Family groups - children - My long distance life
At the age of 5, I discovered what all children
of divorce know: you're always missing somebody
I WAS BORN IN BERKELEY, WHERE I lived in a small house in
the hills surrounded by firs and redwoods. My mom, my dad
and me. As early as I can remember, there was arguing. When
I was 4, my parents decided that they could no longer live
That same year, my mom moved to Los Angeles,
and a therapist was hired to decide where I would live. My
dad called her my worry doctor. Playing with a doll-house
in her office, I showed her the mother's room on one side
and the father's room on the other. When she asked me about
the little boy's room, I told her he didn't know where he
Though I was very young, I accepted my parents'
separation and divorce and somehow knew it wasn't my fault.
Yet I was intensely afraid. Not only was my mom more than
500 miles away, but she had a new husband. My dad had a new
girlfriend, and my custody was unresolved. Everyone said I'd
spend time with both parents, but I wanted to know where I
The therapist finally decided I'd stay with
my dad during the school year and visit my mom on long holidays
and for the summers. I began flying between two cities and
two different lives. I've probably earned enough miles for
a round-trip ticket to Mars. Some people love to fly, but
I dreaded the trips. For the first year, one of my parents
would accompany me on the flights. At 6,1 started traveling
on my own. I would pack my toys and clothes in a Hello Kitty
backpack and say goodbye to my parent at the gate. The flight
attendant would lead me onto the plane.
When I was 7, the woman sitting next to me on
the plane tried to convert me to Christianity. A few years
later I was on a flight with such bad turbulence that the
luggage compartments opened and the man behind me threw up.
When I was 12 and on my way to L.A. for Christmas, a lady
refused to check her bag and shoved a flight attendant. We
couldn't take off for two hours; the police came and dragged
her off. to the cheering of other passengers. But flying was
just part of what made long-distance joint custody so difficult.
I remember the last day of school in sixth grade.
All my friends made plans to go to the beach togetherâ€”all
my friends, but not me. I couldn't join them because I had
to fly to L.A. It wasn't that I didn't want to see my mom
and stepdad. I just didn't want to leave my friends. As the
school year came to a close, I began to shut down. I hated
saying goodbye for the summer. It was easier to put up a wall,
to pretend I didn't care. My dad drove to school with my packed
bags. My friends went off together and I headed to the airport.
Arriving in L.A., I was excited to see my mom
and stepdad. It had been almost three months since my last
visit. But it took a while to adjust. Each set of parents
had different rules, values and concerns. I am 16 now and
I still travel back and forth, but it's mostly up to me to
decide when. I've chosen to spend more time with my friends
at the expense of visits with my mom. When I do go to L.A.,
it's like my stepdad put it: I have a cameo role in their
lives. I say my lines and I'm off. It's painful.
What's the loll of this arrangement? I'm always
missing somebody. When I'm in northern California, I miss
my mom and stepdad. But when I'm in L.A., I miss hanging out
with my friends, my other set of parents and little brother
and sister. After all those back-and-forth flights, I've learned
not to get too emotionally attached. I have to protect myself.
Many of my friends' parents are divorced. The
ones whose mom and dad live near each other get to see both
their parents more. These kids can go to school plays and
dances on the weekends, and see their friends when they want.
But others have custody arrangements like mine. One friend
whose dad moved to New Hampshire sees him at Christmas and
for one month during the summer. My girlfriend's dad lives
in Alaska. They know what I know: it's not fair.
No child should be subjected to the hardship
of long-distance joint custody. To prevent it, maybe there
should be an addition to the marriage vows: Do you promise
to have and to hold, for richer and for poorer, in sickness
and in health, as long as you both shall live? And if you
ever have children and wind up divorced, do you promise to
stay within the same geographical area as your kids? Actually,
since people often break those vows, maybe it should be a
law: if you have children, you must stay near them. Or how
about some common sense? If you move away from your children,
you have to do the traveling to see them.
In two years I'll go to college. I'll be living
away from both homes, which will present new problems, such
as where I will spend holidays. Whatever happens, I'll continue
to build my relationships with both my parents, my siblings
and my friends. Before I have children of my own, I'll use
my experiences to help make good decisions about whom I choose
to marry. However, if I do get a divorce. I will put my children's
needs first. I will stay near them no matter what happens.
SHEFF is a junior at Marin Academy High School
in San Rafael, Calif.