- The Washington Times - Monday, August 2, 2010

I don’t know when the phrase “Disneyland Dad” was coined, but I saw one the other night.

My husband and I were at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport to meet a flight. While we waited at the baggage-claim area, a flight from Orlando, Fla., arrived.

After a short while, a girl, about 14, sat next to me on a bench. She pulled out her cellular phone and proceeded to offer an instant snapshot of a child’s life after the divorce of her parents.

“Mom, I do not want to spend the night with Dad,” Daughter said. “Please can’t I come home? I just spent a week with him in Orlando, and that was enough.”

I, of course, couldn’t hear what the mother was saying, but it was clear she was in no mood to drive to BWI at 11:30 at night to pick up her teenager.

But Daughter pressed on.

“Please come get me. He’s standing over there, texting someone. Probably Pam,” she said, needling her mom.

Moreover, Daughter explained in increasingly righteous tones that if she had to go home with her father tonight and then go to her mom’s home tomorrow, then just a few days later, she would “have to go back to Dad’s, because it’s his weekend.”

“This is just so unfair,” she said.

Her conversation reminded me of a book written a few years ago by a now-adult child of divorce named Elizabeth Marquardt.

“Kicked back and forth like a football” could be a metaphor for a child’s life after divorce, Mrs. Marquardt wrote in “Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce.”

As a child, Mrs. Marquardt once suggested to her father that maybe she, too, was a football.

In response, her father had grown angry. “He assured me sternly that this image did not apply to me. He and my mother loved me,” she wrote.

And it was true, her parents were not unkind to her, Mrs. Marquardt said. They always hugged her passionately before they passed her to each other.

“Still, there was something about that football,” she wrote. “I could see it spinning in its arc, flying freely, even beautifully, from the one who launched it to the one who caught it.

“But it seemed almost too high, too free; it belonged neither to the place it had left nor to the place where it was going. Maybe it belonged in that space in between.”

Divorce changes childhood.

In married families, children live inside their parents’ world.

When divorce occurs, that world splits in two.

And it falls to the children to make sense of these two worlds, even though that is not fair to the children, wrote Mrs. Marquardt, now a married mother.

I pondered these words as this teenage girl in the airport begged her mother to help her transfer from one world to the other.

Then I saw Dad. He was in his late 30s, handsome, tanned and fit.

He had three other children with him, two of whom ran over to retrieve Daughter.

She motioned them away with exasperation, as she had one more thing to say to her mother.

“I hate this,” she hissed. “This is so unfair. And if I have to go with him, I am going to be such a brat. I am going to be brattier than he’s ever seen.”

After a tearful goodbye, she snapped her phone shut, stood as tall as her 5-foot frame would allow and walked bravely toward what was left of her family.

Cheryl Wetzstein is on medical leave. This column originally appeared July 29, 2008.

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