“I love you, Daddy.” “Daddy loves you too, Pumpkin.” “Call me this week sometime.” “I will, babe. Goodbye.”
And Father’s Day was over, promptly at six, for one more dad hustling down the wide wooden steps of the Kids Xchange on Dickason Avenue in Oak Lawn. The comfortable old house is something of a safe haven, a commercial buffer zone. The brochure calls it “A Depot To Drop and Deliver Kids of Divorced Parents.”
Jessie Sikora, director of the center, is a grandmotherly woman called “Miss Jessie” by those who come and go. She keeps careful tabs on the fifteen-minute cushions between one parent’s leaving and the other’s arrival. “It’s 6:10,” she calls warily to the father of four-year-old Jan as he plays tag with his daughter on the front lawn. Jan’s dad steals a final kiss and makes haste to a red convertible.
Since it opened in Dallas seven years ago, the Xchange has helped make tough times a little smoother for more than 500 families. The founder and owner of the business, Sarah Griego, who now lives in Cortez, Colorado, began the Xchange in her own Dallas living room after a divorce. She was tired of the tense handoffs of her two children to her ex-husband.
Besides exchanges, the staff of counselors offers controlled, onpremises visitation for parents whom the courts have decided shouldn’t spend time alone with their children. Other parents are allowed only supervised visitations, during which a Kids Xchange staff member accompanies child and parent as they go out to eat, to a movie, or the zoo.
Griego says she prefers that parents equally split the fees of the service, since the exchanges are primarily for the benefit of the children involved. Rates for controlled and supervised visits vary, but simple exchanges cost from $22.50 to $42.50 per parent per month, depending on the number of exchanges.
That’s a bargain for Virginia, the Arlington mother of an eight-year-old and a ten-year-old- She’s been driving to the Kids Xchange several times a month for four years. “Before we started coming here,” she says, “we had a lot of problems. My ex used the children as an excuse to harass me. Now he doesn’t have any right to call or come by. It has calmed us all down a lot. I won’t stop coming here until my kids are eighteen or until they can drive themselves.”
But the Xchange is no cure-all. A few moments later a blond woman arrives, ready to pick up her two-year-old daughter. The daughter, Miss Jessie explains, isn’t there and won’t be for another two weeks. The court granted Dad vacation time.
The woman is screaming and threatening to call the police. Miss Jessie is in tears herself by the time the woman storms out, and a co-worker tries to cheer her up. Thankfully, such clashes are rare at Kids Xchange, which-most of the time-serves as a demilitarized zone in the sad war of the divorced.