It happened so quickly. One day Barbara's grown son and his live-in girlfriend were sparring and snapping at eachother, and the next, she was gone. She moved back to the small town where her parents lived--taking her seven-year-old daughter, Chrissie, with her.
And it's Chrissie that has been weighing on Barbara. Chrissie is not her grandchild--she's the child of the girlfriend and the girlfriend's former husband. But during the four years her son and the young mother were a couple, Barbara grew attached Chrissie. She'd been thrilled to introduce her to the Nutcracker ballet and to take her to Disneyland. Since her son lived several hours away, Barbara had set up a nook in her house filled with stuffed animals, children's books and toys for those times when the couple came to visit.
When the mother moved out and away, Chrissie was gone from Barbara's life--without so much as a goodbye or an explanation of why Barbara and her husband were no longer going to be around for her. "We just disappeared from her life," Barbara says. "Poof, and we were gone."
Unlike grandparents who are linked into the custody rights of their child when there is a divorce, Barbara had no standing to see Chrissie. One day this summer, Barbara realized Chrissie's 7th birthday was a few days away. She called her son to ask if it was okay if she sent a birthday card. And this was the unpleasant dose of reality for Barbara. He was emphatic in asking her not to. Chrissie's mother was harrassing him with nasty phone calls. A card from Barbara would only inflame matters.
Barbara understands. She knows the relationship between her son and Chrissie's mother had become an unhealthy one and that he had to move on. And yet she feels a loss. It's hard to let go of those powerful feelings for a small child. "Friends warn you, don't get attached to your child's girlfriend or boyfriend," she says. Fine advice, but how do you not? And why is that attachment so different from one that would take place if the couple were married. Breakups are breakups--whether they are official [a divorce] or unofficial [moving out]. Breaking up is hard to do--and it's equally hard on the parents of the disillusioned couple. With no blood ties, you don't get to say goodbye--even to a seven-year-old.