May 2009


Actually, this post is not about anything to do with the seminal Gainsbourg song, although that song has always been one of my favorites and I did find myself recently driving over the I-5 bridge singing along to “I Touch Myself,” by the Divinyls, and then segueing into a Birkin-esque moanfest. It’s the aural equivalent of a happy ending; all songs should have them.

Anyway, I’m sitting here in my local independent bookshop cafe with three books I got from the self-help section. Yes, things are dire. In my defense, they’re probably the least self-help-y books in that section: one is a memoir called Millions of Women are Waiting to Meet You, by Brit novelist Sean Thomas; one is Rachel Sarah’s Single Mom Seeking, about the trials and tribulations of dating as a single parent; and one is The Divorce Culture, by Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, which is exactly what it sounds like and says “Sociology/Current Affairs” on the back. The last I got so that I could morbidly tabulate the deleterious effects of the divorce on the children and their roots in society and then repeat that info, in sepulchral tones, to my in-laws. The first two are, in fact, for purposes of self-help, which is to say mood lifting. I need some help to look on the bright side of all this, or perhaps I’m just narcissistic enough to want to read about people in a similar predicament to my own. Either way, the seed was planted this week, and now it’s growing like a pernicious weed.

What happened is this: on Wednesday this week, Thing Two and I were early to pick up Thing One at school. Since his school is on the west side of town, where I rarely go, I felt a mad inspiration: we would use the 15 minutes we had to kill and swing by the Library of My Childhood, which is a bit up the hill, across the street from the Park of My Childhood and the Baskin-Robbins of My Childhood, and see what we could see. Thing Two had a great time in the library; it has recently been remodeled and bears no resemblance to the sixties-era carpet and ceiling tiles I once enjoyed, and it is full of young bourgeoises and their children, so that Thing Two, who has recently expanded her vocabulary, delighted in running through the aisles crowing, “A baby! A baby!” every time she saw a pram. Between following her and trying to keep the books on the shelf in her wake, I didn’t get much time to look myself, but I did grab, from the Recent Arrivals shelves on the front, two books that seemed fun and somehow relevant to my life: Touré’s Never Drank the Kool-aid and Sills’s Getting Naked Again.

The first is just ’cause I enjoy that sort of thing now and then. The second was a slightly shamefaced pick, but how can a recent divorcée resist the urge to read about that seemingly mythical (and I mean mythical like the unicorn, which you of course can’t know because I have yet to write my post on my actual dating, or lack thereof, but suffice to say that not only can I imagine a totally sexless future, but I am not even particularly disturbed by that imagining; in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if, when I get through, unicorns will consort with me) re-entry into the world of Love and Lust, Hormones and Herpes, Seduction and Stickiness?

It turned out the book was primarily intended for the 55-and-up age group (it assumes, for example, that you are past your childbearing years and that your kids are at least teenagers, if not grown), although some of its points were certainly relevant, and it makes a compelling, if unoriginal, case for neither completely shutting yourself away from that sticky world nor diving in intent on finding a new soulmate and surgically grafting your bodies together. It’s mildly funny and mildly comforting and would be even more so if I were twenty years older and fifty IQ points stupider. But it sparked a hunger for something like an affirmation that there’s life after this, or something, so here I am with my furtive Self-Help section picks. I’m kind of glad that K.’s uncle, who actually works in this bookstore, is off today, and at the same time I’m kind of sorry because it would be fun to out myself as a Self-Help Reader and because the uncle is not unsympathetic, I think, to my plight. At least not so much that he would treat me with scorn and derision.

We had a good week this week. Coincidentally or not, K. didn’t come Wednesday — this is the Wednesday he canceled to fly to Colorado (on his mother’s dime and at her urging) for his uncle’s surprise birthday party. We were kind of party animals, and we had a good time: park and tacos with K.’s aunt and uncle Wednesday, tacos and park with three playschool friends Thursday, hanging out Friday, Saturday park and shopping — you haven’t lived until you’ve seen a one-year-old and a three-year-old pushing mini shopping carts around the Whole Foods and flinging all kinds of inappropriate food choices (mac and cheese, which they don’t eat due to the dairy; Emergen-C, which I don’t buy due to the cost) into them, and I realized that earlyish on a sunny Saturday was the perfect time to go, because the store was almost empty and both child carts were free — and then a visit to the Festival of Asia at the Convention Center — the festival was poorly-attended and sort of lame, but the kids running through the wide air-conditioned halls of the Convention Center and being amazed at the Monolithic Gingko Bulb statues and the giant glass flowers suspended from the ceiling (there was some discussion of taking them home and ornamenting our house with them, and if this were that kind of blog I would share the photos and you would all swoon from the cuteness) was definitely worth it.

So we had a good week. And now it’s Sunday and K. is with the kids, having shown up on time, and I am at the café trying to think and plan, trying not to think too much about the fact that I am still worried about K.’s ability to parent safely or that the hearing for changing Thing One’s last name to mine is this Thursday and I am fearful of K.’s bullying, reprisal, threats of non-forgiveness, etc.

But there’s been something brewing that I wanted to get on (virtual) paper. We saw K.’s sister for forty minutes on Thursday.

You may remember that K. has a sister in town. She actually moved here in Dec. 2007, pursuant to a visit in October of that same year, just after Thing Two’s birth, and she seemed to want to be with the children; in fact, when she first lived here, we gave her free rent on the one-bedroom downstairs in exchange for 15 hours a week of babysitting, which was really a pretty good deal. It was my idea to try and foster her starting a life here instead of the grad school she clearly didn’t want to do in Tucson, and K. was fine with it.

Over the course of that year she lived with us, she and I became friends of a sort, or at least, I became her advisor. She’d come upstairs and hang out and talk and then stay and talk to me about her love problems or her life choices or whatever. I didn’t mind. I thought we were developing a relationship.

When I told her (because of course K. had not confided in her; he doesn’t in anyone) that K. wanted a divorce, she cried with me. But then she stopped. She stopped being my friend and she (mostly) stopped seeing the kids. She gave a lot of lip service to the idea that she wanted to be supportive of me and a friend to me and that she wanted to be a support to the kids — but she didn’t. She wasn’t around. She was too busy. She got into the habit of doing drive-bys, visits where she’d stop and see me and the kids for fifteen minutes on her way somewhere, until I asked her not to come unless she could stay for at least the better part of an hour. I also asked her, at one point, if she could commit to spending some regular time with the kids. She said yes. She didn’t. She’s busy and she’s young and she’s…well, basically, she’s selfish, and she’s uncomfortable, and she doesn’t know how to have a friendship with me when I am no longer with the brother she worships (and whom she admits has often been mean to her and has never shown much desire to have the close relationship she craves).

Early on, she said to me that she wanted to be a support to me and she wanted to maintain our friendship. She had a hard time articulating what was going on with her, why she’d been so distant/avoiding, so I told her that I understood that she probably had certain boundaries and that I understood that, but she needed to let me know what those were.  She looked squirrely and abashed for a while, then said, “Well, I’m not comfortable hearing anything bad about K.”

You might think that sounds normal. But I don’t think it does, or is. Because I had not been telling her “bad things” about K. — I may be that bitter, but I’m definitely not that poor a strategist; I have enough respect for others’ feelings and my own maneuvering position to not bad-mouth my ex to his own sister — but I had been telling her things he had said (verbatim) and/or done (as in, “Well, K. says he doesn’t want to see the kids more than twice a week, that three times a week is too much and he needs a day off for himself.” Is that “bad”? Not really, at least not in the sense that I’m inserting any editorializing, altering, or even much emoting about it; but it is “bad” in the sense that it means I am not protecting her from her brother’s failings).

The last substantial conversation I had with her was in late January or early February, when she told me that K. was going to move in with her for three months. We discussed that a bit and she admitted that she should “grow a backbone” but that she was, in fact, desperately hoping to get to know him better, and she also admitted that she had essentially moved her fourteen months before in order to get closer to her brother, to develop a relationship with him, that in fact her therapist in Massachusetts had suggested spending time with our children as a way to develop her relationship with K., and that she was disappointed that that hadn’t happened.

So I see that the kids and I — though I know she does love the kids — were a means to an end. And I see that now that we no longer offer that (and it’s interesting, isn’t it, that getting close to the kids no longer equates to getting closer to K. for her; it’s a tacit admission that they are no longer that close to him themselves), we’re not such a draw anymore. And yeah, I know she’s busy. But you know what? I’ve been that busy. I’ve been 24 and had a job and a love life and a life and whatever. And I still managed to spend more time in a week with the children in my life (the kids I babysat, whom I loved) than she has spent with my kids, her niece and nephew, in the last three months. Because in that period of time — the time since she moved out of our downstairs apartment — , she’s spent (and I am looking at the calendar here) less than eight hours with the kids (maybe much less; I’m trying to be safe on the generous side). And that’s including the 2 hours (at least, I estimate it at two hours) she spent with them and K. one Sunday when it had been a while and she tried to coordinate that.

And that’s just sad.

So this is what I have to say to her:

Dear E.,

I understand that you may feel there are some obstacles to maintaining a relationship with me right now. These issues are complex, and loyalties tend to divide divorced families, and if your sense of loyalty asks that you put distance between us, I won’t fault you for that. I ask, though, that you be honest about it. There has been too little honesty our conversations as it is.

I don’t understand why you have not made more of an effort to give your niece and nephew some regular time, and more of it, especially when I explicitly asked that you set up a workable (for you) schedule with me and we discussed the importance of family and loving adults in their lives. I don’t understand why you’ve spent so little time (yes, you are busy; I know what that is. And what it is not: an excuse) with them, and I don’t understand why you’ve been so last-minute and erratic about planning it.

I don’t understand why you seem to maintain this fiction that you are trying and you are planning and you are communicating. If you are doing any of those things with me or with the children, it is mostly in your own head. Their connection to you has suffered, the emotional bolstering you could have offered them has been absent, and you have been dishonest with both me and yourself.

Step up, sister. I don’t like being ashamed of you.

Naturally, I wouldn’t be quite so brusque if I thought she read this blog. And obviously, these things go triple for K.. But it’s a sad situation. And her cowardice and selfishness (she who purports to be and, I think, believes herself to be, genuinely giving and caring and organized) just add insult to the injury of K.’s.

Can I just say that when it’s K.’s “parenting time” and I happen to be around and am waiting for him to take over upstairs with the kids, but find him downstairs talking to some chick on the phone while snacking, I find that irritating? That I have to continually remind him to parent while he’s here? That, despite having agreed to not make personal phone calls on the minimal kid time he has, he’s chatting up/with someone giggly (and my irritation at this is compounded by the fact that he recently lifted a bunch of beach photos of the kids off my Facebook page and reposted them on his page with the title “Things Missed,” as if in the Novel In Which K. Is the Protagonist, he’s a poor disenfranchised dad who wishes he could see his kids more? Despite the fact that he, once again, has canceled Weds. this week and not offered to make it up?) Yeah. Okay then.

1. Did I mention that my Mother-in-Law stayed with me for three days last week, during which time she spent many hours with realtors trying to buy a house for K. to live in? Because, you know, she’s going to buy the house anyway, when she moves here in 1.5 or 2 YEARS, and she should really just buy it now so that she has a convenient way to manipulate and demand attention from K., who will otherwise not answer her phone calls but who is fine with taking her ‘sponsorship,’ as well as eradicating all financial consequences of his actions that out of the way.

2. I keep meaning to write a post entitled “Sex and the Single Mom.” Consider that a teaser. It will involve Hugh Grant (definitely) and (possibly) vibrators. It may also involve the observation that being childless is like having perpetual beer goggles on, for many of us. When would-be swains dangled their lures at me, I used to make like Paul Simon and just say, “Who am I to blow against the wind?” Now I make like a tree and run for my fucking life.

Today, Memorial Day, K. was to show up at noon. (We’d switched Sunday for Monday since he didn’t have to work today and I wanted to take the kids to the farm this weekend.) At quarter to, I got a call saying he’d be late. I called to ask why and he said that he had been out to the bar last night and had fallen asleep on the couch without setting an alarm. “It’s a miracle I woke up at all,” he said, which is true. He was awake before he had to be here. And the theme of his being late because he overslept/overpartied is becoming comfortably familiar, anyway.

On a related note, here’s what happened Wednesday before last:

K. showed up a bit late, a few minutes past three. He was visibly disoriented and made a beeline for the coffee pot, which was empty because I take it in my thermos every morning. In trying to fill the pot and make some more, he knocked the part that holds the grounds off, sending dry coffee scattering across the kitchen. In trying to clean that up, he knocked down a vase and sent shards of pottery and rocks flying.

As this happened, I was trying to leave to go to an appointment. I said goodbye to the kids. Thing One pleaded with me not to go. Thing Two cried and cried. I suggested to K. that he might drop the cleaning (which he was bungling and swearing at and generally not executing well) for a moment and deal with the kids. He barked at them and kept at it. I left.

I returned a bit after six to nurse Thing Two (it is K’s time, but I come back by to do this for bedtime). K. immediately left and smoked, then parked himself on the living room couch with a magazine. I was trying to get my things put away so I could nurse and go — hoping to make it to the local Divorce Support Group. I asked K. to come into the room where the kids were. He came in and sat against the glass doors. He passed out — eyes rolled up in his head and jaw slack — and I urgently called his name. He came to. He admitted that he was tired, saying he’d gotten up at 2 that afternoon (hence the lateness) and that he couldn’t seem to ever fall asleep before 5:30 a.m.

“Uncle Dad” is what one of my colleagues calls his children’s bio-dad because of his lack of involvement. K. seems to have a similar level of engagement, and I’m starting to worry that he’s not even competent. The passing out thing is alarming. And yet how much do I want to pull rank on K., to push him toward a point where he might actually choose to try for a change in the parenting time and put the burden of proof (about his minimal compentence, etc.) on me? I am lucky, luckier than many single moms, in that K. at least doesn’t fight me for control much. Those of you who are divorced parents already know what I’m going to say; the rest should listen up, because if you pay attention, you’ll be scared straight, hopefully straight enough to avoid divorcing with children — either by divorcing before children are born or by never getting married in the first place.

I see what happens to divorced parents and their children: the parents are in a position of trying to collaborate with, at best, someone they’ve failed to make a life with, and more likely someone who has rejected or been rejected by them, betrayed or disappointed or otherwise deeply fallen in their regard. And so it becomes a life of the misery of trying to work with someone you’d much prefer not to deal with at all, and the kids are stuck in the middle, their security and consistency and quality of life shot. It’s terrible. Your ex has control, to a large degree, over your life and livelihood, forever, and you are forced to consult with him or her, negotiate with him or her, and adapt to his or her needs. You are no longer free.

So I am lucky because K. has given up so much of that control that it would be hard for him to make a case for strongly influencing one of my decisions, and yet I’m unlucky because he does seem to think that, despite what’s going on now, at some point in the future he’ll become Awesome Involved Dad and that up to and including that time, his wishes will be respected with regard to the children. He seems to think we’ll just wait around and keep time open for him. And this is a sort of Sword of Damocles hasnging over my head; what if he asks for his “rights,” at some point? How much should I bend for his sake? How much should I do so for the children?

I talked to him on Sunday. I suggested that he see a doctor. I suggested that passing out when you’re taking care of the kids is not normal. He said it wasn’t a problem.

Thing One says, “Daddy goes to sleep. But I wake him up.” I guess to him it’s totally normal. Meanwhile, everyone I know is telling me not to leave K. alone with the children. And I’m not sure they’re wrong.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the way things used to be. Not with K., but before him. In fact, as I drove back from my parents’ country place yesterday I was listening to Luna’s song “Black Postcards,” and singing along, this being a step because I haven’t wanted to listen to anything off Romantica for a long time– I had that album on pretty frequent rotation in the period just before I met him, and some part of me didn’t want to go back to that place, a place full of the light from the windows of my tiny but beautiful penthouse on Lake St., light pouring into the windows of the car as it sped up 101 to take me hiking or swimming or wine-tasting, light making me squint as I walked out Balboa St. to my favorite café and then detoured up to Sutro Park to watch the ocean fade to grey offshore, where fog clung to the horizon.

When I married K. I agreed to move up north to a town variously known as Puddletown, Stumptown, and The Whitest City in America. It’s a perfectly nice place, but it’s not my place, and it is dark. Dark, muted, grey. From late October to late April, it’s grey and it rains. So perhaps my reluctance to listen to that album came from the fact that I moved from light into dark, or perhaps from my resolve to live in the now, insofar as I could, the now of what I had made my life as a married person and a mother and not the now of riding my bicycle down Great Highway with sunlight flashing off waves and car windows. I tried diligently to live that life. And I think I did a pretty good job, in the sense that I had begun to find some satisfaction and routine in it, at least, but then it ended and I realized that I had been trying really hard not to look at what I had had and been and seen and done before. And how much I missed many parts of that life that had nothing to do with no longer being single or no longer being childless and maybe had a lot to do with suddenly having Seasonal Affective Disorder and a bad case of the Fuck Yous (the latter due to the pervasive and insidious racism of this town, where 99% of the people I know are a)white and b)constantly reminding me that I! Am! Miraculously! Not! Wow! Asian! Different!, in well-meaning and not-so-benevolent ways).

So anyway. Yesterday was a rare perfect sunny day in the Northwest, and I was driving the kids back from a couple of days on the farm, and I finally didn’t skip past Luna on the player and instead watched the sunlight filter through the trees and sang along, “If I had to do it all again, I wouldn’t.”

Of course I would do whatever I had to do to get these children. And it’s likely that Thing Two’s existence singlehandedly justifies my marriage to K., if nothing else does. But in the absence of the “I wouldn’t change a thing because then I wouldn’t have you” calculus, I have to agree with Dean Wareham. If I had to do it all again, I wouldn’t.

So now I’m figuring out what I would do if I had to make some new choices now. Because, while between the tenure and the mortgage and the school enrollment, things seem pretty settled in my life, I am beginning to realize the choices are there for the making.

Actually, I took that Beck album to the beach this weekend, but I didn’t listen to it. Instead I listened to Lou Reed’s Magic and Loss, particularly the song “What’s Good,” which I love and which seems totally apropos:

Life’s like forever becoming
but life’s forever dealing in hurt

Isn’t it, though? Though it’s a pretty jaunty song, and probably it represents a new stage in my emotional development; it’s a far crying from bursting into tears while singing “Il y a longtemps que je t’aime” tearfully. In fact, this weekend has been something of a musical sea change for me. I’ve had all these songs stuck in my MP3 player from throughout this separation and divorce process, among them “You Cause as Much Sorrow,” “I Thought I Held You,” and “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” from early on, and “Candy,” “Pussy Control,” and “Make It All Right,” from later, and I had been avoiding a complete run-through of the list, but when I was driving back from the beach on Sunday, I let it happen. And I didn’t even break down. It was a landmark moment.

We drove out on Friday. This trip was originally planned because, when his parents were visiting over Easter Week, K. told me that he couldn’t come on Sunday, May 10 (as you may remember). And I decided that, rather than have the kids have a weekend at home when his absence was conspicuous, I’d take them to do something fun for Mother’s Day. My friend J. was game, so we went out to the cabin and had a good weekend of sightseeing, beach-walking, and lounging. Of course, the lounging was mostly not done by me, and the children are both in fairly challenging (OK, epic bad behavior) periods right now, especially Thing One, so there was some frustration, mostly on my part. But all in all, it was a good time. I was struck, as I have been more than once since K. left, by how much more fun I had with the kids now that the distribution of labor wasn’t “drudge parent” (me, doing meal prep and cleanup and planning) and “adjunct/fun parent” (K., taking the kids out at my request so that I could work on teaching stuff). In fact, one of the major things that made the weekend good/possible is that I declined to do any work for my job at all while we were there, and that I was barely online at all. It’s good for one’s brain to do that, and I do it far too infrequently.

So it was a good weekend. You can imagine the details. Lighthouse, famous tree, beach walk, shaved ice. Hanging around the house. Etc. We stayed put Saturday, which was good because on Sunday we made a huge loop back (in order to hit the famous column and my parents’ farm) and spent about four hours in the car.

And I thought about things. The way my life is now. The way K.’s must be. The way they are diverging and, although I do think it’s his responsibility to assert himself toward and in parenting, I also think that he is at a disadvantage in that and that one of the probable effects of our divorce is that he will not know his kids as (very) well. That he will not have time to do so or the wherewithal to become Planning Drudge, which is what he would have to do in order to organize himself. That he will not make the effort, or perhaps realize he needs to, to reach out to them by phone, to stop by, to be part of the fabric of their lives.

On the way out to the coast, I got a message from K. He said that he was going to go out of town for his uncle’s 50th birthday and would be missing a day with the kids. No mention of making it up. And that’s the thing. Sure, it’s great to spend time with your extended family (in this case, it’s being heavily lobbied for and funded by his mother, who will bend over backwards to make it easy for K. to help her feel loved). And sure, K. has work, and he does have to work, and his options for spending time with the kids are limited by that. It’s a problem we all have. Some people — but maybe not most — would, in the face of a life of working nights and evenings and that making it hard to spend time with their kids, change jobs or schedules. Most people would at least assert to their employers that there are certain days that are committed to the kids and they cannot work those days. But not K. He has done everything his work has asked him. He has made it clear that his time with the kids comes after work is determined, must not interfere with it, and is non-negotiable, and he’s shown no desire or sense of responsibility to make up times missed, not just this upcoming Wednesday he’ll miss, but last Sunday. In fact, the only time he has made an effort to add in some time to make up for missing some was when, the week we had our divorce hearing, he came over for 2 hours on Friday to make up for the 7 hours he missed on Wednesday/Tuesday (when he was having dinner with friends, an event he refused to cancel, postpone, or include the kids in). And that was after three conversations in which I advocated, begged, pleaded for him to maintain time with the kids for their own sense of continuity and connection.

So I feel compassion for K. and I don’t. I pity him, but I pity him like Mr. T; he’s a fool. He’s a fool not to say to his bosses (who love him and value him): “I can’t work Sunday. That’s my one long kid day.” He’s a fool not to call them. He’s a fool not to stop by. And he’s especially a fool not to see that it’s not just a choice he makes to spend time with them, but a responsibility, and that the fact that he’s just beginning his career as a bartender and aspiring bar owner does not absolve him of that.

Perhaps, most of all, it’s sad and foolish that he did not realize — truly did not realize, I think — that by leaving me the way he did, he also ended up driving a bigger wedge between him and the kids than he needed to. That he doesn’t realize that the way we’re living now is causing his relationship with them to crumble away (and somehow he doesn’t realize this even though he admits that he’s “leaving it all to me”).

I don’t think K. is an ill-intentioned person. I do think he’s sadly limited by a conviction that he cannot assert himself except in opposition to others, and even more insidiously, by a belief that he has to protect his own interests over those of others (and that it is somehow right and proper and even altruistic to do so). A relative once said to me that it was amazing that people who purported to be (and wanted to be) so nice (K.’s nuclear family) could be so selfish. And it’s true. It’s the perfect description. Because there’s a lot of talk about doing the right thing, but it rarely gets done.

And yet there are these little things: K. did call me, a bit after nine on Sunday night, to wish me a happy Mother’s Day. It was late, and I was tired from driving and running after the kids all day, and I had given up expecting that he might. So it was nice, and it made me happy at the same time that it made me realize this was always the pattern with us: just as I had given up hope, K. would throw me a crumb. It was never anything that cost him much; whether it was remembering occasions or presents or just daily kindness, it often seemed not to occur to him to show consideration. And that is sad, too. Because I don’t think he wants to be inconsiderate. I don’t think he wants to treat people badly. I think he just doesn’t know how to do anything else, and his lack of understanding is compounded (and doubtless in part created) by his mood issues. He’s locked in a box I can’t imagine.

I wanted to help him get out for a long time. Now I just want to make sure my children don’t get locked in there with him. For, as the song goes,

What’s good? Life’s good
but not fair at all.

K. did come today. I thought he might cancel because of the name change papers I served him with (though I suspected he would not — and he must know that, especially after last week and the fact that he’d already canceled the coming Sunday to work, it would make him look terrible). He is supposed to stay after bedtime on Wednesday, but I didn’t go out. I asked him to have a meeting tonight instead, since we’ll be missing Sunday. We met. He had nothing to say (“Do you have any concerns? Observations? Preferences?” “No.”).

He did tell me that Thing One had said that he (K.) was never going to put him to bed again. Apparently those were Thing One’s exact words. And indeed, when I came home from my afternoon out, which was supposed to be working but really was blogging and venting, Thing One and K. had been in a battle over dinner (Thing One wouldn’t eat it), so I had gotten Thing One to eat by bribing him with sweet potato, which I’d thought was a pretty good deal since a)historically, Thing One had eschewed sweet potato, which is pretty nutritious, and b)if Thing One doesn’t eat something at night he tends to wake up early and crabby. While we’d been sitting there, Thing One had said to me, “Why is Daddy still here?”

“Well,” I’d replied, “He wants to spend time with you.”

“And he might want to put me to bed,” Thing One said, “but he can’t because that’s ONLY YOUR JOB.”

I want, when things like this happen, to be able to support K. But it is hard for this reason: he doesn’t seem to want to, or  to be inclined to, or to know how to assert himself as a parent. While all this was happening — indeed, for most of the time I was home that he was here, which was about two hours (remember that Thing Two is still breastfeeding and so I have to be home around bedtime even when he’s here), K. was sitting on the couch reading Esquire. Even when I was getting Thing One to eat and Thing Two was escaping out the sliding doors, K. remained impassive on the couch, not noticing his baby daughter on the side deck next to the cans of paint stripper and plastic sheeting from a project I’ve been working on for several weeks. He never once looked up, and he seems to withdraw even more when Thing One draws a verbal line in the sand demarcating “Mama’s territory,” which is tragic because I suspect that Thing One is pushing at K. to see if K. will push back and be the parent who says, “Well, I’m your daddy and I’m going to put you to bed.”

But K. is not that parent. And although he has many legitimate shortcomings, this one seems to me just stupid: he will let a three-year-old tell him to back off, and his response to that is “fine! I will then,” and that means that the child has no confidence that K. will take care of him or stick around. Because he doesn’t. He cancels to have dinner out or he reads Esquire. It’s reminiscent of back in December when Thing One said he wanted a different daddy and K. said, “I have nothing to say right now. I just want to leave.”

I know it’s hard when kids say hurtful things, things that can be taken as rejection. But it seems to me ridiculous (and self-defeating) to react as if you were another child. And in this case, it very well may cost K. his relationship with his children. And I know there are ways I could expend efforts to counteract that (like, as a friend suggested, calling K. and pretending to Thing One that his daddy called for him, or forcing K. to interact by constantly being called out of the room, or whatever) but there are a few problems with that: I’m not much for lying. I feel too overwhelmed already to do sophisticated machinations in order to shore up K.’s parenting. And I don’t know if I have it in me to keep propping him up after he left in the same way I used to before.

So in my last post, I never said what the second time I had been afraid was.

There’s a little backstory: on March 18, when we filed for divorce, we had had to meet with a county clerk for “document review,” which means that they look through the paperwork with you to make sure you haven’t made any egregious mistakes. I was early. K. was late. Our clerk was called Tom and was from Brooklyn. He had grey hair and nervous, rabbity little eyes, but a generally sympathetic demeanor. He went through the paperwork, page by page, caught a couple of errors, made us copies, and submitted it.

He was totally fine except for that moment at the end where he said, “This child support amount seems high to me. Are you sure it’s right?” And I thought: look. We are dealing with a judgment in which one parent (K.) is clearly abdicating most responsibility for his children and taking the role of Occasional Visiting Babysitter. He has no overnights, he had to be coerced into commiting to a regular weekday, and you want to save him money? But what I said was the simple truth: “We did the Oregon State calculator online, and this is what we got.”

I thought that would be that. After all, we submitted a Stipulated Judgment, which in this state means that you are attesting that you both agree on everything and would like the waiting period waived and require nothing more than the judge’s signature. We specified that we’d divided up all our property, that there were no assets left to divide, that we had collaborated on the Parenting Plan, that we’d both reviewed the child support. It should have been fine, right? They have better things to do than to use their public funds to quibble with people who agree on everything, right?

Wrong.

Since I am lucky enough to have this friend who’s a lawyer, and since said lawyer friend had informed me that he could check the status of my case remotely, I was getting daily updates. Nothing for a long time. Then I got a call saying that there was a problem with the file and it was being returned to me for correction. I immediately swooped down to the courthouse, intercepted it in the mail pile, and corrected it. It was literally a question of checking a box and rewriting information that had appeared on the previous page. They gave me the file, I did it, I gave it back to them. My pal Tom was not there, but I didn’t feel any need to see him, especially, because I figured these things happen.

On April 10, another such call from my friend. My in-laws were staying with me then (remember the joy? The laughter? The love? The fawning over K. and Jezebel at their workplace, with generous tips?), and I debated whether I should go down, because I’m loathe the leave the kids in the afternoon when I already have to spend every morning (except Wednesday; Wednesday I don’t go to work and Thing Two and I take Thing One to school, usually late, and then hang out and shop and do laundry and read books in the morning) away from them. But anxiety over getting it done won out, so I left the kids with my in-laws on the afternoon of April 10, a Friday, and went to the courthouse. Again.

(That fucking courthouse. It’s reminiscent of your middle school, and the décor hasn’t been updated since at least then; it reinforces all kinds of stereotypes, being frequented mostly by the fifteen black folk who live in this town and some white folk of the wide-load, non-Standard English-speaking variety; and the people who work there never seem to quite be sure what’s up, as evidenced by the fact that I’ve gotten two different forms for the same thing from two different clerks on different days.)

Anyway, so I walked into the courthouse and my ol’ pal Tom was behind the desk. I approached and his rabbity little eyes flicked back and forth; before I’d even gotten to the counter he said, “[Your First Name], right?” I was a little surprised, given that they hadn’t known I was coming, but nodded. I told him there was a problem with my file and I had stopped by to correct it to save time. He went looking.

I watched him, and his supervisor Cindy, look in files, on the desks, and finally on the floor before they finally found it. It took a while. Then Cindy informed me that there was a minor error — a box that hadn’t been checked, some information that hadn’t  been reiterated — about the child support amount. I said I’d fix it. She said that she couldn’t release it to me unless the copetitioner, K., was there.

I was like, “Are you serious? Seriously. Are you serious? Because, a)this info is on the previous page, reviewed and signed by both of us, and b)you were going to send it to ME to be corrected, and c)I stopped by THIS MONDAY and did the exact same thing.”

And she gave me this whole spiel about how she couldn’t let me do it because I might change something and cause K.’s whole life to be ruined.

So I called K. to ask him to stop by. It was not quite 3 p.m. on Friday, a half-hour before he started work. I was hoping that he was on his way and could blow by en route. But in the meantime, Cindy decided that since the information was, in fact, already signed by both of us on the previous page, she would do me a big fat favor and let me do it alone. So I did. Tom, my review clerk, was filled with apology. I don’t know if he was more embarassed by the fact that he’d so far failed to catch not one, but two very minor and obvious errors, or the fact that he’d betrayed that he had either total recall or a slightly stalkerish interest in me by blurting out my name and blushing, or the fact that they’d finally found my file ON THE FLOOR.

I told him not to worry and tried to leave. But before I did, Cindy took it upon herself to opine, “I just want you to know that this child support amount is HUGE! It’s HUGE! And the judge might not sign it because it’s HUGE! It’s more than half his income!”

Never mind that there is no statute that says there is a percentage of income beyond which child support shall not go.

So I left. I was worried, because both Tom and Cindy had been forceful in their ideas that K. should pay less child support. This is problematic for a number of reasons:

1)The child support is based on the cost of keeping the children.

2)The child support includes the cost of daycare.

3)Since K. left, Thing Two has entered daycare. Thing One is already in daycare in the form of the French School (preschool is legally daycare because it is not compulsory).

4)If K. were to pay less child support, I would not be able to afford to keep the kids in daycare. Ergo, I would have to take them out. Ergo, I might lose my job. Since I was earning 56% of our combined total income to his 44%, that would make the child support go up.

In other words, the whole thing seemed incredibly stupid to me. And while I know we don’t use the cheapest daycare known to man, it’s pretty reasonable. I have a friend in NYC who pays more for daycare for ONE child than I pay for my two.

Anyway…so on April 21, my lawyer friend called me to give me this news: the judge had scheduled a hearing. He didn’t have to do it. He could have just signed it. And yet he did. So I was worried. Especially because I talked to Family Law Lawyer Pal, a friend of Lawyer Friend, and his best guess was that the judge wanted K. to be more involved and might try to mandate overnights.

(This idea is problematic for many reasons. Longtime blog readers know. For those of you new to these things, let me sum up: 1)K. was physically and verbally abusive, spanking constantly “because I want to punish him” and calling Thing One an “asshole,” before he left; 2) K. has Bipolar II and is unmedicated, although his family believes that he needs to get help; 3)K. has a sleeping issue that involves being mostly unable to wake up in the morning and is in no condition to parent children who get up at FIVE FUCKING A.M.)

Anyway, so I stressed for a week. Then we had the hearing. The judge thought the child support amount was high, just like Tom and Cindy; that was why he had called the hearing. He did the state calculator in the courtroom and came up with a number 45 dollars different than I had; he had clearly been expecting a much greater discrepancy and was abashed and sheepish. We agreed on the original amount and signed the paperwork.

Did I mention that the judge’s first words to me were, “You look familiar. Have you been here before?” What happened to professionalism? I mean, I’m glad to know that apparently the white folk can’t tell us apart and that the judge was apparently confusing me with the OTHER Chinese American who got divorced this year (there aren’t that many around here, and the rates of divorce for Chi-Ams are much lower than for whites, which are lower than for blacks). But seriously. Have some sense of decorum, Your Honor?

Anyway, the judge was wrong, Cindy was wrong, Tom was wrong. The support amount was just and reasonable according to the state calculator.

So, when I stopped by the courthouse yesterday (when will it end?) to pick up yet another form, I had my second moment of fear. Because Tom was there. And I decided to approach him and tell him what was up.

(Skittish, rabbity.) “Do you remember me?” I asked.

Nods.

“I just wanted to let you know something. You remember that when you performed our document review you thought the child support amount “seemed high.” And your supervisor Cindy thought it was ‘huge.” And the judge, in fact, thought it “seemed high” as well, so he called a hearing rather than sign the Stipulated Judgment. And he did the calculator in the courtroom. And what he found was that he was mistaken, Cindy was mistaken, and you were mistaken. The child support amount was correct. And I wanted you to know this because I hope that the next time you are dealing with a case where one parent has 100% of overnights and there is a child support amount that ‘seems high,’ you might be aware that the possibilities, according to the state, are broader than you commonly encounter, and you might avoid making vague statements about how it seems wrong. Because that was stressful and alarming, and I hope that others in my position in the future can avoid fearing that they will have to quit their jobs due to inadequate child support to pay for daycare.”

Tom cowered and evaded. I smiled and left. But the point is that I. Was. Terrified. It terrified me to talk to him. Because I am Uppity Negro Cunt and he is White Man in Position of Authority. Because I know that any challenge to his superior knowledge undermines my credibility. Because I am terrified to become That Woman. You know, the strident, bitchy, whiny one that no one listens to.

My heart was beating out of my chest the whole time I said my (relatively mild) piece. And when Tom cowered, I got no satisfaction. I was too aware of the taboos.

And now I am working to change my son’s name so that it matches my daughter’s and mine. And I am afraid that I will not succeed. And I know that, if the scenario were reversed and it was a father left with 90% parenting of his children and a mother who’d declined to do more (even without mentioning the hitting and the pushing and the swearing and the spanking and the alcohol use and the anger), the judge would say, “Of course, sir. Your children should have your name.”

And it makes me crazy.

I still have to write the story of the divorce hearing, which was a ceremonial leaving in the same way that the marriage was a ceremonial joining, and which did not, however, in any way complete the circle. But right now I have other things going on. One of the things is that so much of this process has been so excruciating that I have thought, and said on a few occasions, “I’d rather be date-raped.”

I am, perhaps, given to hyperbole. But I know, a little, whereof I speak, and I am not trying to make light of sexual assault. I have been date-raped twice, by the boyfriend before K. (after we broke up) and by a coworker in my salad days in New York. That’s not counting the sexual assault where the random dude from my roommate’s party broke into my bedroom (which was the only time I actually went to the police). And here’s the thing: being date-raped was not that bad. I mean, it sucked, and I had conflicted feelings about it, but in the scale of Shitty Experiences I Have Had, it is not that close to the top. Of course, my experiences were non-violent (and involved, in the earlier case, feeling unable to assert myself and drunkenness and, in the later case, being passed out asleep and having an obvious “misunderstanding” about what “you can crash here” means — last I checked, it doesn’t actually mean “You can wait until I pass out and then put your penis in my vagina.” But I can be naïve). And even though they were clearly nonconsensual, I felt some understanding of where the man in question was coming from. I don’t think either of those men was trying to rape me. I think they both, for reasons that are complex and have to do with the way male will and female autonomy are viewed in this culture, really thought it was okay, and that in a way, they too were victims. Which does not, let me be clear, make it okay to grab a woman and insert your penis in her like she’s a post box and you’re the Royal Fucking Mail. Both of the men in question had plenty of reasons to think it might not be okay, or at least not to be sure it was okay. They should have checked. Let this be a lesson to you, boys and men: if you intend to have sex with someone, make verbally sure that the other person is in agreement before you go there. It’s not hard. It can be part of your pillow talk. It might save you some jail time.

But, as we know, the vast majority of date rapists don’t do jail time. Neither of mine even realizes, I feel fairly sure, that it was not okay. And this is not because I tend to hang out with sociopathic losers (well, the jury’s out on that one. But still). This is because our society tells us that if you’ve had sex with a woman before it’s not rape, if she was flirting it’s not rape, if you’re both drunk it’s not rape, if she takes off an article of clothing it’s not rape, etc. Our society tells us this, and most of us believe it.

And most women don’t fight it all that hard. The reasons above are in play. More than that, though, is the fact that so many aspects of our society, so much a woman does in the world, is constantly challenged, questioned, shut down, and put down by Men In Authority. Yup. It’s true. We haven’t come so far that we don’t still think of god as That Great Big White Dude in the sky — and when we see other white dudes, sitting behind desks, pounding gavels, sitting on our front porches, it’s hard not to feel cowed. And not just cowed and shamed, but inferior and unworthy.

I am pretty sure that nobody who knows me would call me a shrinking violet. I’m pretty sure that, if asked, they would describe me as “brash,” “ballsy,” “sharp,” “aggressive,” and a host of other less complimentary adjectives. I am pretty sure that I know a bunch of men who are just a little bit intimidated, and probably a little bit titillated as well, by me. They see me as that woman. You know, the one with the mouth. The one who gives no quarter. The teacher who might make you feel stupid or unmanned. And I am.

But I am afraid. I have been afraid so many times throughout this whole process, and I have been very specifically afraid twice this week. Afraid of censure. Afraid of disapproval. Afraid of having my freedom taken away. Afraid of being overpowered, silenced, and disenfranchised (which is really one of the biggest effects of rape, right?), for no other reason than that I am acting in opposition to men and that, therefore, I am wrong, or unworthy, or bothersome, or stupid. Because I’m not one.

The first time I was afraid was last Friday. I have been considering the children’s names — longtime readers know that Thing One has my last name as a middle name and K.’s as a last name, while Thing Two has my last name as her last name and K.’s as a middle name. This seemed to make sense in the context of our nuclear family; it does not make sense to me any more. All the studies indicate that children “generally prefer,” as the court puts it, to have the last name of their residential parent and siblings. I have already experienced inconvenience dealing with Thing One’s last name as different from mine and Thing Two’s. And in this situation, where I am the parent who lives with the children, who enrolls them in and participates in their school, who takes them on trips, who is their head of household, I do not see why Thing One should have K.’s last name. It’s a hassle; it doesn’t identify him as being part of a family unit with me and Thing Two, and it creates administrative confusion.

So I decided to change the order of his names, so that he, like his sister, would have K.’s last name as a middle name and my last name as the last name.

If that bugs you at all, I invite you to think about whether there is any reason, other than some latent (and sexist; sorry, but facts is facts) belief that a man’s interest in having his child bear his surname trumps a woman’s. And I invite you to consider how, in a situation where the father spends a minimal amount of time with the children and the mother provides the primary home, income, nurturing, and parenting, you would justify having the one child keep the name of the non-residential parent.

So I talked to K. about it on Friday. I let his grandparents and parents know that I intend to do it, and we discussed it. We had discussed it before. He had acknowledged that it “would probably be easier” for Thing One to have my name but that “it’s not about him; it’s about me. I NEED HIM TO HAVE  MY NAME.”

On Friday, he said much the same. I asked him not to contest it. I explained the laws, which seem to strongly support my case. I said that there did not need to be more strife between us and that this was a parenting decision, that it was important to me that both children remain connected to both sides of their heritage, and that I believed this was the best thing for Thing One. He said he would contest it. He said, “what about in a few years when they’re living with me [too]” (he says that someday he’ll be more of a parent to them, but at the same time he insists now that he doesn’t have time for more parenting and that “work has to be my first priority”).  He told me — ordered me, really — not to do it. Then he told me, “If you do this I WILL NEVER FORGIVE YOU,” implying strongly that I would somehow pay, and the conversation ended.

Here’s the thing: being told K. will “never forgive” me should be laughable, right? This is the man who betrayed me and our marriage, who abandoned his kids, who’s repeatedly denied my requests to spend more time with them, who just last week skipped the chance to spend his regular, agreed-upon day with them because he had made dinner plans with friends instead.

(Here was that conversation:

“I choose not to this week.”

“What are you telling them by doing that? They expect to see you!”

“That nothing is guaranteed.”

“So it’s more important for you to have dinner with S. and C. this week than it is for you to parent your kids?”

“Yes.”)

Regardless of what he says about some brighter future where he’s more involved, he isn’t now and won’t be the foreseeable future; more to the point, he chooses, when he has a choice, to NOT see his kids and NOT maintain their security (because apparently teaching a three-year-old and a one-year-old that nothing is certain, including his presence and involvement, is a valuable lesson?).

So my friends say, and I tend to agree with them, that K.’s threats of not forgiving me should inspire nothing but the desire to laugh in his face. And they’re right. But here’s the thing: I don’t want to make him angry. I do want him to see the kids. I’m not out to get him. And when he told me that, I wasn’t just worried. I was scared. Because somehow, somewhere, I internalized the idea that his gender makes him more powerful or formidable or worthy or valid than me. Despite myself. And because I also internalized the idea that It Is Not Okay for a Woman to Piss Off a Man You Dumb Bitch.

And I continue to be scared. Scared of his ire. Scared he’ll take it out on me or, worse, the kids (well, he probably will take it out on me by absenting himself more, at least during times when it’s less essential, like after bedtime on Weds. when he’s supposed to let me go out and do some “night parenting time”). Scared that he’ll do this and get away with it. Scared that somehow, despite the laws and my sole legal custody and all of his lateness and excuses and declining to come and not seeing that the kids should be his first priority, the judge might side with him.

Because he’s a man. And I’m not. And that means there are still a lot of people in this world who think his word is worth more than mine.

Hello, readers.

You may have noticed that I became password-protected for a while. Don’t worry; you didn’t miss anything. The last two weeks have been eventful, and a combination of no time (less K. parenting plus extra work) and a sort of interior retreat (the interior landscape of my psyche right now is very similar to that scene in Superman II when the earthquake eats Lois Lane; not sure if I’m the earthquake, Lois, or Superman) have kept me from writing. I’ve also realized that not writing makes me even more of a wreck than usual, so I’ll be updating soon.

The reason I password-protected the blog, though, is that I became aware that someone I know whom I had not invited to read it was doing so. This is an anonymous blog, and I’m aware that there are readers who’ve never met me; I’ve also shared the URL with several friends and relations. However, having someone I know, but with whom I have never shared that I have a blog, reading it without telling me as much gives me the screaming heebie-jeebies. I mean, come on, Internets: have some honor. If you know me, and you are reading my anonymous blog without even mentioning it, that’s some serious breach of friendship there. Don’t. If I had wanted you to know if was mine, I would have told you, right? Or if it’s really totally okay for you to be reading it, then you should be able to mention it to me.

But I am not so much for trying to control these things, long-term. So I’ve made the blog public again. To each his conscience.

Anyway. More to come soon. Thanks to the people in the world who have expressed their caring.

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