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.

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