This past weekend, Dove crawled into my lap and curled up like a cat, lifting her head every now and then to kiss my cheek. Moments like that, holding her in my lap or watching her wrestle her father, I feel like she is safe, free to be who she is really is.
When Gary and I saw Dove before her pre-school graduation a few weeks ago, she instantly smiled when she saw her daddy and started heading toward us. Then a shadow crossed her face, she stopped, dropped her head, and avoided us the rest of the evening. The fact that her mother stepped directly into her path as she started walking toward us? Ah, merely coincidence, of course.
All of the kids are punished for loving their father and me. I have seen it so many times, it can be construed as nothing but abuse. Dove, as the youngest, is the most confused about the profuse praise and attention heaped upon her for not sitting with her father that night, or for the anger and hostility unleashed on her when she wants others to play “like Daddy”.
Whether the kids completely understand what is happening (and I don’t believe they always do, or possibly can), they understand in no uncertain terms that loving their daddy or me is going to be met with anger, belligerence, and punishment, while joining in with their mother and their grandparents in putting us down is rewarded, praised, and encouraged. As they get older, the kids seem to be catching on that not everything they are told is exactly the gospel truth. Realizing that your own mother is a hateful liar cannot be easy.
Watching the kids in Hickville, then watching them at our house, is like watching two different sets of children. They seem to shed shackles and tear off their masks once they are safe in our home, bursting with radiant true colors that are suppressed and squashed in Hickville.
Dove is immersed in the poison heavier than the older kids since she is younger and not able to question what is happening. It takes an immense coward to twist a child’s mind and prey upon innocence.
Each time Dove kissed my cheek, each time she ran into the room just to say “I love you, Daddy”, I wished the kids could simply enjoy being kids, could love freely, could grow and explore and feel without fear of retaliation or sanction.
Today is Dove’s birthday. She is five years old and ready to dominate kindergarten when school starts in the fall. She is a whirlwind of energy with a tender heart, a snappy sense of humor, and a stubborn streak a mile wide.
She is also confused as hell and already scarred by her mother’s and her grandparents’ alienation attempts. Five years of being lied to, manipulated, told what to think, ordered how to feel, punished for loving her daddy, listening to an endless litany of put-downs and insults about both Gary and me…she is such a young child but has already experienced so much she never should have been exposed to.
I wish I could say it will get better from here. But all I can say is, I hope all of the kids manage to hold on tight to what is true in their hearts, what is soft and gentle and loving, and manage to not be dragged down by people in their lives intent on destroying them.