The scene plays itself out dozens of times every Friday evening and Sunday afternoon. It occurs in the parking lot at convenience stores and Walmarts, parks and truck stops. It's not something you would pay attention to as you drive by, but there is gravity — and no small amount of tension — in each and every instance.
At first glance, there's nothing unusual about what's going on. In reality, it's far too common, and if you allow yourself to think about it as you bounce along the highway, it's depressing.
A vehicle arrives at the appointed place at the named time. Another pulls up close by. Routine, if there can be anything routine about the commodity of young life.
A woman, usually 27ish and not in a talkative mood, will unbuckle her child from the safety seat in her car. A man, 27ish and not too talkative either, will retrieve the small backpack or bag of some sort that has a favorite toy and extra clothes. He'll put the bag in his truck while the woman says good-bye to the child.
Then she hands over the little one with barely more words than, "Sunday at 5."
The man nods his head and holds the child close. It's been just a few days, but too long.
Then the man and woman go their separate ways. They'll meet again 48 hours later. Forty-eight. Not 47. Not 49.
The man will usually head toward the nearest fast-food place for an ice-cream cone or some other treat, while the woman speeds away. Alone.
On Sunday, reverse the actions. Now, it's the man's turn to drive away with an empty car seat, a new memory and maybe a twinge of regret. Maybe that goes both ways. It's impossible to know from 70 miles per hour and a figurative world away.
Arkansas has the second-highest divorce rate in the nation, behind only Nevada. (What happens in Nevada often unhappens there, too, apparently.) Caught in the middle of all these divorces are the children who get shuffled between parents one weekend or holiday at a time.
Some of them, the older ones, know why Mom and Dad don't live together anymore. The younger ones have no idea what's going on. They just know they get to see Daddy or Mommy for a little while, before it's time to go "home."
How divorces affect children varies as much as the children themselves. Economics can play a part. The particular circumstances that led to the divorce can play another. A child's age also helps determine how he or she processes the new reality. But there is no doubt that parents who work together despite their marital differences are helping ease the pain of the broken family.
In some cases, the separated parents work together to raise the child or children. They both take interest in school work and activities and share the responsibilities that come with the decision to bring a child into the world.
For the others, though, there are those uncomfortable Friday and Sunday hand-offs and driveaways, big smiles in one vehicle and an all-too familiar quiet in the other. There will be next weekend. Another exchange. And then another. This year it's Thanksgiving here and then Christmas there. Next summer is still up in the air. The child will find out where "home" will be when Mommy and Daddy decide.
Rick Fahr is publisher of the Log Cabin Democrat in Conway. This column first appeared there. Ernest Dumas took the week off, but will return next week.