I still cry. Each year, our semi-annual ritual repeats itself and each year I cry when Richie and Greg -- like millions of other children of divorce -- pass through the flexible hallway to the airplane that spirits them to their father in Florida. It's been nine years now that the two of us pass our progeny via air travel, and each shares the mix of joy and pain. Sorrow to see them go, joy in their presence.
The pain and rancor of divorce have long been forgotten along with the bitterness and blame. What remains is the friendship and the special bond that only parents share, the pride and insanity about each child that links parent to child and parent to parent. It is a special tie that binds us -- the former spouses who shared a history as teen-age sweethearts, then marriage, with all the hope that youth endows, and then the eternal bond the birth experience brings.
The boys, though individuals, are a constant mix of both of us and our families, always evolving, always a little of each. Their names, their looks and personalities are consistent reminders of their origins. Richie, named for his father, also proudly bears my father's name: Willard. His casual personality, deliberate demeanor and striking good looks mimic his dad and are deja vu reminders of a boy I fell in love with 2 1/2 decades ago. Greg carries his dad's charm, my hyperactive approach to life and my "gift of gab." His middle name, Gerald, means jolly and aptly describes Greg and the two men for whom he is named: his grandfather, and his Uncle Jerry, who died tragically as Greg grew in my womb.
And here I stand at Gate 21 in National Airport as Eastern Flight 197 prepares to bear my precious cargo south. And I remember how it was that awful first time, when two small boys, ages 5 and 7, stood nervously before the plane, afraid to go yet thrilled at visiting their dad. "Will Dad know who we are?" "What if we get sick."
Greg's eyes brimming with tears, Richie's lower lip quivering -- "No matter who we're with, we're missing someone." I watched two frightened little boys turn into that abyss of a hallway, as close to each other as humanly possible, with Richie holding Greg by the back of the collar as if he might fall off the earth. Two little towheads, with matching striped shirts, short chubby legs, marching bravely to a place they had never been before, anxious to see the Dad they love. And I cried -- for their dilemma, for their father who misses so much, and for me. And I cursed the two parents that love them so much but through whose actions, the children pay.
Each year, the ritual eases. Although there always is pain, I would not have it any other way: There is a special place in the heart of each child that is reserved for their dad and which only he can fill.
They eventually became secure in the knowledge of the excitement ahead -- Dad, Disney World and junk food. At 7 and 9, they nervously asked, "Does Dad's new wife like little boys?" "Yes," I say, crossing my fingers and willing it be true, "Rosemary loves little boys. Be sure and give her hugs and kisses and don't forget the gift we bought her."
multicolored, unrecognizable messes -- and their dad loved it.
Rosemary becomes their friend and shows unusual unselfishness in allowing the boys special time with their dad. She and their father have given them the best gift of all, their sister Christina. This will be their third visit with the bouncy 18-month-old bundle of chuckles. The questions are different now. "Will Christina remember us and will Dad let us drive the car?"
Here we are again, same airport, same parents as sender and receiver, and this time a loving stepparent at each end. I no longer consider them victims of divorce but benefactors of the enrichment life's changes have bestowed. I suspect that Richie at 16 will miss his girlfriend more than he'll miss me, and Greg will miss our cats.
Our conversation always is mundane and stilted at the end. I always pass on some dumb reminder like, "Scrub your face at night and take your vitamins."
I ask how they feel about these years past. Richie says their visits always exceed their expectations and Greg thinks they got through because they always had each other and both their parents, too.
They turn to leave and, as if remembering, reach back to give me one last hug. I admire them as they stride together, side by side, once again disappearing down the elusive hallway to their special place with Dad. And I still cry.