thing that made any sense at all:
“Let’s go buy some new shoes, shall we?”
Now that Luca is at a different school and the preferential pick-up treatment is no longer staring her in the face, Franny’s questions about Tuesdays have all but dried up. She is a remarkably resilient nine-year-old. She accepts the things she can’t control with grace, lets them go, and finds something to be happy about. Cats. Playdates. Homemade molten lava cakes.
I, however, haven’t let go of the Tuesday Afternoon issue. I relayed it, with all its byzantine, sadistic twists and turns, to the Custody Evaluator earlier this week. Seemingly bored until that moment, he stopped scribbling notes on his yellow pad. His eyes bugged out and he stared at me with his mouth open.
“He won’t pick her up from school on Tuesdays? Did he give you a reason?”
“He says I have to follow the custody order.”
He looked down at his pad as if he didn’t know what to write. Then he looked up at me again.
“But what was the reason?”
“He says I have to follow the custody order.”
By this point, he looked thoroughly revolted. I loved him for that.
“But…what…is the reason?”
“He says I have to follow the custody order. That is his reason.”
It’s also one of the reasons I’m requesting that Franny’s timeshare stay the same. Any father who refuses to pick his kid up from school on his timeshare day–especially when this father is so independently wealthy that he doesn’t have to work–should not be awarded more custody.
Besides, Prince doesn’t really want Franny 50% of the time. He knows I still think she should be with me 62.5% of the time and he can’t stand the thought of letting me “win.”
I’m prepared for the judge to rule that a 50-50 timeshare is best. Where I live, most fathers get 50-50 if they want it unless they routinely cavort with crack whores. But I’m reasonably certain, especially given the Evaluator’s response, that my ex will be ordered to do the Tuesday school pick-up.
In the meantime, Franny will be adding to her shoe collection.