I know, I know: Cher is not exactly what you want to be thinking of, at least not before noon. And my Cher repertoire is actually very small, despite the amount of time I’ve spent singing karaoke in San Francisco’s Mint, where the queens are thick on the ground and the Cher thick in the air. But I have a special fondness for this song ever since I saw Lloyd Cole and Jill Sobule cover it, with technical perfection and to raucous applause, at Arlene Grocery in something like 2000.

It was an encore, and it was amazing. I mean, picture Lloyd Cole, who’s kind of an ironic college radio circuit crooner, belting out, “I can feel something inside me say/ I really don’t think you’re strong enough, no!”

Completely deadpan. There’s something endearing about a performer willing to completely transgress his own style to adopt someone else’s.

Maybe that moment in Arlene Grocery somehow correlates to what I’m doing now. In many ways, this is exactly what I never wanted to do: be a single mom of two children. Even more so given that I’m a single mom who has to deal with a father who’s neither very present nor very interested. But lip service, and service to my own sense of ethics about including him in decisions/apprising him of them, has to be paid. So I’m in the unenviable position of having to chase him down or prolong our now-ultrabrief Sunday night “scheduling meeting” by importuning him with these concerns.

Last Sunday was pretty amazing. Yes, I woke K. up nine minutes before he was supposed to come over; I then drove the kids to pick him up and sat in a parking lot waiting for nigh on twenty minutes. When we got to the house, Thing Two was crashed out and I put her down. I thought I’d do some work while she napped and K. played with Thing One.

He wandered into the kitchen and picked up the coffee pot, which was empty. He then wandered back into the living room, where I was talking to Thing One (who had remarked quietly, in the car on the way over, “Mama, I don’t want Daddy to come over.”). He said,

“Since you’re here, can I go to the coffee shop?”

“Why don’t you just make some coffee? You’re welcome to.”

“It’s too hard. I don’t want to make a whole pot.”

“K., it’s your parenting time,” I said. “I’ll stick around the house, but if you want to go to the coffee shop, you need to take Thing One.”

“Thing One,” he said, “do you want to go to the coffee shop?”

Thing One looked up from his trains and turned his eyes, which are a changeable bluish color and at this moment were turquoise and piercing, on K. “You can make coffee AT HOME, Daddy. And drink it AT HOME. You don’t need to go to the coffee shop.” He continued playing. Dis-missed!

A frustrated K. took Thing One upstairs to the playroom. I found him there, slumped on a couch, blearily watching Thing One and his trains, when I brought him a cup of coffee ten minutes later.

None of that was really surprising. It’s been pretty typical. And I guess I agree with the counselor, who says that it’s better for the kids to see and know K. even if he’s not a very good parent in terms of the quality of time and attention he offers them or spends on them.

I finally made it out of the house and did a little work, got a little air. Mostly I walked a couple of miles in an odd, alternately sleeting and sunny day, and wished for a cigarette. But I took a vow that I wouldn’t drink or smoke for March, and I’m keeping it. (I felt my body needed a rest from smoking. And drinking is a gateway drug.)

When I returned around six, K. and Thing Two were in the bathroom. Thing One was sitting alone at the table in front of a bowl of something reddish and gelatinous. He poked at it. I sniffed and examined the detritus on the counter, deducing that it was the soft rice noodles I’d left in the fridge boiled into a glutinous mass and covered with the contents of a jar of Pad Thai sauce (mainly sugar and tamarind).

“Mama,” he informed me gravely, “Daddy says I have to eat this.”

I really don’t want to undermine K.’s parental authority. And I really do want to teach Thing One to eat his dinner, which he’s constantly questioning as a concept. But I submit that the dinner looked disgusting, and also not very nutritious. K. hadn’t totally neglected nutrition, though; there was a plate of steamed broccoli on the table, too.

“Why don’t you eat your broccoli,” I suggested. Thing One seemed only too happy to comply.

After the kids were in bed, it was meeting time. I asked K. when he was going to be able to come this week. [As you may remember, we had set out a schedule on Feb 1, when we divided our finances, figured out a basic child support plan, etc., that had K. coming over three afternoons a week. That didn’t last long before it became two afternoons a week, one during the week and one on Sunday. I realize that from an antiquated perspective that assumes it is the mother’s responsibility to do the child-rearing, that may seem like a lot, but from a perspective that each parent is equally responsible for the children, it’s peanuts: less than 10% of the time. K. and I always discussed how we (and perhaps especially I) wanted to equally share the parenting; I worked and earned more during our marriage, although paradoxically I also spent more time with the kids (he was in school and that took up a lot of mental time/space). ]

K. said, “The only day I’m not working this week is tomorrow.”

“What?” I was shocked. “You told me last week that Monday is the only day you will always work!”

“I asked for it off a month ago,” he said, “because I’m going to see M. Ward play.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t know.”

“You asked for it off a month ago!”

“I didn’t remember.” He didn’t look sheepish, even, just abstracted. “So, should I come over tomorrow afternoon?”

I was chagrined. I had made plans to watch Ron’s daughter, Lorena, that afternoon so that Ron could work on her book. I’d lay money on Ron not wanting K. to watch L. even if he were willing to, and I was disinclined to cancel. On the other hand, I hated the kids not seeing K. all week. But I’m a firm believer in Natural Consequences, and it seemed stupid to go to still greater lengths to rearrange everything so that K.’s complete neglect to inform me of his schedule (which is only necessitated by K.’s refusal to set a regular schedule to see the kids) could be accommodated.

“Unfortunately, I have plans to watch Lorena, and I can’t cancel them,” I said. “So you’re not available the rest of the week?” (As we know, K. works at 3:30 most days; the kids are home by one. Additionally, Thing Two does not go to daycare on Wednesday, when he could be with her all morning.)

“Guess not,” he replied.

“Well, that sucks,” I said.

“Yeah,” he agreed.

So that was that. He’s not seeing the kids this week. He saw them Sunday and he’ll see them next Sunday. It sucks, yeah, but it sucks because he engineered it that way, or failed to engineer it another way, or failed to make the kids a priority over a singer-songwriter or his own scheduling snafus or however you want to look at it.

Should I talk to them about this? Since they haven’t been able to form an expectation of when he comes, it seems pointless. They are learning that Sunday is his day (even if we have to go fetch him and drag his smoky, booze-scented ass out of bed in the process). I guess they’re also learning that Sunday is lackluster and anything else is unreliable.

I’d been thinking about how K. seemed to be failing to realize how much, just in terms of real time, he is cutting himself off from his children. Now I’m thinking about how he also doesn’t seem to see why consistency and effort on his part might be important. His attitude seems to be that he’ll see them when it works out and if it doesn’t work out now, it’ll work out later. This sort of passivity is shared by his sister, who also hasn’t been the best planner, but he is not their aunt. He is their father. At least in name.

Meanwhile, we’ve been busy. We had that playdate Monday. We had a surprise goodbye party for one of the playschool parents yesterday afternoon, and Thing One had a grand time running around with a pack of his peers. My dad is coming over today.

And K. and I are filing for divorce next Wednesday. I will try not to cry. I realize I’m crying over something that’s long dead, or maybe that never was. I doubt, even so, that I’ll succeed.

But as I finished up this post, I watched that Cher video. Maybe she has the right idea. If I could just get her to appear behind me as I weep and morph, thunderbolt-like, into my body, maybe I too could resolutely walk away.

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