She developed an obsession with Free to Be You and Me, which thanks to her auntie’s gift she now owns in book, CD, and DVD form. But we made it and I loved having all the time to spend with her, even if it made for a bit of a lonely New Year’s Eve once she was in bed. In the midst of this all, her mother moved, even closer to us, from six blocks away to more like four.
On days that Ronia is in school, handoffs are easy: one parent drops in morning, another picks up in the afternoon. Occasionally there is a schedule change, or the teacher tells her the wrong thing, or she just misunderstands and she is upset. But most of the time it is clean, Ronia waves through the window and runs out to embrace me, with no need for tense inter-parental contact.
But this past Sunday morning, I needed to walk Ronia to her Mama’s new house, a rented third floor of a mansion right next to the train station. Ronia, as if sensing yet another transition in her life, had a hard time the night before, telling me “I hate sleeping alone!” and clinging to me each time I tried to leave. I admitted defeat. That, and I desperately needed rest myself, so I finally lay down to sleep next to her at 11 pm.
In the morning, she was buoyant and excited that I was going to let her wear her monkey pajamas outside (which she does not actually like to sleep in) and at seeing her mother who she hasn’t stayed with since Tuesday. (Though we were all at a Shabbos dinner together Friday night–complicated, I know.)
I packed her suitcase, and asked if she wanted to carry it. She did, and we went out the door–me with a bag I had packed to go visit my ladyfriend in New York City in addition to some mail and laundry I needed to deliver to Ronia’s mom.
I looked back at Ronia rolling the suitcase, it is kiddie size, but still nearly the size of her. The coat and boots over her pajamas made her look as if she was escaping some emergency.
She made it one whole long block before declaring the suitcase “too heavy,” but not before breaking my heart. My child is growing up like any child, but with extra milestones for someone with separated parents. My First Walk from Papa’s House to Mama’s House.
She walks the whole way, pausing only to greet cats and dogs and show off her suitcase. When we arrive at the address, I have never actually been to the house so I ask Ronia which one it is. She remembers, but finally tells me firmly “Call Mama” when I cannot find the entrance. Her mother has overslept, “Look Ronia she’s in her pajamas too!”
Another neighborhood dad passed with his kid in a jogging stroller, and even though I knew he had battled a serious mental illness, he suddenly seemed vastly more functional than me. I remind myself I was performing an important parenting role, providing my child with a safe and gentle transition between her homes. The Babymama and I traded logistics, even though we were not supposed to, figuring out when we could both take our vacations.
I left through the achingly clear air and melting blizzard snows. I hefted my overstuffed backpack for the bus ride ahead. I felt surprisingly light.