So, where were we? Thing Two had just vomited on the floor of a swanky, all-adult gallery party. Vlad was manfully wiping it up with paper towels, which impressed me because a)I don’t know him all that well and b)he clearly wasn’t getting any action out of the evening. His hands were covered with chunks of Cheerios, chips, and the dim sum we’d had that morning.

Naturally, I made my apologies and rushed both kids to the car. Vlad suggested getting together later. I said to call me, which was mom code for “in the unlikely event that these kids settle down right away AND my relatives don’t mind babysitting again, I’d love to hang out. But more likely I’ll be hope swabbing vomit. Thanks for your interest.” I started the car. Thing One, who had been coughing all afternoon, erupted into a coughing fit of astronomical proportions and gasped, “Mama! I need medicine!” I stopped the car, rushed to the back with his albuterol inhaler, and gave it to him, plus a swig of prednisone. Whether it was strange air, strange food, the box of Kashi TLC crackers he’d gotten into that morning which contained whey (stupid Kashi. Full disclosure: I fucking hate Kashi. I really do. I hate their fake multiracial labels, I hate their cheesy, saccharin product names — “Good Friends,” “Heart to Heart,” “TLC” — I hate the way all the products taste like oversugared rabbit hutch liner. But my aunt had left out these Treacherous Little Crackers, not realizing they were an allergen, and Thing One ate some), Thing One was bad off. He was coughing so hard he was bursting new blood vessels in his face every time. He was coughing so hard I thought I might have to throw on the hazards and screech to a halt on the Bay Bridge to jab him with the Epi-Pen.

Thing Two hiccoughed, dry heaved, and fell asleep.

Thing One also fell asleep.

I pulled up outside my aunt’s house in Piedmont, thought about K., and cried.

The next two days, Sunday and Monday, were basically a blur of vomit. We did get out a few times — stopped by Golden Gate Park, drove by the ocean, visited my friends with two kids out in the Sunset (vomited on their floor), but we had to miss my cousin’s dance performance at Davis Hall, and we had to cancel on seeing K.’s old college friend who now lives in the city and my cousin in Marin. We spent a lot of time taking temperatures and wiping up vomit off things and doing laundry. Thing One spent a lot of time having attacks (and then he started vomiting). Vlad sent me several text messages suggesting adult amusements, all of which I declined.

The plane ride home, where I started, was fairly epic, both because both children had vomited not long before (and Thing One did on the plane) and because we barely made it to the plane and made my aunt fruitlessly drive with us in an attempt to make it from the rental car center to the gate faster. Whatever; it was Southwest, and I have learned that Southwest is great to fly on with kids because a)they have an elastic sense of time and think 15 minutes is plenty early to show up and b)they don’t assign seats, so if you’re a single parent with two kids, one of whom is technically a lap child, there is no passenger who’s going to choose sitting with you over squeezing in with two other adults in a row unless the plane is 100% full.

K. picked us up, per my request, at the airport. We went back to the house, where he was scheduled to spend a couple of hours with the kids. I had told Thing One that Daddy would be there until bedtime and would play with him.

The house was…different. There were half-empty bookshelves, records gone, the little table — an antique humidor that his aunt had given us, and on which the living room lamp had rested — gone. In the bedroom, the dresser he’d used was cleared off and the things that had been on top (some mine, some his, some the kids’) dumped on my desk. The bedside lamp was gone. The Navajo wedding vase his parents gave us for a wedding present was gone.

I said, “You need to let me know before you take things so I can make other arrangements. You need to give me notice so that I can, for example, get another bedside lamp. And tell the kids that the change will be happening and prepare them.”

He said, “I don’t need to do that. I only took MY things. These are MY THINGS and I can take them whenever I want.”

“It’s not about what you took,” I said, “but you should have told me before hand.”

“I didn’t even know I was going to do it when you left,” he replied.

“You could have called me,” I said. “You have my phone number.”

“I didn’t want to talk to you,” he said.

“That’s not a reason to be discourteous,” I said. I was pretty angry by that point. We get home and it looks like our house has been robbed by some apartment-furnishing burglar (not that he even has an apartment to furnish at this point). He didn’t even warn me. Sure, I’d called him from the Oakland airport and he’d said that he’d been taking some of his books, but that was hardly notice, nor did it reflect the extent. “You need to tell us BEFORE you take things.”

“Fine! I’m going to take MY dresser and MY bedside table,” he sneered. “Now you know.”

“You need to tell me a specific day,” I said, “Like, ‘I’m going to come by and take my dresser on Saturday, for example.”

He was wearing my family reunion sweatshirt, from the reunion we attended when Thing One was a baby. And I have long thought that he should give that back to me, since he has so roundly rejected me and my family. I realize he has a legal claim to it, but I don’t think it’s courteous. And so I made a mistake: I reached out and pulled the zipper down a few inches and said, “You need to give me back my family sweatshirt. You should have enough sensitivity to respect my feelings about that.”

That was an argument. Then he said, “I don’t have to put up with this shit. I’m out of here.”

It was 5:19.

“You have parenting time for two more hours,” I said. “You can be angry at me, but you need to honor your parenting time. I’ll leave. But you can’t do this to them. They’re expecting you to stay.”

“I’m not doing it to THEM. I’m doing it to YOU.”

He stormed out.

He forgot to give me my car key back, so he came back to do it. I asked him to stay again. “I’m not staying,” he said. “I’m out of here. You put your hands on me.”

Tactical error, definitely. Faux pas, for sure. But it’s not like I hit him. It’s not like that night in November when he shoved me, repeatedly, across the room while yelling “FUCK YOU! I’ll call the fucking cops on YOU!” in an alcohol- and Wellbutrin-induced daze. That night when I considered calling the cops, and when I had to sit with Thing One, who witnessed the whole thing, for hours afterwards.

I wish I had reported it. If only because there needs to be a record. For K. He needs to understand that these are not isolated incidents of him losing his temper, but are a bit off the spectrum of normal and are entirely unnecessary.

Anyway, he left. Tuesday he was supposed to be here from 12:30-5. He had told me he’d have to leave at 3 to work, unusually. I called to see if he was coming and asked him to stay until 3:30 — I was sick by then, and he works at 4 two miles from our house. He said he couldn’t because he had to iron his shirts. I begged. He said maybe. I told him I’d pick up Thing One at to just meet us at the house at 12:45.

He showed up at one and left at 3:30. On the way out, I said that we’d have to talk about this moving of things business. He said that there was nothing to talk about. I said that he needed to see that I objected not to the things being moved but to not having any notice. He said he didn’t see that. I said I was going to keep trying to discuss it until we came to some understanding. He said that was going to get tiring.

Then I asked if he was planning to come Wednesday (yesterday) for his scheduled time (3-9).

“I don’t want to come,” he said.

“Don’t you want to see them?” I asked.

“I don’t think I should come,” he said.

And that was that. Maybe he just can’t stand me, and the thirty seconds of discussing logistics I subjected him to on Tuesday. Maybe some of my guy friends are right and he just wants to defy me any way he can. Maybe he had a hot date. But whatever the case, I am amazed that he a)felt justified in ditching his parenting time that we worked out on paper and b)wanted to.

We struggled through yesterday. I have the stomach bug that they have. Thing Two threw up again. Thing One went to the doctor and was found to have an ear infection in addition to an asthma flare and the flu. I dragged and dragged and barely dealt. My mom helped out in the morning and my sister-in-law came by for a bit in the evening and I still barely made it through and got no work done. The kids didn’t ask where Daddy was.

If it were me, I keep thinking. I might say, “I’ll take the kids to the park, but I don’t want to interact with you.” I might say, “I’ll come over, but I think we should not see each other and you should leave immediately.” But I wouldn’t say, “I don’t want to come see my kids.”

On the other hand, if that’s where he is, then that’s what I have to work with.

I think of the plane ride. Thing One said to me, “Do you love Daddy?”

“Yes,” I replied.

Five minutes later, Thing One said, “I don’t love Daddy.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“Because he doesn’t love me,” Thing One said, matter-of-factly.

I said all the things about how I thought Daddy did love him. He gave me that look that’s the same whether you’re three or thirty, the one that says, as my own daddy used to say, “Cut the crap.”

I wonder now if I should have just said nothing at all.

(The post title, for those who are wondering, comes from this song by the Cars. Where’s that gentleness, indeed.)

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