“Why won’t you just give him what he wants?” the mediator asked, condescendingly.
Was this REALLY happening to me?
It took channeling every ounce of courage I’d ever had to get myself to the Courthouse that morning. The anxiety I’d felt over having to face my ex without my shield of a lawyer nearly paralyzed me.
This was it. My son’s future was riding on whether or not I could keep my shit together during this mediation appointment, and now the mediator was trying to break me by playing “Good Cop, Bad Cop” before my ex and I would be in the same room for our session.
“All he wants is more time with his son. Why won’t you give it to him?”
I didn’t know what sort of show my ex had put on while talking to the mediator in that room when I wasn’t there, but what I did know was that none of this was really about my ex wanting more time with our son.
And THAT’S why I wouldn’t willingly give it to him.
I knew better.
But how could I express that to this man who knew nothing about what had gone on behind the scenes of the five + year relationship my ex and I had? He didn’t know the fear I’d felt as my ex had harassed and threatened me the last two years, all in an effort to remain in control of all things related to our son.
He had no idea who my ex truly was behind the charm he turned on for strangers.
I wanted to crumble and curl up into a ball right there at the thoughts, and if it was only my future at stake I probably would’ve, but I knew I couldn’t. My son needed me to be strong – no matter what my ex or the mediator said to me that day to try to sway me.
After five long months of arguing, accusations, paperwork, and court dates, mediation was my lawyer’s idea. Today was a last ditch effort to settle our custody battle before our 8-year-old son would be forced to take part in a best interests evaluation to prove whether or not I was a fit mother.
We’d been to court three times prior to this, and each time we left with nothing resolved. In between the court dates my ex did everything he could to intimidate me. He was used to me backing down, and he figured if he could find the right button to push I would cave.
Each time we left court he and his lawyer would file more paperwork that deemed me a shitty mother and him a model parent. Then my lawyer and I would have to submit our own retorts.
So much of that shit was hard to read. The lies made me angry. And some of the truths that also came up regarding my imperfections made me question myself.
Emotions were so high that there were even points where our lawyers got into screaming matches with each other – which was better than my ex and I getting into screaming matches with each other, but still.
My ex’s lawyer would go back and forth between saying I was an unfit mother, to saying that both my ex and I were “good and fit parents.” She changed her tactics like the wind. But on what was to be our final court date before being scheduled for a trial since we could not come to an agreement, she decided to swing her stance again, by eluding to the fact that I might be abusive to my child – thus forcing the judge to order a best interest evaluation by the court if we did not settle before the next date.
I could not comprehend how my ex and his lawyer could be willing to make such gross accusations about me or even drag an 8-year-old into court for no reason other than wanting to WIN a court case. As a mother whose only intention was to protect her son’s best interest, it was absurd to me.
What I eventually realized was that I was not dealing with rational people here. I was not dealing with people that were driven by their hearts – they were driven by their egos.
As much as I tried to shield my son from what was going on, I know he could still feel the tension. While I never spoke a word in front of him about the custody battle, he knew I wasn’t myself. His father and I didn’t speak or even make eye contact anymore during pick-ups and drop offs. I don’t think either of us could stand the sight of each other.
The impact the cost of a lawyer had on me financially left me freaking out most months over whether I’d even be able to keep a roof over our heads – which I’m sure he could sense. Then there were days I was shorter with my son than I should’ve been. I wasn’t always as patient or attentive because I was so mentally exhausted and stressed from everything that was going on - but I know I did the best I could.
During the final three weeks that led up to our mediation appointment, my son began to cry to me how he did not want to go back to his Dad’s house when it was time for his visitation. I can never be sure if he said that to me because he somehow thought it was what I wanted to hear, or if he truly did not want to be there.
In any event, his words helped me keep fighting for him.
“I’m not willing to give him what he wants, because I don’t think it is what our son would want.” I finally said.
“Ok. Let me talk to —- alone one more time before I have the two of you sit down together.”
As I stepped out into the hallway I could feel the tears coming. My heart began to race and my anxieties kicked in.
How the fuck was I going to pull this off when I was already about to lose it?
In an effort to save myself I called my mom. She was the only person I knew that might be able to talk me down from the ledge before it was too late.
But the minute she said hello it only made things worse. The sound of her voice unleashed the flood of tears I’d been holding back. I tried to explain to her what was going on, but was failing while I began to sob uncontrollably.
“Get your shit together, Melysa!” she said sternly. “You get your shit together and you go back in that room and fight for your son. He needs you.”
As much as I wanted her to coddle me, I knew that wasn’t what I needed. I needed her to remind me to fight. And she did just that.
I hung up the phone and headed to the bathroom. I locked myself in a stall, put my head between my legs and tried to breathe through the ugly cry I was currently engulfed in.
“Get your shit together…” I mumbled to myself.
It took a good ten minutes before I was ready to fight again, but somehow I breathed through the anxiety and fear to get there. When I exited the bathroom, the mediator was waiting for me.
“It’s time,” he said.
And with that I took one more deep breath, crossed my fingers, and followed him back to the mediation room to stand up to my ex alone, once and for all.
To be continued…