We’ve experienced some material changes lately.

Yesterday, K.’s sister was moving out of the downstairs apartment into the house she has just purchased. K. planned to piggyback on her U-Haul and get his furniture too. I was more looking forward to than dreading it, but since Thing Two took an early nap, I decided to take the kids out rather than have them watch furniture disappear (I have the sense that generally, it’s better for them not to see their dad unless they can actually see him, that they would not understand that he was just stopping by and wouldn’t stay to play. Maybe this will change eventually, but for now it’s my feeling, though I have not avoided such situations at all costs).

So at around eleven I bundled the kids into the car and took them on an Urban Shopping Adventure. I have not shopped much with the kids. For one thing, I rarely shop for pleasure, and for another, it’s hard to find anything at Goodwill with a one- and three-year-old running amok, pooping their pants, or impatiently wanting to drink/eat/pee/grab things/fall asleep.

We went to my friends’ artisanal coffee roasters and bought some fragrant Costa Rican. We went to the fancy organic grocery store and sampled blood oranges, falafel, hummus, cereal, tangerines, grapefruit, and berries (and I’ve got to say, those samples work every time. I totally bought half that stuff). We went to the giant Goodwill by the river and bought kids’ books, ogled the stuffed animals, indulged in a decorative wooden sailboat for Thing One, and picked up matching rain boots for the kids and a pair of jeans and a sweater for me. We went to the vintage furniture place and broke a fifties ashtray, which I had to pay $8.50 for, in its cavernous aisles. We went to the library and got still more books.

It was good times. Even though there was some pant-pooping, and Thing One did get busted peeing in the Goodwill parking lot.

We didn’t get home until three. And we’d had a great time and had a ton of groceries and some fun stuff and had actually integrated adult and child pastimes together, had walked down boulevards together, had been in the world. I reflected that in some ways, K.’s leaving is making me a better parent; it is forcing me to combine my life with the children’s more, to socialize with them and around them, to develop and maintain a network of like-minded friends who manage to be both people and parents. It is bringing my life more in sync with theirs. It unfortunately seems to have the opposite effect for him, but that is perhaps by design.

The house was different, but not in a bad way. The bedroom looks better without his enormous dresser as soon as you walk in the door. I had prepared and left out the vacuum, and sure enough there were dust bunnies and random objects where his things had been, especially the desk upstairs, so we took care of those. Then I moved the red couch to the deskless spot and created a reading/tv-watching alcove in the playroom, showed the apartment, played with the kids, made dinner, put them to bed after reading a bunch of our new books, and passed out at nine myself.

I had nightmares.

This morning I found the birthday card that K. gave me for my last birthday, not quite five months ago. I couldn’t help reading it and wondering how in the world he could express the sentiment that he loved me and was glad to have me in his life and then, just over two months later, unceremoniously leave me, our house, and that life. I couldn’t help crying.

Then K. got here for his afternoon parenting time and mentioned that he would not be able to come on Tuesday OR Wednesday, his regular afternoons, this week because he is working every day at three. Except Thursday. He’ll come on Thursday. But this will still cut down his time with the children by a full afternoon. And we discussed the possibility that this schedule might continue for a while, and he seemed completely unfazed by it.

It occured to me, as I went off to work this afternoon, to wonder why he didn’t have any regret about missing his regular days. It then occured to me that I might expect him (though I didn’t) to actually say to his boss: no, sorry. I can’t work that much. I need another day off to spend with my kids. It seems that for him, the kids are something to be worked in after his work schedule is determined; he is always available to work and expects his parenting time to adjust. And of course, this means that the kids get less Daddy and less reliable Daddy and that I get less work time and less reliable work time.

Well. It’s a new world. I wish I had more confidence in it.

Postscript: at our scheduling meeting, we discussed how K. doesn’t know how long this work schedule will last. He agreed readily to my putting Thing Two in an extra half-day of daycare; in fact, I’d meant just for this week, but he told me to do it for the foreseeable future and agreed to contribute money toward that. So for the foreseeable future, I’m going to try to add a day. And for the foreseeable future, I guess it’s okay with him to only see the kids two afternoons a week instead of three. I wonder if it will be okay with them.

He’s into his bar. He’s into his freedom, I’m sure. He works until 3 a.m. He drinks with his coworkers. He sleeps until noon. Repeat. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of room for these kids in his life, and although I think that what works for him has to be what works for us because there’s no point in an unwilling father, I can’t help wondering if this set-up might reveal itself to be a grave and lonely mistake down the road. For him, who will discover that he is no longer a primary parent to his children and may not even know them that well. For them, who will gradually decrease their expectations of him (and what will they be learning about fathers? About fatherhood).

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