The other night I lay next to my three year old daughter, stroking her cheek and singing a discordant rendition of Piano Man (pretty much the only song she doesn’t beg me to stop singing). I was trying to soothe her into a sleep she had resisted with commendable tenacity. She opened her sleepy eyes, looked up at me and mumbled something which I imagined to be one of her random, heart-stoppingly touching endearments – Thank you mommy for buying me this toy (while clutching a plastic scrap bought years before, probably for her older brother); You are beautiful mommy (pulling my eye-lids open at 5 a.m.); will you marry me mommy (while walking down the aisle of the supermarket trying to pick a breakfast cereal). What she in fact said was “I wish I didn’t have you”. Unsure that I had heard correctly I took her dummy out of her mouth and asked her to say it again. Yes. Very clearly. “I wish I didn’t have you”. Followed by the kicker – “I wish I had my daddy”.
Now before you all roll your eyes or reach for your tissues, be assured that me and my children are mutually adoring. We hug a lot, tell each other at least 15 times a day how loved the other is (“I love you all the stars and planets in the universe” “I love you all that plus one” “Well I love you that plus infinity” “Well I love you all that plus one” etc). It has, in fact, been argued that it might be useful for my children to have me surgically removed at some point, in order to allow them the opportunity to form healthy attachments with people who are not their mother.
So when my daughter fired this last bullet into the dying salvo of our bed time struggle, I was not overly distressed. The divorce was new terrain, with lots of interesting spaces to push the boundaries. And, possibly the slightly more difficult to swallow, I am sure she has a certain amount of ambivalence. She loves us both, but can’t be with us at the same time. There are inevitably times when she will be with me, still love me, but wish she was with him. Damnit.
But I am old friends with ambivalence myself. For a long while there were periods where I still loved Cheating Husband, despite the Apocalypse he rained down on our family. My heart betrayed me a thousand times, as I somewhat reluctantly felt pity for him when once mutual friends conducted angry character assassinations, and my enraged mother snubbed him violently, in only the way a Jewish Mother Scorned can do. Here was a man who had, quite simply, broken me, and yet I insisted, once when escorting me home, that Over-Protective Brother and Cousin who is a Policeman remain in the car outside and not come in and beat him up.He had been beaten up, several times, into bloody, messy pulp. But these day dreams were mine and no-one else was allowed to go there.
I was discussing this state of involuntary ambivalence with a friend of mine the other day. His Cheating Wife desperately wants him back. Six months after turfing him out of the marital home to pursue a seedy relationship with a married man, and leaving him completely annihilated, she came to her senses (he is an utter darling of a man with all of the necessities of a Good Husband)and tried for a reconciliation. He had fortunately, by then, passed that dangerous stage where you will do anything just to have things go back to the Day Before (granted some of the techniques he used to achieve this are a bit dubious, but certainly infinitely preferable to Cheating Wife) and he declined, somewhat too politely for his mother’s sake (she is not Jewish, but as protective). But he is still, every now and again, struck with a profound longing to return to the marriage that felt like home for so long. He finds these long moments of ambivalence very disturbing, in a way that you would not be familiar with unless you have ever had a strong craving for a fresh glass of strychnine. At these times our long discussions always wind there way to the same conclusion – ambivalence is, in many ways, the hardest part of divorce, for everyone.
I happen to mention to Ideal Man that I was writing this blog, but that I wasn’t really sure how to end it because there were a number of points I could steer towards, and I didn’t know which one to choose. He pointed out that maybe that was precisely the point. And that this would be a good place to end.