January 2009

That was the song for tonight. I don’t know who it’s by. K. put it on after a very long day.

The day went like this: he had agreed to stay all day and into the evening so that I could go to an inauguration day party. It was to be the second time he’d babysat since he moved out five weeks ago.

I got home a bit after two and we all hung out — Thing One was building a fort in the living room, I was updating some class discussion boards on my computer, K. was reading Obama’s speech. He hasn’t had much ‘down time’ since he left, since we’d discussed how kid time should be kid time, since there was so little of it, and I kind of felt hopeful: we were all in the living room, listening to music, relaxing, acting like a family. I kind of hoped he might remember that I loved him and that it might seem to matter. I hoped that he might remember what it was like to be at home with his family and perhaps decide that it would be possible to do that again.

All was going swimmingly until he suddenly got up, agitated, said, “I feel really overloaded right now,” and disappeared out the door. He was gone for twenty minutes or so. He’d left his computer, so I knew he was coming back, but it was odd and jarring and dissonant.

When he got back, he was a little twitchy. Thing Two woke up from her nap in a pool of vomit, heaving with wracking gasps and sobbing in between. There’s been a tummy bug going around, and I guess she has it. Or there could be some connection to the fact that K. apparently fed her a partial bag of Tings and then a large Burgerville French fries for lunch (two deep-fried, yellow items…a little alarming. As was what they produced, splattered over the crib and floor). It was terrible to watch; I held her while she threw up into a towel, but she doesn’t really know how to throw up yet, so she was just kind of dribbling down her front, and miserable. We sat there for a while. K. sat on the other end of the couch and periodically barked at Thing One, who was sticking his hands in his mouth and wiping them on the couch or climbing on the couch when he wasn’t supposed to. At one point, I had decided to run to the store and Thing One wanted to come; he got his shoes on all by himself and was waiting when K. decided he’d done something wrong and made him take them off and go to his room. It wasn’t a punishment I would have given, but it didn’t seem so outlandish that I could directly protest, so I let it happen.

I asked K. if he wanted anything from the store; he asked if I could get him some beer because his high school pal, Alec, was coming over. “What?” I said. Call me crazy, but I’m not entirely comfortable with K. having people over when he’s over watching the kids. There’s the factor of my being uncomfortable with not knowing who’s going to be in the house and/or not wanting to deal with K.’s friends right now. And there’s the factor of my feeling that that’s not the ideal situation for K. to watch anyone, especially a sick baby, when he’s hanging out with Alec smoking on the porch and boozing it up.

K. freaked. I said, “I think we have different expectations about this, so let’s talk about it later.” He got angry and told me he wasn’t going to ask my permission to have people over in his own house, that he wasn’t going to babysit if I was going to be like that, that my feelings were ridiculous. maybe they are. He told me that this was still his house and we weren’t divorced. He told me that maybe I should just not go to my party then and fine, he just wouldn’t come over anymore at night and he would be spending his nights elsewhere where he could have his friends over. I repeated that we should just talk about it later. He said he didn’t want to talk about it later and he wouldn’t have Alec over either. I said that I just wanted to clarify expectations and that it was fine for him to have Alec over tonight and what kind of beer did he want. He refused.

And that was the beginning of a bad slide. For one, he was bitchy and aggro and defensive about my wanting to, as I put it, be consulted when a person who didn’t live here had people over. For another, he claimed I was being unreasonable and “freaking out,” despite all evidence to the contrary. Finally, and very importantly, he was angry and impatient with Thing One during this time. K. was sitting on the couch, hunched in the corner, barking at Thing One for being on the couch, barking at him for sticking his fingers in his mouth and then wiping them on the couch arm, which Thing One continued to do; he’s no dummy. He knows how to get attention. K. kept saying, “STOP IT. STOP IT RIGHT NOW. GO TO YOUR ROOM. GO. TO. YOUR. ROOM.” Thing One did not respond. K. continued hunching and barking. I said,

“Why don’t you get him a cloth and have him wipe it, if it bothers you?”

“That’s not the point. He JUST. SHOULDN’T. DO. IT. He shouldn’t do it AT ALL.”

“We all do things we shouldn’t do. We can’t learn how to never make messes, so we learn to clean them up. If you want him not to wipe his saliva on the couch, you teach him to clean it up.”

“Aren’t YOU going to say anything?”

“No. I don’t think it’s that big a deal. And I don’t particularly feel like turning something so trivial into a point of contention.”

For the record, people, I am not a permissive parent. I think those people whose parenting style involves not raising their voice to their kid and/or never laying down the law probably think I’m an ogre. But I try to be fair. I try to only come down hard about things where there’s a clear understanding that the action in question is not OK. My feeling is that when youimpose too many rules on a child, the child stops understanding which rules are important or stops following them. We have a Don’t Hit Your Sister rule. We have a Don’t Throw Things in the Living Room rule. We have a Don’t Run Into Traffic Rule. That’s probably already one too many.

Thing One knows that there are some things that are not OK to do. But since we don’t have a Don’t Stick Your Hands in Your Mouth and then Wipe Them on the Side of the Couch rule, he doesn’t know that. K. would say he does, but I’m not so sure. When you’re three, you’re experimenting with media. I remember sticking all my snot on the bottom of the upper bunk (I slept in the lower) and other such delightful habits. It was exploratory. Probably annoying to my parents, but part of normal development. And my feeling is that, when a child does something like this that’s annoying but not really dangerous or damaging or especially against the rules, I have two choices: I can be Creative Parent and proactively guide him into another activity using wit and charm so that the annoying behavior stops. Or I can be Indifferent Parent and ignore the annoying behavior, usually because I’m trying to grade some very pressing Discussion Board full of 19-year-olds talking about social issues. In my book, those are the options. Sitting on the couch saying, “STOP IT RIGHT NOW” over and over again despite the fact that you are being ignored and eventually yanking the kid up by his pits and then taking to his room does not, in my estimation, make it into either of those categories. That is in the place where the Venn diagram of Lazy Parent, Angry Parent, and Ineffective Parent collide to create that ephemeral mixture known as Bad Parenting (where Bad Parenting = Parenting That Does Not Further a Child’s Emotional Health, Relationship with Parent, Respect for Others, Respect for Self, or Ability to Get Along in the World, but instead actively damages one or more of these things).

So yeah. That was that. I wanted to get Pedialyte for Thing Two, who was still vomiting in my lap, and I needed some air, so after a while I said I was going to the store. I asked again what kind of beer K. wanted. He said, “Forget it.” I kept prodding. After some prodding, he finally told me the brand.

I set Thing One up with a movie so he wouldn’t bother K. and potentially get himself some more Crap Parenting and asked K. to hold Thing Two (I had some misgivings about leaving him with them. On the other hand, he isn’t angry with Thing Two yet, and he has only been physically dangerous in the sense of shoving or being non-responsive when there has been alcohol or previous state of sleep involved. I sound unconvincing even to myself, probably because that has not been true. K. has many times yanked Thing One by the wrist and/or grabbed him roughly, such as that very day. But I guess that seemed less of a gamble than when he was actively spanking. Anyway, TV is the great anaesthetic).

And I walked to the store amazed at how fast K. could turn from relatively calm and nice into Flaming Asshole Who Hates Everything. And reflecting that this is not a state or a habit that bodes well for his ability to parent children.

When I got back, he was better. He apologized for being “grumpy.” I told him it was scary when he got so aggressive and impatient and angry with me and with the children. He said he was just grumpy and he was fine now. Two hours. A little mini-episode of suck but, hey, it’s over, so get over it.

It kind of makes you feel like you’ve gotten a one-way ticket to Crazytown when this happens.

Before I’d left, K. had said he wouldn’t eat — I had been planning to make a Spanish-style sauté of cod, red peppers, and olives over orzo. I’ve noticed that the kids are happy when we all eat together. But since Thing Two was throwing up and Daddy was refusing to sit with us, I’d picked up some fish sticks and some chicken soup and various other things that have become my go-to prepared foods for kid meals.

Thing One was passed out in the chair in front of Thomas the Tank Engine. So K. put him to bed and I gave Thing Two some Pedialyte, which she immediately vomited, and then I put her to bed and microwaved some Amy’s Palak Paneer. As I perched on the ottoman with my little cardboard tray — Thing Two had apparently peed on the chair while asleep and K. had thrown in on the kitchen floor — a thumping alerted me to someone coming up the stairs. It was the mail. A package for me, that book I’d wanted to read and have K. read: Second Chances: Men, Women and Children a Decade After Divorce. I showed it to K. He said, “Yeah, you can read that first.”

And of course, since the kids were asleep and it was six o’clock and I wasn’t supposed to meet Ron until seven-thirty, I started talking. About all the usual things. First I told K. it was scary when he got so angry. Then I told him that I was concerned about his parenting, that being so critical and negative wasn’t fair to the kids (“the kids” is pretty much always code for Thing One at this point). I expressed a conviction that, when he was in that angry, shut-down state, his judgment and perceptions were impaired. He denied it. I cited two things: that he had been unable to find the cleaning solution and had chased all over the house angrily saying that it was nowhere, when it had been on the shelf in the back entry, where such things are kept, all the time; and that he had not been responsive to Thing One when, before things got egregiously bad, Thing One had been asking him to come hold the other end of the slinky.

(That conversation went like this: I am nursing Thing Two and holding one end of the slinky. K. is in the adjacent room folding dish towels. Thing One says,

“Daddy, will you hold the slinky so I can have a jump rope?”

No response.

“Daddy, come and hold the slinky!”

No response.

“Will you come and hold the slinky with us?”

No reponse. K. folds three towels in this time, staring straight down. We wait. K. stands up, picks up a sweater, drops it three feet from where he’s picked it up.

“Daddy, let’s make a jump rope!”

K. slowly turns and enters the room, still not speaking.

This kind of thing shouldn’t be a big deal, and I certainly don’t believe parents should always drop everything when a child asks for something. But I do believe that you need to respond when people talk to you. And that if you ignore your kid, you are teaching him to either give up and quit asking you to play, or you’re teaching him that he has to nag and ask several times before he will get any response at all. Neither of which is good for a child; he either resigns himself or becomes a whiny, pestering child who can’t understand why you are on the phone with your boss, for example.)

K. denied that there was a time lag between slinky request and fulfillment. I know him, so I think he probably believes that. At the time I thought that he was intending to come, and I was reflected that he needed to learn somehow that people do not assume you’re intending to respond to them when you don’t respond, acknowledge, or react in any way. This is a common occurrence with K.; he seems to think that because he is hearing what’s being said and planning to get around to it, that he is not required to acknowledge his interlocutor.

Also, Thing One has gotten very whiny and impatient. He tends to ask over and over for things, even when I say, “Sure, honey, when I finish ____,” and he often resorts to language like “RIGHT NOW!”

Wonder where he gets that?

Anyway, that conversation got nowhere. But I persisted. The topic turned to the altercation over Alec’s coming over. K. said that I was “freaking out” and “being totally unreasonable.” I pointed out that I had merely said, in a calm voice, that I was not comfortable with that, that we obviously had different expectations, and that we should talk about it later. He said that was being totally unreasonable. “I’m sitting here in MY chair in front of MY stereo and that’s OUR COUCH and OUR RUG.” he said. K., I hear you that you disagree with me about whether it should be OK for Alec to come over, I replied. But your disagreeing with my feelings doesn’t make my expression of them unreasonable. I was respectful and noncombative. You are the one who got angry, wouldn’t drop it in front of the kids, and were crashingly negative to me and to Thing One.

I was not, he said. I just don’t want to talk about it ever again.

That doesn’t seem to really be an option, I replied. Then we talked about marriage and/or divorce. I said we needed to work on our communication and our treatment of each other because clearly we have these children and we need to be able to deal. He said, “Well, what are we doing in counseling then?” I said that counseling was a beginning of something that needs to happen consistently outside of counseling as well. “Well, why don’t we just talk about this in counseling then?” he rebutted.

Yeah, I don’t understand that rebuttal either.

I talked about marriage. I expressed the thought that we needed to work on our marriage to work on our divorce, that what was happening currently was an unresolved loss that would be damaging to both of us, that you can’t just get out so quickly.

“I don’t want to be married to you,” he said.

“I hear that. I get that. You don’t want to be married to me. But you did want to be married to me. You were happy being married to me. And you stand to lose a lot, and we all stand to lose a lot, by not honoring that and seeing if there is another way to deal with this besides unequivocal divorce.”

It was around then that he plugged his computer into the stereo and started playing a song that went, “got to get out of this mess.”

“You can’t get out of one mess so fast,” I said, “without making another.”

He said his position was that he wasn’t going to be married to me anymore, wasn’t going to work on the marriage, didn’t want to. And he stands by that position.

“I see that,” I said, “and if you continue to allow that conviction to create a dynamic where you’re angry and uncommunicative, where you aren’t able to work with me, where you dismiss your responsibilities to me, much less to the children, out of hand, you may wake up in ten years and not be standing there anymore. And you may think, ‘why was I so mean? Why was I so unequivocal?’ Because I don’t believe that you actually think that the way to get out of this is by moving out instantly and being surly and angry and refusing to learn to do the things that you need to do, such as express what you want from your relationship with your children to their mother, in life.”

Thank you very much, he said, for the vote of confidence. Other things were said. I asked him if he wanted to be a parent. He said how could there be any question. I said that he’d never expressed wanting to see the kids and that he had told me a week ago that 27 hours per week was too much and that he needed less parenting time so he could “do other things.” And that was the first week of so much time. The first week it was two hours. He seemed to acknowledge that he didn’t want to parent as much as the kids needed to parent, that he expected not to do the primary work of that, that he didn’t want them full-time or half-time or even .16 of the time, which is what 27 hours a week is.

I talked about the possible rewards of the family and of maintaining a marriage. He said he knew what he was giving up, so I asked him why he had to. He said that to stay would be mercenary. I said that I didn’t think it was mercenary to consider the elements of your own happiness, that people and things are the fabric of our lives, that to stay for the house or the things or the kids might actually be a positive thing for the marriage. That people don’t get over a relationship like that in a day or a week or a year. That people need to not have unresolved loss because otherwise, they cannot be whole.

“Don’t sell yourself short,” he smirked.

“I’m not. I can go on and have relationships and have enjoyment and yadda yadda yadda. But if this is the way it ends, I’m always going to be unresolved. I’m always going to feel that loss. And there will be a part of me that’s still with you.”

He said that when he’d been talking about it being mercenary to stay, he wasn’t talking about the kids or the house. They never even occurred to him. That he was talking about me.

“There are so many wonderful things about you,” he said. “And nobody I ever meet can come within striking distance of that. I know that.”

He finished his Courvoisier (he finished the bottle. He finished the Balvenie the other night. I think he’s trying to drink all the liquor in the house while he still has a key).

“I’m drunk,” he said. Then Alec got there, and they left for the bar.


I am drowning

It’s the same old story.

Tonight was our meeting. Our meeting was delayed because I did a reading on Twitter (which stopped working halfway through) to Facebook (which mercifully continued to work) until eight-thirty. I’d made arrangements to meet K. at his favorite local steakhouse for drinks, scheduling, and food happy hour.

It was nice to see that he was apparently watching the live feed through Facebook. But when I got home, he was in front of the house and I said, “You need to drive me because I’m kind of drunk.”

(The reading had been good, I think. There’s no record of it now, because Facebook doesn’t keep records when you update your status every 30 seconds. But Caroline called me at the end and let me listen to the applause of the folks who’d been watching it projected on a screen in Oakland.)

Anyway, the meeting was as you’d expect: one part chit-chat about work, one-half part chit-chat about the reading, two parts — the latter two parts — me interrogating K. about why he was doing this and trying to illustrate the catastrophic effects for the children and for us.

He reiterated that it was good we were doing this now. I mentioned the eight-year old (in the study) who wanted to die so he could be with both his parents, because “If I were dead I’d be in Heaven, and Mommy would be in Heaven and Daddy would be in Heaven and we’d live in the same house.”

It got exactly nowhere.

Except that, at the end, he pulled into our driveway and I said, “I love you. I love who you are. Not the you that your mother thinks you could be, not even the you that you or I think you could be, but who you are. I love your steadiness. I love the way you have of sitting still that I lack. I love your ambitions and your priorities and your sense of urgency about your job, even when it’s at the expense of being with the children. I love eating out with you. I love talking about the future with you. I love the plans we dream up.”

He said, “I never knew that.”

What else was there to say? “I’m sorry that I took you for granted. I’m sorry that I was hard on you. I’m sorrier than I will ever know. I love you. I love you.

He repeated, “I never knew that.”

I said it again. And then I said good night.

It’s been a busy time. My in-laws are here, Thayer is still here (though staying elsewhere), Thing One has a bad cough/asthma thing going and is constantly weepy. The sun is shining and I want to go outside, but the DEQ air pollution advisory and my toddler counterindicate.

Meanwhile, this is what is up: Thursday night I went to the county’s required class for divorcing parents, “Parents Helping Children Deal with Family Change.” This may seem premature, but I am an inveterate Boy Scout; I signed up for it on Dec. 16 because, though I hoped then and still hope now that there is another way out of this situation besides “dissolution of marriage,” which seems chemically impossible to me because marriage is not water-soluble and acid burns, my feeling was that the children are already ‘dealing with family change’ and that I need to find out as much as I can about that.

The class was depressing. Actually, it was the most depressing thing I could have imagined. Lots of factors: I was the only person there wearing a wedding ring. The stories and attitudes of noncommunicative spouses, addicted spouses, abandoner spouses, etc. were dramatic and apparently hopeless. And the general tenor of the room was this: it’s over. We’ve finally given up. We’re really doing this.

It’s not the fact of that intention or that reality that struck me. It’s the fact that reference was made, a myriad of times, to the many years of negotiating, of back-and-forth, of counseling and life restructuring and trying to make it work that these couples (and there was mostly only one member of a couple there) had gone through. And it was glaringly apparent that I, shiny bouncy wedding-ring-wearing attendee, had not gone through that. It was like all the other participants had had the argument over who was going to spring for the Arby’s five for five roast beef sandwich deal, probably during a Wednesday child handoff, a thousand times and they were just. fucking. sick. of it. They have accepted that they’re going to be at that Arby’s, haggling over the Honest Abe, every Wednesday for the rest of their lives. And I’m still like, “Oh, the five for five? I guess we could consider going to Arby’s.”


It occurred to me many times during that 3.5 hours that K. really needs to see this class so that he can have a better idea of the realities of what he’s asking for. And it occurred to me that I really don’t want those realities. For myself or for the children. I am not resigned. I have not spent two years in a bad marriage that had few, if any, high points and where the unspoken agreement was that we were going to work it out or split up. I was told that my husband wanted to get a divorce on the steps of our third counseling appointment: “Baby, I want to get a divorce.” I don’t think that either of us came to that conclusion through process and trial and the actual effort of our lives. I think K. is having a flight reaction and I had an equal and opposite one. I think he told me that fast and that way because he hit a point where he didn’t want to think about other options. Not because other options might not be better, but because they’re more work.

More work for us, but not for the children.

Since then, I’ve considered the options. Divorce has become a very real option for me. I’m aware that it’s likely, I have an idea of the considerations involved, I try to act in a way that allows for them. I’m not as insistent that we have to stay together. I just think it needs more time before we can even make that decision, yea or nay.

The class was, as such things tend to be, a little slow moving. A lot of transparencies about What Children Need at any given stages. A workbook to match. I took notes, but I was getting a little bored, so at the first break I picked up a book called Second Chances: Men, Women, and Children a Decade After Divorce. This was a study of 130-some families during divorce and ten (and sometimes twenty-five) years after. And clearly, it was not meant to be anti-divorce propaganda, as it was being offered as a resource in a room in the JDH full of beleaguered soon-to-be divorcees being forced to listen to some considerations about to minimize the impact on their children. But it was sobering, and it confirmed my personal experience as a child of divorce. I sat there, half listening and note-taking and half copying down passages from the book to re-read and, perhaps, share with K. later. The gist:

Divorce is not a one-time crisis, but an ongoing problem. It’s less like an acute illness from which you can recover and more like a permanent disability.

Divorce has far-reaching consequences for children that are often not apparent at the outset.

Adults who divorce are often not happier afterwards. When they are, there is no correlation between adult happiness and child happiness, contrary to the old chestnut: “happy” adults have often channelled their energies elsewhere and are not parenting well, or even as well.

Even children who do not remember their parents’ divorce struggle with it and wish for an intact family. Ongoing.

So I’m sitting there in the basement of JDH, watching the woman beside me, who has three kids and is perhaps 25, check “yes” for “Have you experienced any domestic violence?” on her intake form. And I’m looking at my own intake form. I’ve got Stephen Merritt in my head singing “how fucking romantic.” And I’m thinking: reality check. Ouch. Just as one starts to lull oneself into the acceptance that if this is how it has to be, it will be okay with some time and work and attention, the ugly truth rears its head. It won’t.

The book says this:

In myriad ways, they [children of divorce] tell us that growing up is harder for children of divorce, every step of the way. As if by collusion, they say that their lives have been overshadowed by their parents’ divorces and that they feel deprived of a range of economic and psychological supports.

I was talking to my father-in-law this morning and I realized that all the things — campfire girls, camps, art classes, music lessons, sports — that I did as a child stopped abruptly when my parents split. Abruptly. And that I never got them back. My activities in high school consisted of wandering the streets of downtown looking in windows and never entering doors.

And this is one last thing the book says:

With divorce comes a weakening of our unspoken moral commitments to our children. Today we expect more from marriage than previous generations and respect it less.

It’s obvious what I’m going to say: I don’t want to do this to my children. Or myself. Or K.

If it were just me, no kids, I’d probably let us both off the hook and take the easy way out, the way into the arms of Some Other New and Uncomplicated Person Who Seems Really Great. But it’s not. I could ask myself to deal with the slow burn of heartache and disappointment that comes when you don’t honor a relationship, when you don’t do it justice, when you flee and then later find that yapping dog still biting at your ankles.

I could ask that of us, but I won’t ask that of them. I won’t ask these kids to give up “something that is fundamental to their development” so that I can not do the work. I don’t want to not do the work. I want to not throw any of us into a future that is just as uncertain and irrevocably more difficult.

But I can’t not do it alone.

Guns and Roses was not the theme song for yesterday; it was actually “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” which, if you know the lyrics, is alarmingly apropos. And maybe this totally dates me as a girl child of the early 90s, but it’s a great song. And pretty apt in a way I hadn’t thought about until I started to try to parse what it meant that we were in this mess, and how we got here.

Those who have known me a long time know that the only thing less likely than my getting married was my having a baby. Or vice-versa. And that was difficult for me. I used to talk to K. about how scared I was, how strange it all was, and how I felt like my whole life had been overturned. I think even people who get pregnant by choice and planning feel this way, even with partners they’ve known for years. That was not the case for us.

And there was a lot to be angry about. And a lot to be frustrated about. As Thayer said to me apropos of her year of extreme sleep deprivation following the birth of her son: “When I’m that tired, I think of the meanest things to say to J.!”

And I was that tired. In addition to being that tired, I was anxious and having the kind of ideation that puts a lot of people on meds. Death and dismemberment. Andrea Yates drowning her kids in the bathtub. I couldn’t walk into our pediatrician’s waiting room, which is on a mezzanine, without having visions of throwing the baby over the railing. I couldn’t go anywhere without imagining the baby dying of heat stroke left in the car, the baby grabbed and abused by criminals, the baby poisoned by lead or household chemicals, the baby choking on its own vomit. I couldn’t relax into any faith that things would be ok, that life would go on, that the baby would survive, and although I functioned relatively well — you might even say superbly, given the circumstances — I was not in a good place, mentally. I moved from a city I loved to the hometown I regard with great ambivalence when I was pregnant. I had extremely negative feelings about being pregnant (this is where my dad’s whole “firstborn son” trip fucked me over; I was fine as long as I didn’t have to take an exclusively female role). I had a young husband with a job that took all his time, and he was nervous because it was his first job ever. I got a job teaching when the baby was three weeks old, which saved me in some way but also condemned me. We moved into the house we bought. It got infested with toxic mold. The baby had pneumonia and we fled to my parents’ house. We found out I was pregnant with Thing Two two weeks later. That pregnancy had me sick all the time, exhausted all the time, in perinatal ultrasound all the time because her brain seemed malformed, and did I mention that it took months to clean up the mold and move out of my parents’ house?

So, that’s been my life. The PPD or PPMD or whatever you want to call my complete inability not to be freaked out all the time tapered off after Thing One turned one, so I estimate there were about three weeks before the mold thing happened and I got pregnant with Thing Two. (K. and I have always had remarkable fertility together. Remarkable in that we were not totally uncautious and yet here we are.)

And then the was the fact that Nanette, my other dearest, oldest friend besides Thayer and the one with whom I had a much easier and quotidian relationship (e.g. multiple phone calls per day, multiple spates of living together, etc.), dumped me when I married K. I remember sobbing in the bed, newly married, newly pregnant, and K. put on Bill Withers and danced in his underwear. It didn’t cheer me up, but if I didn’t love him anyway, I would love him for that alone.

And that K.’s conflicted relationship with his mother caused a rift between them and us, and his mother’s best friend took it upon herself to take me aside and inform me that she was furious with me for taking her baby away and for usurping her role as The Primary Woman in Her Son’s Life and that, yes, she had an unhealthy and Oedipal attachment, but there it was. For my own good, of course.

So. There were a lot of things to feel bad about. And I felt pretty awful.

Maybe I was mean. But you know how it is and how a pregnancy can change you.

And I didn’t tell him everything I was thinking and feeling. Not at first. Eventually I told him most of it, and I got pretty good at asking for things, e.g. “I am at the end of my rope. I need you to take this baby NOW.” And a man with greater personal resources might have been able to deal with that. But when you have a severely freaked out new mom demanding that a hypersomniac new dad take the baby, and he just rolls over and says, “Later,” it’s hard.

So that’s another part of the story.

I came home last night and K. and Thayer were hanging out. I was doing errands and it was “his afternoon,” so I was gone (after the aforementioned safety concern incident). And when I got home — I had texted K. asking when dinner was and he called me around 5:15 — I found them drinking Manhattans and chumming it up, T.’s son and Thing One playing happily upstairs, Thing Two hanging around. It was surreal, the kind of domestic scene you imagine having, and when I walked in K. seemed to loom closer to me for a second, and maybe it was the ambient booze, but I got this flash of some kind of proximity bigger than just physical. So much so that I then checked out his left hand to see if the ring was back. It was like that.

No ring, of course. T. left and we had a nice dinner, a nice bath, a nice bed. We smoked a cigarette on the porch. I asked K. to do the dishes. He said goodbye and there was an awkward moment and then I thought, well, whatever, and hugged him. It didn’t seem totally unwelcome.

But then I was sitting around the house beating myself and him up, mentally, because I felt like all this chumminess just encouraged K. to believe that we’re better off as friendly co-parents, and if I give up on our marriage, if it is really over over, I don’t think that will be true, and I think the quality of interaction will go way down. I won’t be able to be open to him in this way that I am trying to be now.

I can see why he might think leaving is (at least) a solution. I think he’s tired of never being good enough. And  I understand that. And I don’t know if he wants to be “good enough” or thinks he is or can be. I have ideas, of course: ideas about relaxing my expectations of him and myself and the kids, ideas about help and community and outsourcing. If it ever gets to that point, I’ll use them.

And I can’t see this situation separate from the kids, but I do want him, not just my kids’ father. Because I love that guy who flew down to San Francisco so we could get married at City Hall, per my family tradition. Because I love that guy who danced in his underwear to try to make me smile. Because I love that guy with whom I talked about starting a bar called Heaven, and what color the walls would be. Because I still want to go on a honeymoon with him. Because he’s my favorite person to eat out with. Because I want to wake up in the middle of the night and feel him breathing.

There’s a card I made for him on the bulletin board upstairs. He left it when he left. It is from three weeks after our wedding, Valentine’s Day 2005. It has a heart on the front, and inside it says:


Even though I never thought I would do any of this,

I am glad I am doing all of this with you.


This situation requires patience.And I have been uncharacteristically patient. I continue to be. Because there is nothing else I can do.

But I miss him.

Remember when you used to have visits from Officer Friendly in your elementary school? In mine, he used to pull his police cruiser right up on to the playground and let us play with the lights. Then we’d learn things like STOP, LOOK, and LISTEN and how to elbow child molesters in the nuts before running away, screaming “FIRE! MOMMY!”

Veronica was cracking me up for a while by saying about K., “Hasn’t he seen any after-school specials??” This was in response to whatever malice or cluelessness allowed K. to say things like “I’m leaving because I don’t like the way you’re acting” and “I’m not going to come tomorrow because I don’t want to DEAL with YOU.” I guess she’s had a thorough education in after-school specials entitled things like, “Tommy, It’s Not Your Fault” and “My Daddy Still Loves Me.”

I guess K. hasn’t. Nor has he had a good grounding in STOP, LOOK, and LISTEN. I watched him, today, walk a whole block carrying Thing Two, with Thing One trailing five to ten yards behind. K. did not look back. Thing One kept stopping and turning to wave to me and run back to me, and I said, “Go with Daddy, honey! Be careful, honey!” but he didn’t really, so I pulled away, so as to quit distracting him. But I couldn’t stand to drive away when K. was clearly not paying any attention to his safety, so I turned around in a driveway and pulled up to the corner again to wait and watch him catch up.

Yeah, OK. To be completely fair, it’s possible that K. looked while I was turning. But that doesn’t change the fact that he walked most of that block without looking, without turning, without pausing, as our three-year-old son negotiated various driveways and hazards on his own.

I was so appalled that I called both my mother-in-law and my dad. My mother-in-law said, “Hello! Parenting classes! That is totally not OK.” My dad says, “He’s checked out because he’s rebelling. This is his way of saying ‘I don’t want to do it anymore.'”

But what do you want to do, dude? You want to listen to the crunch as your kid gets backed over by a car because you can’t be bothered to wait for him or hold his hand or make sure you know where he is?

Maybe I’m overreacting. But today, I feel overwhelmed by the ills that plague me rather than seeing the possibilities before me. Except that the possibility of not ever putting Thing One into a situation where he has to walk down the street with K. again seems not unwise. And yet seems very unwise.

Okay, so I do realize that Scientology can only take me so far and that the feel-good aspect of watching Nazis execute dissidents will not necessarily have a lasting positive impact on my life, even when those dissidents are Tom Cruise (who, incidentally, looks really tall in this movie. Why does he look so tall? He doesn’t look tall in Risky Business).

Yesterday was another hard day. Partially, it was hard because I was at work all day, which rarely happens; I do a lot of online teaching and flex timing so that I can be with the kids more, not need daycare, and not sit in my filthy, cluttered office (in a building that is probably filled with radon) any more than is necessary. But I teach a morning class on campus, and yesterday was the department meeting, which for some reason always has to take place from three to five, so I stayed all day. There were compensations, of course. I took Veronica out to lunch at an Italianish wine bar and ate three courses: gorgonzola cheese cake with marinara, field greens with toasted pumpkin seeds and currants, wild mushroom ravioli in balsamic cream sauce. A conservative estimate would be that I consumed at least a pint of heavy cream and a stick of butter, and that’s not counting the bag of caramel corn I found in the faculty lounge and consumed for breakfast (after the Luna bar). Clearly, I am a total food hypocrite, as I insist on feeding my children organic vegan soup and keeping them away from refined sugar.

The lunch, however needed by the everpresent tiny yellow ass (and I seem to have lost a cup size as well), was a bit rich for my blood, and I desperately wanted to vomit all afternoon (my minimal presence in the bathroom is a testament to how far I’ve come). Or maybe it was the lunch in combination with the fact that I still can’t get past the difficulty of trying to cheerfully interact with all these colleagues who enthuse about their breaks and ask me how mine was.

At one point, I ran into Serafina, a tenure-track journalism prof who was hired the same year as I. We’ve had some bonding over the years: she’s half Filipina, making her the only other hapa in the unit, and we’re around the same age, and she has a daughter a few months older than Thing Two. And we both were dubious about moving to this place, although she did it for the job and I did it for the marriage/kid. So, on the rare occasions that we’ve seen each other, we confide.

She told me about the problems she was having getting bereavement leave to go to Chicago for her husband’s grandmother’s funeral. “It’s still family,” she said, “even though it’s not a blood relative. This is such bullshit.”

And she asked how I was doing. It only took a second for me to say “unimaginably shitty.”

It was good to talk a little, and good to have one more person at work (that makes three) who can see me right now instead of just seeing the shiny happy mask I am attempting to wear. And that keeps slipping.

Of course, dishing to a colleague in the hall at work is a situation ripe for faux pas. Such as when Sarabeth, who is probably my favorite person in the department, walked by and said, “You two look like you’re doing some serious confiding right now,” and paused. I have wanted to confide in Sarabeth. She’s an awesome person and a great colleague and she and I have a lot in common in our interests; she’s introduced the gay lit class and I have the multiculti lit, and she’s helpful and competent and sympathetic and kind. But I felt myself teetering on the brink of meltdown, so I (more or less) barked at her to (more or less) beat it. I’m hoping I’m getting cut a little slack here. Since everything about this situation has taught me that I have to depend on the generosity of strangers, and that that generosity is often forthcoming, it will probably be all right.

In the faculty meeting I saw Daniel, my other favorite person in the department. He’s on sabbatical this year, so I haven’t seen much of him, especially since we had an awkward interaction last summer that involved him feeling he needed to process/apologize/distance himself from me. (Reader, it was nothing untoward, at least not in my estimation, though I did get me thinking about how the definition of marriage is not never having a fleeting interest in others, but refraining from acting on it.) So seeing Dan was weird. For me, that is. It would only be weird for him if he could read minds or if the gossip mill at our college is waaaay more efficient than I think it is, but I felt odd sitting across the room from him wearing my two wedding rings, one on each hand, wishing we were the kind of friends who could talk about this because I had always relished talking to him before and because he and I have (up till now? Or maybe even now, I don’t know) something of parallel story: he knocked up a girlfriend eight years his senior when he was 21 (K. was 23 and I am 7.5 years his senior. Not eight. Dammit.) and married her; seventeen years later, they have two kids and he has wished, I think, for a third. When Dan and I started talking about our stories, I found a lot of commonality and reassurance and interest there; it’s a fairly unusual story, I think, and his relative success was heartening.

But I can’t talk to Dan because that’s dangerous ground. And I can’t talk to Sarabeth because I don’t want to make her uncomfortable. So I just walked around being the Gaping Wound of Emotional Need and Biliousness.

It was a fine day!

K. was with the kids when I got home. They seemed fine. They seemed happy. We seemed more like a family than before, as if perhaps the residual friendliness of Monday had clung. But he still raced off as soon as he could get things together. Our major interaction was my telling him that I’m thinking of getting a Scottish fold cat. I showed him the picture and he said, “That looks like a weird, cranky DEMON. I’m going to be afraid to come over here if you do that.”

I’m not sure he was kidding.

And then my friend Thayer came over. T. and I have known each other since freshman year of high school. We’ve been through a lot, and we haven’t always had the easiest relationship. But we love each other. And she’s here now, in town for a week from New Mexico, because she thinks she’s supposed to be. “I don’t know why, exactly.” she said last night. “Maybe it’s to get some space from my job before it drives me crazy. Maybe it’s to spend time with my mom, whose brain tumor is not responding to chemo. Maybe it’s to talk to K. Maybe it’s just to affirm your decision to adopt a Scottish fold cat. Maybe it’s to watch you inch yourself closer to a death from lung cancer. All I know is I got the signal to buy the ticket, and I’m here.”

We talked about things, of course. “I don’t know,” Thayer said. “I don’t have an outcome in mind. I mean, I know it’s the best thing for the family (if K. comes back). Do I know it’s the best thing for you? You deserve better.”

She is occupying that liminal space between judgment and total lack of critical examination. She sees the complexity, the problems, the fact that right now the thing to do might not be clear, and even if it were clear it wouldn’t be easy. But I appreciate that. One of the things I’ve learned in the last month is that people impose their own take and their own desires on whatever your situation is. I have friends who tell me to ditch K. because he’s too sick to be fixed. I have friends who tell me to be nicer to him. I have friends who tell me that I am going to find someone better and that he was never a good partner to me, sick or not. I have friends who tell me that he needs to have his irresponsible twenties like the rest of us did, and what do I expect. I have friends who tell me he’s acting like a three-year-old. I have friends who tell me I’m going to be an awesome single mom. I have friends who tell me I should get a lawyer. I have friends who tell me I should be more generous.

Most of these friends don’t try too hard to impose their views. Sometimes they do.

I have resolved to be less judgmental and less about what I think the next time someone is talking about their problems to me. To listen more and to try to solve less.

Because right now, there are no good answers. I am trying to repress the urge to burst into tears or crawl into a lap. K. is in whatever shadowy place he’s in, that place where he can’t conceive of even stopping to look, listen, and see if it might be possible to re-approach our marriage.

But T. is listening.

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