June 2009


Someone’s been drinking Mai Tais.

I’m up at five Hawaiian time on Day Three of the Webber family reunion. That’s right; the kids and I flew halfway across the Pacific, on a journey you probably already know gave me grave misgivings, to attend a reunion put on by my ex’s grandparents and which would include seventeen members of my ex’s extended family. In a house. Together. Plus the three of us.

There are advantages. Back when the reunion was being planned, K. and I were still together, and I was one of the original advocates for Hawaii, largely because a)I thought it would facilitate K.’s aunt, who is recently out of a correctional institution and still on…probation? Parole? (I think parole. Clearly, I never watched enough crime TV) attending, as she lives here, and b)I thought it would be a fun and easy vacation with the kids. When I went to Kauai last year, I was struck by how pleasantly low-fi the island seemed, how attractively run-down and second-world with just enough limping American infrastructure to make it unintimidating, and by the general attitude toward children, which seemed indulgently tolerant rather than the dominant North American attitude that children should be not seen and not heard or else they should be plastered, in ghoulish exploitation, on beauty pageant ads and movie billboards, their red cheeks made more appley by the lavish application of rouge and their cherub-like affect made more cherubic by the judicious application of Prozac and valium. Basically, I think most of us on the continent are encouraged to view children as things: things to be clucked and cooed over, things to manage, things to avoid at all costs, things to exploit into an industry, but always things. I’d bet money that if a stray Hawaiian dude says hi to your kids, there’s something like a 50% lower chance that he wants to put them in a porn film.

Anyway, so we’re in Hawaii. The trip over, with my sister-in-law, was awkward — she didn’t ever respond to my letter telling about the child support imbroglio and, though I certainly appreciate the feels of conflict she must be having, I guess I was also wondering if she’d finally step up and communicate about what’s happening rather than just avoiding it (I hate avoidance. It gets under my skin like scabies. This is why I’m bad at politics, family reunions, and department meetings; I have to either check out entirely or appall half the room). I appreciate her being willing to coordinate itineraries and “help out,” although I don’t need help now as much as I used to, and it’s a rare person who can really offer active help when they enter our circle.  But it made going to the bathroom easier.

And now it’s Sunday and the bottle of Mr. and Mrs. T’s Mai Tai Mix (shouldn’t it be illegal to make “tropical” cocktails from a plastic bottle of reconstituted juices and sugars that was probably imported from the mainland? It’s an amazing world we live in where you import your “island flavor” — and yes, I know Mai Tais are not native to the islands and that they were invented in Oakland by Victor Bergeron, aka Trader Vic. I used to be married to a booze worshiper, remember? And even before that, I had a fondness for tiki bars) from somewhere around 37′ N 122° 23′ W on a diesel-powered freighter. But I digress.

Before we left, I had been trying to get my own rental car. For one thing, I had some research I wanted to do, and for another, I had the distinct feeling that being trapped in a rental house on the North Shore with no way to leave except the stroller might cause me to become even more irritable, nigh desperate, than the prospect of being surrounded by so many people making so much noise and watching so much TV for so long with an escape hatch. But for some reason, the other members of the party were dead against it. “We’ve rented a seven-passenger vehicle,” they said. “We’ll drive you places,” they said. “We have a car you can borrow, one that belongs to the cousin who can’t be here,” they said. “Why do we have to rent a car seat? Bring your car seats!” they said. I tried to explain that checking car seats is dangerous and that being a single parent hauling two kids and bags through the airport is challenging enough without the added complication of hauling two car seats, but the flurry of emails continued. I was tired before I even left.

When we arrived in Hawaii, my parents-in-law picked us up in the promised seven-seater — which had no cargo room and required us to cram our luggage onto our laps and the stroller into the seventh seat. They got lost a few times on the way to the house — “I don’t know why,” said my mother-in-law, “We followed the directions exactly,” — and by the time we got here, I had been massively dyspeptic and on the verge of losing my airplane pretzels for a good half-hour. So the car situation seemed dire. Car-related communications all seemed to revolve around the Hawaiian resident family members using the promised loaner a lot, and any use on my part involving specific negotiation. Then my grandmother-in-law, in a fit of bureaucratic micromanaging, tried to broker car borrowing for me (why are we trying so hard not to rent another car? Do we hate the car rental industry more than the Imported Mai Tai Industry? At least, to my knowledge, there are no auto plants on Oahu, but there are plenty of pineapples and blenders. Trading in the cramped 7-seater for two compacts would only be $100 more, and I’d gladly pay it personally to avoid having to put someone out every time I want to go somewhere), which resulted in awkwardness, and Resident Cousin kindly offered to negotiate directly, and things were more or less OK. But I still sense that I’m just going to have to suck it up and not go anywhere for the most part, because the Car of Absent Cousin is really used by Resident Cousin and her mother, and the only other car they have is a truck, and etc.

So after the Epic Battle of Social Awkwardness, Incomprehension, and Different Assumptions, with a dash of Controlingness and Attempting to Arrange Other People’s Lives for Them, Especially Through Charts Which Are Bound and Available for Filling Out On the Kitchen Table, I was in possession of a Rav-4 with a sticky shifter…

…which was essential, as my cousin from Kauai had flown over and gotten a hotel room so that we could spend the day together.

After I stopped fearing I was going to kill my children by not being able to find second gear, the day was great. We picked up my cousin at her hotel in Waikiki, an area which, despite my lingering fascination with it from a childhood of watching Magnum, P.I., we did not explore; instead we took a road around the coast to the east, stopped at a beach park with the most stunningly turquoise water I’ve ever seen, made cakes in the sand, had shave ice at a local plate lunch place where the Spam was flying fast and furious and there were bible verses painted on the walls, and took the Pali, a highway of beautiful Western vistas that climbs precipitously into the Koolau range, back to Honolulu.

Once back in the city, we had a brief driving tour, during which I saw many old and beautiful buildings the likes of which don’t exist on Kauai, and then we admired the view (parking lot/ocean) from the three-inch-wide “lanai” in my cousin’s hotel room. We capped off the evening in a Japanese restaurant in town, which had amazing homemade tofu and some pretty good gyoza that the kids actually ate. It was a great time.

As we pulled onto the H1 from Punchbowl, the light was behind the Waianae mountains to the west. The sky was a slatey blue ringed with large, blue-grey clouds, and the silhouettes of palm trees stood out starkly against it. Thing One was admiring them, talking about the palm trees and the ocean and how the ocean was behind the buildings, and then out of nowhere he said,

“Remember when Daddy wouldn’t let me eat my potatoes?”

I did remember. It was fairly recently. K. was apparently fed up about Thing One not finishing his meal and had laid down the law that there would be no more food unless he ate his lentils. Though normally the stricter parent, I am not a believer in forcing people to eat; I had come in unknowing and told Thing One that he should have a few more bites of his lentils, which he did, and then he could have some sweet potatoes. Essentially, I unwittingly countermanded K., which I apologized for later and asked if he would like me to do things differently in the future (he demurred). Anyway, like so many things, it was about a three-way split between parenting style clash, miscommunication, and poor mood/anger management. But what Thing One remembers — judging by how he talks about it — is how angry K. was.

I assented; yes, I remember.

“I don’t want him to come ever again,” he said. And then he went into a short monologue about how K. wasn’t proper and he wasn’t nice but he was a little nice but he wasn’t very nice and he didn’t know how to be nice and he, Thing One, didn’t want him to come (the bottom lip came out) EVER AGAIN. NO! NOT OK!

The he was quiet. And the light faded behind the palm trees as we drove north.

The kids were asleep when we got back. I carried them to bed. K’s mother, sister, aunt, and cousin were playing cards. They did not invite me to join them. I did not insert myself. I stood at the kitchen counter, ate some lychee standing up, and briefly contemplated having a Mai Tai.

Then I went to bed.

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Yeah. Right. So:

“You’ve eviscerated all goodwill. You changed my son’s name. Fuck you.”

And therefore, he is paying $300 less in child support tomorrow. Because apparently, the child support is “my only way to express my protest.” And apparently, it has nothing to do with the children. Apparently, it’s all about me.

I tried talking to him about the importance of our having a good working relationship. I tried asking him if I had treated him with the disrespect he was showing me. He couldn’t think of anything except the name change, which he contends was ALL ABOUT HIM and disrespectful, exactly the same as his telling me “fuck you.” He also contends that I have no reason to be upset with him.

Oh, to be so solipsistic. Meanwhile, he’s right: I won’t retaliate because it would further negatively affect our “working” relationship and the children. But does he realize that he already has negatively affected the children?

We’re getting used to it.

You probably figured that out already, but the rhythm of life in its new configuration, up to and including K.’s parenting time and his occasional flakiness (in his defense, he has been no more than ten minutes late recently — the state says after fifteen we don’t have to wait for him). Perhaps even up to, and sometimes including, K.’s parenting, which by all accounts (even his adoring mother’s) leaves much to be desired.

Part of it is that there’s only so long you can rail against something. Part of it is that I’ve developed an acute consciousness of all the other things I have to pay attention to, as well as an awareness of the fact that really, I am very lucky, all things considered. I’m lucky because there has been relatively little caviling and even less serious dispute over terms, because K. acceded to my having the house, sole custody, and nearly 100% parenting time — and to his parenting time taking place only in my house and with no corporal punishment, visitors, or drugs present, per the decree –, because he waived the right to “sixty mile notice,” which means that I can move more than sixty miles distant and not give him advance warning or the ability to protest it, and because his having done so puts me in a good position to defend the rights and safety of the children. Such a good position, in fact, that as any chess player knows, it’s not worth engaging over the more minor points. Eyes on the prize. If he’s a little marginal as a parent, if he’s occasionally passing out and late and verbally aggressive with the children, it might be worth letting it slide to preserve this status quo in which, basically, the power rests on my side. That sounds terrible; it feels terrible too. I want to engage on every point. I want to protest the times he’s quelling, harsh, angry, neglectful. But I know that none of his recent behaviors — at least not the ones I’ve witnessed — are probably going to cause a court to restrict him further, and part of that is because his interaction with the kids is so narrowly and strictly defined.  And I’ve learned, in my dealings with courts, that it is probably better for me to simply maintain what is rather than open a dispute that could involve my losing ground — and my children becoming more likely to be actually endangered.

Thayer always says, “you’ve got to pick your battles.” She knows; she’s been in a lot of them. And so, though many of my friends say “Don’t let him see the kids!” “Tell him not to come!” “Scary!”, and though I agree; it is scary, it’s not responsible, and it doesn’t inspire confidence in K. as a parent, I take the part of discretion and try to approach things subtly rather than head-on. When I talked to a lawyer, she agreed. “You’ve done an amazing job,” she remarked, “and it sounds like you’re in a good position to make sure your kids stay safe and happy.”

So when he says, as he did when we first argued about the name change (for which I offered as my central argument the fact that Thing One is living with me and should therefore have my legal last name), “Well, what about a few years from now, when they’re living with me?”, I don’t start enumerating all the reasons why I doubt that will ever happen, which range from the commonsense and general (they need continuity and security, and barring any disability on my part, there’s no reason they’d ever be living with you more than half-time) to the specific and protective (you are a volatile and relatively unskilled parent, and your sleeping, mood, and anger issues make it so that I don’t believe they should ever live with you unless you radically clean up your act). I just nod and smile, nod and smile, and think my thoughts.

But as a more general rule, I don’t actually think it’s good for most kids to split time equally between households. That to me seems kind of like that old biblical story where King Solomon settles the dispute over whose baby it is by threatening to cut the baby in two; parents fight over the baby and end up tearing it asunder, unless the one who can’t bear to see the carnage gives in — because unfortunately, in most custody disputes there’s no King Solomon saying, “Oh yeah, you? The one who’s willing to give up the baby that it may live? It’s yours.”

So I’m kind of surprised when K. alludes to them spending half the time at his house in the future, which he has once or twice. This is all, of course, very hypothetical; it’s meant to happen in a distant, shadowy future when K. has his own house, no roommates, and a more settled life. (I wonder if, in this hypothetical future, he also has  a day job and meds for his mood issues, as well as perhaps some parenting classes under his belt.) But it surprises me. Because K. does not, to my knowledge, believe that’s what’s best for children either. The 50-50 split. Because K. has not ever shown a desire to devote that time to his kids, not when he lived with them, not since he left six months ago. Because K. and I used to discuss how tragic it was to be divided that way, constantly shuttling from one home to the next, constantly packing your bag with the things you needed and learning to sleep whereever you lay down your head.

Don’t get me wrong; I think children should spend time with both parents. I think they should have relationships with both parents and access to both parents. And I think they should be able to rely on the involvement of both parents. But I also think — and I think this in part because I was a child of divorce who shuttled back and forth — that they need a primary home, a base, a place of their own. Of course there are exceptions; my friend Joaquin, for example, has a 50-50 split. But in his case, it’s less that exactly half is the best for his daughter and maybe more that it may be the best he can get; he’s told me that he’d love to have his daughter all the time, and from the sound of things that might be better for her, but his ex won’t give up any of her time and it may create more strife than it’s worth to try. But as a general rule, I think it’s better for kids to have a primary place to live. I’d love for K. to become someone who could have the kids at his place ten or twenty or maybe even thirty percent of the time. But I think that’s enough.

And to look at overnight percentages as a measure of parental involvement strikes me as reductive in the worst way. Because, as any of us who’ve conducted important relationships with people we’re not living with know, there are other ways to stay in touch. There are other ways to stay involved. You can come by. You can call. You can leave notes or text or email or get involved with school. You can do all manner of things.

K. has done none of these things. Thing One is certainly old enough to talk to his daddy on the phone, but K. never has called. Not once. Not even when Thing Two went to the ER with pneumonia on Friday, and I called K. to tell him, did K. call later that night or the next day to see how she was. He waited until he came over. And I know that he probably doesn’t think he should, necessarily call. But I think he should. I know I would. And I also know that you can say a lot of things about men and women and different communication styles blah blah blah, but the bottom line is this: the kids don’t know he thinks about them when he’s not here if he doesn’t call. So if he wanted them to know, wanted to touch base, wanted to feel connected, that’s what he would do.

What K. may be responding to, in his projection of this hypothetical 50-50 split future, is the concept of equally shared parenting, which I wrote about in the predivorce section of these pages and which advocates for both parents having equal involvement in work and kids. That was what I wanted from our home life. I talked about it. I read the book Halving it All. I advocated. Yes, I wanted K. to spend as much time with the kids as I did. Yes, I thought we should have equal weight and importance in that regard.

But that was then, in the context of the four of us as a family. In the context of the four of us as two families, I don’t believe that’s what’s best. There’s a wealth of literature that supports that idea — particularly at this young age, many children are better adjusted if they only sleep in one place, and one study shows that babies and toddlers who have two cribs in different home may develop attachment problems with both parents — as well as common sense. Is it important for kids to spend time with the nonresidential parent? Yes. Should the time be split exactly evenly? Nothing indicates that it should. Quite, in fact, the contrary.

So the subtext of all of this — the paltry time K. does now and the massive time he hypothesizes he might spend in the future — isn’t anything I’m on board with. And the unfortunate thing is that K. doesn’t even know it, that he doesn’t see that by choosing the life he’s chosen now, he’s made it very, very unlikely that he will ever have his children for even close to half the time, unless something catastrophic should happen to me. And that is unfortunate. Because there may come a time when he is a little stabler and a lot saner and when he wants that time, and he probably won’t get it. Not because I won’t “give” it to him, but because the children will have lives by then, they’ll have routines, and while they will probably want to shift and flex those routines to spend more time with their father, they won’t want to give them up entirely.

Postscript: This post grew out of the events of last Sunday, which were disturbing and somewhat tragic, at least affectively: returning from my customary work time, I got a call from my old friend Shane. Shane is a book dealer who’d come across a copy of Joint Custody with a Jerk and brought it by for me. He was calling to find out if I was home, because he had, in fact, seen my car outside, but when he’d rung the doorbell he’d heard a sobbing Thing One approach. Thing One had opened the door, sobbed, “I want my mommy!” and shut it again. Shane heard th esobbing retreat. Then he opened the door back up, thinking that K. must be right behind Thing One. There was nobody to be seen. “I had thought you were home because of your car,” he exlaimed to me on the phone, “and when Thing One opened the door and said ‘I want my mommy’ I wondered where the adult was.”

I still don’t know what, exactly, happened. K. says he was upstairs and had sent the sobbing Thing One downstairs because he misbehaved. But if Thing One is going to be opening the door to anyone who rings, maybe that’s not such a good idea.

With apologies to the documentary of similar title, which is far more serious (and well worth watching), that’s what I’ve been thinking this week. Because Thomas Chang is no longer with us.

It was a joke K. and I used to have. Somehow, I ended up choosing both children’s first names, which are unusual, historic, Latinate names that very few people in this country have, and K. ended up choosing their middle names. Well, specifically, in my 20th hour of labor with Thing One, K. said to me, “How about Thomas as a middle name?” and I said “Whatever” followed by a string of expletives; with Thing Two, the middle name selection was made farther in advance.

Since we gave them two middle names — Thing One originally had my last name as a middle name and Thing Two, K.’s — I always felt there was an imaginary person, a shadowy person, in their names. Thing One’s was Thomas Chang, and Thing Two’s Evelyn Webber (names have, as always, been changed). Evelyn Webber sounded to me like a nineteenth century society matron, perhaps from K.’s ancestral home of Nantucket; Thomas Chang was a particular favorite of K.’s; in fact, before K. decided that bar ownership was his Life Path, he talked a lot about starting a store of gentlemen’s accoutrements and calling it “Thomas Chang.” Thomas Chang, it seemed to us, was a snappy dresser. He was genteel, but also 21st century; whimsical, but elegant. He probably had a lot of very nice ties and pocket handkerchiefs.

K. talked about Thomas Chang with some frequency. He was part of the subtext of our lives, our backstory. Evelyn Webber was less so, as Thing Two was only just a year when K. departed the marital coil. But she was there too, probably with pearls and lace gloves on, perhaps serving pie.

In fact, with Thing One, the order of his initials played a big part. I used to write thank-yous from him and sign them with all four of his initials, trying to give them equal weight. When they fixed the sidewalk outside the house we rented, and he was about ten months old, I went outside and scratched his initials in the drying concrete.

So it was not without some regret that I changed his name. K., as I’ve discussed, was violently opposed. “We agreed to give him that name,” he would say. “That IS. HIS. NAME.” But I saw it a little differently. It was in the context of our being together that we gave him that name, and now that we are apart, and the children are overwhelmingly with me, Thing One had become the odd man out, the only one with Webber instead of Chang. Changing the name was a way to affirm the three of us being a family, to give Thing One some easy way of identifying with his sister (and you know, when we were four I didn’t mind doing things the hard way, but as a single parent of two, I’m now all about easy) at school and in other public places, and to connect him back to my family. And, though I lament Thomas Webber — it’s too normal, too boring — Thing One’s first name goes well with Chang, which is a nice punctuation to it.

Early on in the days of our separation, my in-laws were in town. We went to have lunch with his sister, who had just bought a house in our old neighborhood. K. was due to come over after, and he was late, and I was sad and frustrated, so I broke off from the group and took a walk by the old house, taking a photo of the initialed sidewalk and making it my phone’s screen saver. I showed it to my father-in-law. Look, it seemed to say. Here is what was. Here is what might still be (it must have been early, because I had not given up, not completely, on our marriage yet). “I have some nostalgia,” I said. He nodded.

And I did have some nostalgia. I liked the myth of Thomas Chang.

But Thomas Chang is no longer. Now the person who inhabits the middle of Thing One’s name is called Thomas Webber, and he is probably kind of boring, and he definitely is not the inspiration for a men’s fancy dress shop. On the other hand, there is no men’s fancy dress shop. Perhaps Thomas Webber owns a bar.

So today was the hearing. The procedure in our state is that you have to post your intention to change the child’s name, and you have to serve the other parent with thirty days’ notice. So I did that. I had my dear old friend Jules, who’s like a big brother with me, go into K.’s work and serve him a month ago. And then we waited. I fretted and read and researched and prepared and guessed and paced, and I don’t know what K. did, but we didn’t mention it to each other for a month.

Yesterday K. was over with the kids. He said as he was getting ready to leave, “What room are we in tomorrow?”

“What?”

“What room are we in tomorrow. For the hearing. I packed that paper away, so I don’t know.”

“I don’t know either.”

“Well, could you look it up for me?”

“Um, K., it doesn’t SAY what room on the paper. It just says Room 211, which is the general family law room. I was planning to go there and check to see where the actual courtroom is.”

Then I asked him why he was so set on contesting the name change.

“Because you can’t do this.”

“I understand that you feel strongly about it, but telling me I can’t doesn’t help me understand why you feel that way.”

“Because this is bullshit.”

“K., I think you should consider whether we really need more strife in this family. I understand this is not your preference, but what are you really achieving here?”

“Fuck you. FUCK. YOU.”

He stomped out.

This morning, I parked the car at 7:21 downtown. My sainted mother had come over at quarter of to watch the kids, and she was going to take Thing Two to school and take Thing One, who had no school, to the awesome big play structure right by Thing Two’s school.

I had a coffee in the café across the street from the courthouse.

At 7:57 I walked through the front doors.

I went to the Family Law room. I got my papers in order. I found the courtroom, which was room 356.

I waited.

I was the first person on the name change docket, and there was an adoption ahead of me, at 8:30. The adoption was fun to see. The little baby boy had a driving cap on and about fifteen grandparents, uncles, and aunts with balloons and presents and tears in their eyes. They trooped into the judge’s private chambers and made a bunch of noise while I and the 27 other name change hearings sat in the courtroom. I was next to an older woman who was changing her name to Moonshadow Roseshine, or something.

I kept jumping up and looking out the glass doors of the courtroom, expecting to see K. coming up the stairs.

At 8:45, the judge had still not come out.

At 8:46, she came out. She called my name. I went up. She signed it.

I walked out and went down to the Family Law room to file the papers.

There K. stood, all dolled up as I knew he would be, and on his cell phone. I later saw that he was calling me; it was 8:48 a.m.

“Hey, where is it?” he greeted me.

“It’s done.”

“What do you mean, it’s done?”

“It’s done. The name change is complete.”

He turned red. He raised his arm, and for a second I thought he was going to grab the file folder I held and wrest it from my grasp. Then he turned on his heel and stormed away.

I filed the papers. And as I walked into the Family Law room, I saw that the white board said: “Name Changes: Room 356.”

Sometimes I listen to the radio in the morning commute. Usually, I try to download some podcasts of RFI so that I can provide my children with incidental exposure to French that is not just me speaking it, but lately I’ve felt paralyzed, slow, stupid, and heavy, and everything is a huge and Sisyphean weight to lift, so I’ve defaulted first into the local NPR affiliate and then into the local “alternative rock” station, which plays thirty-year-old songs that the 25 to 35 set likes, like “Psycho Killer,” which I heard this morning. Ironically, the song sent a stream of (only slightly mispronounced) French into the car, which was fun, although it left me wondering what it is I’m teaching these kids (the bridge lyrics, for those of you who do not remember this song, which is to say those of you who have not listened to the radio since before 1977, are):

Ce que j’ai fait ce soir-là
Ce qu’elle a dit ce soir-là’
Réalisant mon espoir
Je me lance vers la gloire… OK

I mean, I suppose there’s something glorious about being a psycho killer. And David Byrne does a good job with the manic eye roll in the video (linked above). But mostly, it’s just a weird little song that’s catchy and somehow became one of the most-covered songs of all time, not least because (and I think this explains the popularity of Simple Minds too, to some extent) it has really very few words.

But mostly the song makes me think of K. It makes me think of K. for the obvious and prosaic reason that K. really likes this song and really likes the Talking Heads; in fact, in 2004, when we were first dating, I remember him telling me that if he ever had kids he wanted them to listen to the Talking Heads all the time because that music would be great for children. K. had a reverence for the Talking Heads — in fact, he has a reverence for all the music he likes — that I just don’t get; it’s more like idolatry than appreciation, as if these people in this band have somehow acceded to a higher plane of being through their music. Which, maybe, they have.

So, although I have been listening to the Talking Heads (not avidly, but I do own a copy of Sand in the Vaseline) since well before I met K. — since, in fact, K. was about ten years old, and I was a seventeen-year-old member of the hippie food co-op whose boyfriend liked to blast “Burning Down the House” while we refilled the bulk food — I now forever associate them with him. The association is all the more ironic because the English lyrics of the song contain the line, “you start a conversation you can’t even finish it,” which strikes me as an accurate and relatively compassionate characterization of K.’s approach to our marriage.

There are other parallels, too. Psychosis is debatable, but this is what is true: when I talk to K., I feel as though I am immediately sucked through the looking glass into Crazy World, and instead of being populated by a lovably cantankerous Red Queen and some hapless pawns, it’s Population One. Crazy World very much resembles our own world, but it is just slightly distorted, some things blown so far out of proportion as to be unrecognizable and others just so much that they present an entirely different slant on this.

For example, last Wednesday we met up with K.’s aunt and uncle, who live here in town. They have been great about hanging out with me and the kids and are a lot of fun. Unfortunately, their two days off are Wednesday and Sunday, which are the days K. agreed to spend (some) time with the kids, and equally unfortunately, they are not morning people, so we can only see them if K. cancels.

We’ve seen them four or five times, on Wednesdays, in as many months. And there’s at least one Weds. where he canceled and we didn’t see them.

But anyway, his aunt mentioned to me that they had seen him and that he’d said that when he wasn’t at work, he was with the kids.

Obviously, this is a gross exaggeration. It may be true for me, for the most part: I am with the kids in the morning until I go to work, and I’m with them when I leave work and all night. When K. comes over, I typically leave for a few hours, help with bedtime/nurse Thing Two, etc.

It is not true for K. He works at 3:30 in the afternoon and generally gets off after midnight, or sometimes much later; it happens, as those of you who’ve worked in the restaurant business know, that he gets off early. He has Sunday nights off both the kids and the job; he often has Wednesday nights off too, though he’s slated to “parent” while I go out (but it often happens that I don’t go out or that I come back so early that it’s barely even his “night.” And that’s not counting the cancellations, which happened at least twice in the past three weeks (that either Weds. or Sun. was canceled). But I can see why he thinks that, why he believes it is true. He is scheduled to spend some time with the kids on each of the days he has off (although, going forward, he will have an additional day all to himself). Therefore, he is with the kids whenever he’s not at work. He is either at Point A (the bar) or Point B (my house). It doesn’t matter that they’re only partial days or that he cancels or that he’s late or that he leaves and I am the one that has to be here, and it doesn’t matter that he doesn’t consider it his responsibility to make up the time if he cancels his parenting time, but my responsibility to deal with it. He’s “with the kids.” Whenever. All the time.

Similarly, he doesn’t think the passing out (which he was doing again when he was here Sunday) while with the kids is a problem and he doesn’t think they need worrying about and he doesn’t know what’s going on with them. He has a very limited view of their lives. Some people in my position would take it upon themselves to try to cajole/exhort/inform him, but I am not doing that. Partially because I don’t have the energy, and partially because it strikes me as a really bad idea to take responsibility for K.’s participation now in the same way that I did when we were married.

So I don’t. I have my meetings with him, we talk about scheduling. He pays his child support. He more or less usually more or less shows up. I let him live his life. I live mine. I don’t try to find out what he’s doing and I don’t volunteer (oh, the scintillating details! The nights spent exhaustedly doing some of the dishes and then passing out with the sink still full! The fruitless efforts to convince myself to swap spit with Friend of an Old Friend, who is charming and sweet but counterindicated for all kinds of reasons, not least that his teeth are kind of yucky!) how I spend my time. And I know this is the way it has to be; I don’t wish for more, even, from K. for myself. My heart knows the difference between grieving for what I lost and trying to re-create it with what is now available.

But I am aware, every time we have one of these superficial non-conversations, every time I try to volunteer information about the kids and he sits passively or I ask him for thoughts about them and he has none (which is every time I ask), every time I take that detour into Crazy World where The Truth is that K. is actually an attentive dad who does everything it takes to raise children, I am aware of how much depth is missing. I feel some regret about this. I feel I should be trying harder to form some kind of co-parenting partnership with K. so that we can at least be united in that.

But we are not. And perhaps we won’t be.

I will try again, of course. Try to make it clear that these kids miss fathering. Try to make it clear that it’s on him. But right now I can’t talk to him at all. And there’s one very concrete reason why amid all the chimeras of reasons that flit in and out, obcuring the lay of the land in this world or any other: we have a hearing tomorrow. Regarding the name change, the one where I try to change the order of Thing One’s names so that he has K.’s last name as a middle name and my last name as his legal last name. And I am terrified.

I am terrified because K. threatens to “never forgive me.” I am terrified because my experience of the world is that right does not always triumph. I am terrified because, in many ways, I know that I cannot make this bigger than it is, and yet for me, for a variety of reasons that have to do with my beliefs about how is best and most ethical and most productive to be in the world, with my beliefs about the values I hold and what I want to show my kids about how the world works, this name change is important. It is the last hanging issue that can be closed; it is the last gauntlet of this six-month process. And it is a way to give peace. To give my son peace and freedom from discomfort and difference (from his sister and me) and uneasy questions, and a way to give me that peace as well. A way to resolve. A way to configure our family as it is, not as one might wish it could be. And a way to affirm that we, the three of us, can be a family without a male head of household.

On Friday, it will have been exactly six months since K. told me he wanted to get divorced (for the first time). It will be almost six weeks since the divorce was final. And I hope that it will also be time to close the book on the last issue. I hope, so much, that it will be time for me to breathe a sigh of relief and pick up the work of this life with an eye to longer-range, more constructive plans.

But first I have to get through tomorrow morning’s hearing. So if you have any thoughts to spare between 8 and 10-ish Pacific, think of us. Think of me.