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.

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