Sitting next to my brother in McDonald’s PlayPlace yesterday opened my eyes to world of traveling visitation. Its not your normal run-of-the-mill visitation that you have with a local parent, where you have a weekend together. I’m talking about the parents that have to travel to see their children, whether it be a half-hours drive or even a flight across the United States.
We drove five hours to where they live in California, and spent seven hours in court rooms or other government buildings. Following a long hard day of roadblock after roadblock, we drove another thirty miles to pick up they boys, only to drive thirty miles back to town to spend three hours with them. My brother was exhausted from the drive, emotionally letdown from all the legal mumbo jumbo, and court hoola hoops he was jumping through. Seeing them was by far the highlight of the day, the way they came running down their hill to their dad waiting with tears and open arms was enough to make anyone tear up. Their smiles were from ear to ear, they had missed him since his last visit in July and were beyond ecstatic that he was there. Knowing that his visitation time with his sons was limited, he soaked up every bit of it that he could, that realization was visible all over his face. He would look at the kids, laugh, hug them and as they would turn away it was if the flame within him was blown out.
Watching my brother snapping pictures of his boys, smiling at them, laughing with them, and hanging on every word of “Dad – watch me” or “Dad guess what?” I wondered how many other kids at that playground were there for visitation also. When traveling out of town, depending on the time allowed for the visit, its hard to find a quality place for quality time. Many travelers arranging with a custodial parent will use a common place, a place easily located and well known, and helps when there is a playground close by. It was the first time I saw McD’s as anything more than a fast food joint with a cool playground and a yummy strawberry shake. Today this popular drive-thru was a drop off place for parents, a visitation station for those from out-of-town and the place where some -parents sat smiling soaking in every detail of their child – only to face saying goodbye shortly after.
The boys were having a blast in the playground area and would take turns running back to their dad to hug him, to talk to him, just the exciting realization that he was there. They both kept wanting to put on the costumes dad had bought them at the local Halloween City store. To them this time was fun – to my brother it was wonderful outlined with heartbreak – because he knew he would be leaving them again. To be honest it hurt me as well. This was the first time I had met my nephews, and I too was saying goodbye to them.
The judges in these cases, granted the cases where parents are deserving of the visitation, really need to put traveling time into consideration. After a twelve hour day, a three hour visit seems ridiculous to me. Giving a three hour visit, that takes 10 hours of drive time in all, once a week – is of course a blessing to see your children, but then again its hell. Why not an overnight, or a weekend? It just seems that the system has a lot of things backwards if you ask me, but luckily in my brothers case this will all be ending soon.
After kissing the boys and snapping one last photograph, they were off with their Mom, and my brother settled into his seat in the car. What was on his mind for sure, I couldn’t say, I told him it was okay to cry, and he said he already had. Those boys are who he is, they are what makes him alive, and although he has a beautiful happy little boy here at home as well, you could tell his family just wasn’t complete yet. Even his wife, was saddened to not have these boys more, to get to interact, have them bond closer to their little brother and feel the closeness a family should feel.
For that day though, we were happy for that hamburger happy meal with a side of visitation.
Have you ever had a drive-thru visitation of sorts?