families


Tonight we filled out the divorce paperwork.

I had asked that we do it, and K. came over at three (well, 3:20; he was late) to see the kids, so after they went to bed, we planned to sit down.

It was hard watching him with the kids today. He was passive and not especially impressive, lounging on sofas and chairs and deferring to me whenever I was around, but he was reasonably nice. Thing One seemed happy enough to play with him. At one point I suggested he take K. upstairs to play with the train tracks, and he excitedly said, “Dad, we can go upstairs! Mom says so! Let’s go do that! Mom says we can go!”

Odd, but not exactly discouraging. At least Thing One is making progress. Of course, he did say a bit later, “Now Daddy’s going to go home to his other house and you can read me a book!” when it was K. whose “turn” it was to do so, but there you are. Really, the adjustment is probably less jarring for him than it is for me; K. used to work four nights a week, and though the kids would see him a lot more in the late morning/early afternoon, he was barely present on those four days/nights. Now he’s over here two afternoons a week (the last three weeks) and he’s definitely nicer to them, certainly nicer than in fall ’08, just before he moved out, when he was frequently spanking Thing One and calling him an “asshole” and seemed put out by the children more than anything (he doesn’t seem overjoyed to see them now, but at least he’s not actively annoyed).

Anyway, I don’t know what I was expecting. I had been crying on and off some of the day. I was sitting there filling out form after form and wanting to ask “Why are we doing this? What happened?” — not rhetorically — but K. had expressed his impatience and irritation, and had done that thing he does where he first tries not to clean up any of the kids’ dinner mess (from the dinner I cooked and he served them) and then, at my reminder that we would have room after he cleaned up, had done at exceedingly half-assed job — but I knew that to ask those questions was pointless and probably counter-productive. So I bit my tongue and we filled out paperwork and I sat next to the man who’d promised to love and honor me for the rest of my life and thought how easy it is to let go of promises that no longer seem convenient.

He didn’t dispute anything. We filled it out (mostly). He left. I finished wrapping the presents (Thing One has two birthday parties to attend this weekend) and icing the cupcakes (Thing One’s allergies mandate that I bring egg- and dairy-free alternatives to such occasions). I thought about how I learned in the country mandated parenting class that such expenditures (birthday presents, music and sports lessons, field trips, after-school activities, etc.) were not part of the child support and how, really, K. should contribute to them, but how he probably wouldn’t because he would not see that by not contributing he was limiting his son’s activities; he would only see that he wasn’t with Thing One at the parties and so any presents or treats were immaterial.

In other words, for K. things are ending. He’s signing this papers — and disputing nothing, really — and he’s done.

For my children and me, things are just beginning.

I wish it would stop hurting so much. I try to be philosophical. I try to believe that things are better this way. But mostly I hate having to live in a world where your husband, the person who was your main support and confidant and safety, can betray and abandon you so totally. Having to live in this world is a hell I never imagined. Having to see his vague impatience and total lack of regret or compassion or empathy, having to see him not seem to care about anything but his exit strategy, having to clean up his mess and look at his impassive face without shaking him and crying, “what happened to you? What happened to us?” — this is more painful than anything I could have imagined.

Having to understand that I can never again take refuge in his arms when I feel this way, nor offer him mine, is still worse. Having to think about the break of faith with my own promise and desire to forsake all others that I will inevitably make in order to continue living is equally bad.

And having to do all this and watch him so often neglect and withhold and fail to respond to his children, watch him show up late and cancel and gradually let his time be eroded, and realize that he is teaching them that a father is someone who has better things to do, is more painful even than that.

I’ve been meaning to write a little about the relationship – independent of the children. I have a lot of anger and disappointment and, most of all, hurt. But I don’t flatter myself that I was a perfect wife or that I did no damage to the relationship.

I have so many regrets, and since K. left I’ve second-guessed myself so many times. If I had praised him more, I think. If I had asked for less. If I had told him, when he told me the joke about how a woman introduced her partner as “my first husband” at a party, that I would never say that, instead of just laughing along. If I had nagged less. If I had appreciated more. If I hadn’t thrown out the word “divorce” in moments of anxiety and frustration. If I hadn’t made him feel that he couldn’t keep working nights forever. If, if, if. If I had invited his friends over more (even though he didn’t). If I had been less critical, not just of him, but in general. If I had gone right down to the bar where he works and made friends with Jezebel when I sensed something was up instead of never meeting her. If I had encouraged him to go out to shows more instead of encouraging him to stay home with me. If we had gone on that honeymoon (our first was canceled by his grandmother dying). If I had gotten someone to take the kids for a night and taken him to a hotel. If.

It’s not that I didn’t want to do these things. It’s that I thought we had time, I thought we understood we were in it for the long haul, I thought that the demands of having two young children and jobs and an old house that’s falling apart were enough. And sometimes, yeah, I lost my sense of humor. But I never lost my sense of love, not for more than a moment.

We used to talk about the things we’d do when the kids were older, the traveling when they graduated from high school. All of the fun we would have together.

And then in November, when things started getting hard, I realized how much fun we could have right now, how much fun we were having, how our children and our lives and each other, even though taxing, were also delightful and serendipitous and beautiful, and how lucky we were to be able to share them.

Sometimes I have moments when I think that if K. really didn’t want to do it — the work of parenting, of being married — (and there was plenty of indication that he didn’t, or at least that he didn’t understand what it entailed) then I’m better off losing him. The situation reflects the reality. Any of these ifs I’m entertaining — they might have prolonged his sticking around, but they wouldn’t have made him do so with grace and love and understanding.

And then there are the moments like now, where I am playing with Thing Two on the bed and she is doing her new game of rolling over and hiding under the covers and laughing, and I marvel at how wonderful it is to have her and to be with her, and then I am overcome with grief at the knowledge that K. and I will never share this moment, or any other like it, again.

Number of minutes before K. was due that he called to say he’d be late Sunday: 9

Number of minutes he estimated before arrival: 20

Number of minutes elapsed: 51

Number of assertions that the drinking/sleeping/shoving people around problem that K. displayed in November is no longer a risk: 3

Number of times it’s been tested: 0

Relationship, in value assigned by K. as implied through an equal exchange proposed, of “I get to drink when I’m with the kids” to “I’ll agree that you can have sole custody”: 1:1

Chances sole custody would be assigned elsewhere than to the mother in a case where mother is residential custodian, expresses commitment to children, and has always been primary parent and where father legally ‘abandoned’ family, has consistently reduced parenting time, asserts no ability to live with children, and displays questionable judgment/lifestyle in terms of child safety  by Oregon family court, which does not assign joint custody: 1 in 1,000,000

Number of times K. has asserted that “two or three times [afternoons] a week” is the most parenting time he wishes to have: 4

Number of times K. has verbally acknowledged that this is based on his personal desires and contrary to what he believes to be best for the children: 2

Percentage of children fathered by K. who currently have my surname as the last name and his surname as a  middle name: 50

Number of times, in the last three weeks, K. has canceled parenting time with less than one week’s notice because of personal feelings or work conflicts: 3

Percentage of children fathered by K. who spend more than 7-10% of their time with him: 0

Number of times K. has expressed interest in declining to work whenever dictated in order to maintain a regular parenting schedule: 0

Percentage of children fathered by K. who currently have his surname as a last name and my surname as a  middle name: 50

Rank of “identity and preference of the custodial parent” in Oregon state court’s determination of “the best interests of the child” in minor name change proceedings: 1

Rank of “avoidance of embarrassment, inconvenience or confusion [ensuing from having a different last name as sibling(s) or primary custodial parent]” in Oregon state court’s determination of “the best interests of the child” in minor name change proceedings: 2

Rank of “identification of the child as belonging to a distinct family unit [of others with the proposed last name]” in Oregon state court’s determination of “the best interests of the child” in minor name change proceedings: 3

Rank, in order of frequency, of cocktail service concerns, celebrity sightings, and drugs done by coworkers in K.’s half of recent interlocutions: 1, 2, 3

Rank of parenting issues: n/a

Number of times K. has expressed strong emotion through tears at hearing that Thing One or Two is experiencing emotional trauma, physical symptoms, or severe distress: 0

Number of times K. has expressed strong emotion through tears at hearing that I think it would be easier for Thing One to switch the order of his names so that my last name is the legal last name: 1

Number of times the admission that a name change “would probably be easier for Thing One” was made on Sunday night: 4

Rank, in order of frequency, of “I need him to have my name” as a rationale for not doing so: 1

Judicial weight given to father’s “protective interest” to have a child bear his surname: 0

Ratio of mother’s rights to name child to father’s rights to do same as asserted by Oregon courts: 1:1

Rank of “It’s not about what the family needs; it’s about what I need” or similar as umbrella explanation for K.’s actions: 1

Number of minutes before Monday’s joint counseling appointment that K. called to inform me that he wasn’t coming: 19

Exact formulation of similar (above) on Sunday night: “I recognize that the law is on your side and that it would probably be easier for him. But it’s not about him; it’s about me.”

Well. That’s just the problem, isn’t it.

Today I am in a crappy mood.

I shouldn’t be in a crappy mood. I got up, got the kids fed, read them Everyone Poops by Taro Gomi, reflected on how charming the pictures are and how exuberant the little boy looks when he’s flushing. I got them dressed in the clothes I’d laid out the night before, put some finishing touches on their lunches, warmed up the car, which was frosty, and was on the road by 7:15.

Why so early? Because today is the signing day for the refinance on the house, which means two things: 1)the monthly payment will go down by approximately $400, and 2)K. will sign the house over to me.

At least, he’s agreed to. We don’t have a lot of equity, we didn’t put money down, and the kids should stay in the house: that we agree on. In a lot of ways, he gets his freedom this way, and it makes the divorce paperwork much, much simpler.

But I have lingering anxiety that he won’t show up for his noon appointment and that he’ll get angry and use this against me. I shouldn’t, I know. He’s been quite reasonable about financial issues, for the most part. He acknowledges his responsibilty to pay child support, we split up our joint bank account without too much trouble, etc. The only thing he’s been unreasonable about (if you exempt the whole issue of his life decisions/behavior toward his marriage and former life from consideration and accept the current scenario, which I guess I have just betrayed I am doing) is seeing the children, by using it as a way to get back at me. Hopefully, we are moving beyond that.

So I got Thing One to school before the teacher was even in the classroom, at 7:30, and then trundled Thing Two off to the First American Title office for our eight o’clock signing appointment. Everything was going perfectly. We were even early enough that I stopped at my favorite greasy Mexican drive-through and got an order of huevos rancheros. I was looking forward to signing about fifty pieces up paper and then getting to work, where Thing Two would attend her happy daycare and I would get some long-overdue grading done.

Then we got to the office and every little thing began to shred away at my contentment: our officer was late. Thing Two pooped her pants, and I had left the diaper bag in the car. She freaked out, crying and bucking and flinging apples and pens about the room while smelling, er, aromatic. He was visibly nervous and not a little annoyed by this. I was incensed that he had the nerve to be annoyed when, if he hadn’t been ten minutes late, we could have avoided most or all of the meltdown.

And then I looked at the papers and became aware of what a huge responsibility it is. One that I’m now shouldering all alone. And yes, I’m lucky that K. doesn’t want to try to make things difficult, but I didn’t sign up for this. I never wanted to do any of this all alone.

We got out of there. I changed Thing Two’s diaper on the sidewalk (the passenger seat of the car was too laden with crap), in full view of the woman removing the money from the “Pay to Park” machine, which she appeared to appreciate minimally. Thing Two howled and howled and then fell asleep.

I got to work and everything was late, slow, behind, absent, disorganized, and annoying. Including me. And I somehow opened up my iPhoto to some pictures from Thing Two’s first birthday, which will be the last we spent together as a family, and which featured K., looking on at some presents, his wedding ring prominent on his hand.

So my initial exuberance at having managed time and details so well is on the wane, and instead I’m trying not to think of the hand I loved and the ring that symbolized our life together and how it is no longer and all I have is a guy who has plenty to say about his 2 a.m. trips to Voodoo Doughnuts and not much to say about anything at all that matters. And a lot of details to work out about the divorce papers that I’m now filling out. And a lot of apprehension about the potential for future disagreement on those points. And I have several hundred thousand dollars’ worth of debt that I am now solely responsible for. Which seems an accurate reflection of the situation, in general. On a metaphorical level.

I am trying to accept the signs from the universe. And I got some more pretty clear ones today, in the form of the local paper’s daily horoscopes (I never read the local paper unless I’m waiting in a title company office, where they have that sort of thing).

Mine said:

Relationships are like Humpty Dumpty. Once broken all the king’s horses and all the king’s men are of no help at all.

And K.’s said:

Don’t be so desperate to win attention. What you imagine is hidden is quite obvious to others, and what you think is clear may be obtuse.

I can only guess at the meaning of his, though it does seem apt. But mine is crystal clear.

Postscript: K. called me, as I’d asked him to for practical reasons, to confirm that he’d finished the signing. “Yeah, it was funny,” he said. “The guy was like, ‘I should have asked you this before…are you two still married?’ And then he looked at my ring finger.”

My mortgage broker had asked us to keep the impending divorce on the down low, lest it prejudice the loan against us. And K. seemed to find all this very amusing. And we hung up the phone and I felt that cannonball of sorrow hit me again. Because he thinks it’s funny, but I am feeling the gravity of this, the first Official Step towards total separation (and the one that was, early on, a source of hope that K. might come around, because we had to wait until the refinance went through before filing any divorce paperwork). He thinks it’s a scream, but I — I miss my husband. As foolish as that is. I miss my life. And I don’t know when I’m going to be able to pick up the pieces.

I’ve got to stop doing those tearful drives down I-5. One of these days I’m going to crash.

Yesterday, I sent a research question to the research librarian at my school. He responded with an answer and added that he had heard “what’s going on in my life” and had been thinking of me; he asked for a personal email so he could send me a short note.

So I wrote him from my personal account, and this is what I got in return:

I truly wish I were an elegant writer, so I could send you a witty, sincere and thoughtful message that would lift your spirits and maybe, just maybe, make part of your day a wee bit brighter.  Sadly, I’m not a writer at all, so you’ll have to put up with my plodding prose for a wee bit.

I’ve been mulling over what I’d like to say, and in the end it comes down to this: your soon to be ex-husband is a complete fool and he’s going to really rue the day he made this decision.  I don’t know the details, (and in the end, do the details matter?) but I do know he left you, not the other way around.  When I learned this, I became very angry.  This surprised me.  We really don’t know each other very well, yet, the complete rottenness and selfish action of your soon to be ex, (if I knew his name, I’d use it), seems so short sighted, heartless and astoundingly stupid, that I am at a loss and very upset.

I meant what I wrote earlier about this not being a “Oh, I feel sorry for you” sort of message.  I am truly saddened by your news and I’ve thought about you often.  I have no idea what you must be feeling; however, what I do know is, you are a resilient and very strong soul.  You don’t need me to tell you that you’ll deal with this and move.  You know that already.  I guess what I want you to know is how honestly fucked in the head I think your ex is, how honestly fucked up I think your situation is, and how sincerely I hope the unwanted stress this must be causing you goes away post haste.

with deepest  sincerity,

Oddly, I found this email very uplifting and not a little funny (I guess he wanted to write me from and to personal accounts so that he could type “fucked” with wild abandon?). Uplifting not because I need a colleague to slag K., but because I think I can put into words why this man, whom I have always liked and never gotten to know too well, is so angry.

This is his church. This, family life, commitment to a marriage and children, is the foundation upon which he has built his life, and I mine. The life I was and am trying to lead, the life he is trying to lead (he is married and has a young daughter), is difficult and demanding and trying at times. Yet he is still in it and I am still in it and, from his perspective, my husband has abandoned that life and us with it. And it makes him angry because he feels how wrong that is, because he is choosing a different path, and because he identifies with my concerns and hopes and worries — for the marriage, for the children — and can’t conscience K.’s apparent lack of commitment. From his perspective, my husband has betrayed not only me, but the values upon which our lives both rest. And to do so is more than a dismissal: it is a devaluing of the challenge my librarian friend probably feels he rises to every day (and there are plenty of willing college students who think he looks like Brad Pitt; I’ve had many a class visit turn into a swoonfest).

I can’t say I blame him.

Obviously, K.’s relatives (with few exceptions) do not read this blog.
So I feel okay about sharing the letter I got this morning from his aunt, which is in regard to the Big Blowout Family Reunion, happening this June in Hawaii:

Hi Former Wife, Mother of K., and Grandmother,
I just wanted to talk about the reunion in June. Instead of emailing all of you separately, I decided to do one email.

I am not completely in the loop as to what is happening with K. and Former Wife. The last I heard is that it may be leaning toward divorce at this point. I am so sorry about all of this. But, it seems that there should be someway that Former Wife and the kids can make the reunion! The kids are too young to travel with K. for that long without Former Wife. Even if we all offered to help, it seems like it would be too stressful on them. So obviously, Former Wife should come too. We would love to see all of them and I know that Grandparents would love to see them too. When I briefly talked about this with Grandparents last week (after my brief talk with Former Wife that day) I suggested this:

I don’t know if K. will be able/or want to come to the reunion, I hope so! But, my idea was that Former Wife and the kids come at the beginning of the reunion and that would leave the 2nd 1/2 for K. to come. If K. is unable to make the 2nd 1/2 of the reunion, then Former Wife and the kids could stay for that part too. That way we will get to see everyone (hopefully)
I realize that this is a delicate situation for all involved. But, talking to My Husband, Second Brother of K.’s Father, myself, and our children we all felt like we should express ourselves about this. We do not need to be consulted when this decision is made, but we wanted to let Former Wife know how we felt. I am sure there are many other issues that are taking precedence over this currently in your life! But, its good for you to know how others are feeling!

Take care,

Love Martha

Well. Thanks for making it clear that a)you consider me a second-class citizen and/or simply a life support system for my children, your “real” relatives; b)you consider your micromanaging suggestions about how to handle the reunion, or anything else, appropriate; and c)you want to “let me know” how you feel, presumably so that I either i)feel comfortable and valued in my role as Former Womb to Your Great-Niece and -Nephew or ii)make sure not to try to leverage my position as such to shoehorn K. out of the family reunion…

…which he has refused to attend, anyway, not because of me but because he’s too furious with his grandparents for giving him the tough love.

Does she know how sexist that letter is?

Nah. Otherwise she wouldn’t be sending it to me, even if she does have those retrograde thoughts.

Gah.

We’ve experienced some material changes lately.

Yesterday, K.’s sister was moving out of the downstairs apartment into the house she has just purchased. K. planned to piggyback on her U-Haul and get his furniture too. I was more looking forward to than dreading it, but since Thing Two took an early nap, I decided to take the kids out rather than have them watch furniture disappear (I have the sense that generally, it’s better for them not to see their dad unless they can actually see him, that they would not understand that he was just stopping by and wouldn’t stay to play. Maybe this will change eventually, but for now it’s my feeling, though I have not avoided such situations at all costs).

So at around eleven I bundled the kids into the car and took them on an Urban Shopping Adventure. I have not shopped much with the kids. For one thing, I rarely shop for pleasure, and for another, it’s hard to find anything at Goodwill with a one- and three-year-old running amok, pooping their pants, or impatiently wanting to drink/eat/pee/grab things/fall asleep.

We went to my friends’ artisanal coffee roasters and bought some fragrant Costa Rican. We went to the fancy organic grocery store and sampled blood oranges, falafel, hummus, cereal, tangerines, grapefruit, and berries (and I’ve got to say, those samples work every time. I totally bought half that stuff). We went to the giant Goodwill by the river and bought kids’ books, ogled the stuffed animals, indulged in a decorative wooden sailboat for Thing One, and picked up matching rain boots for the kids and a pair of jeans and a sweater for me. We went to the vintage furniture place and broke a fifties ashtray, which I had to pay $8.50 for, in its cavernous aisles. We went to the library and got still more books.

It was good times. Even though there was some pant-pooping, and Thing One did get busted peeing in the Goodwill parking lot.

We didn’t get home until three. And we’d had a great time and had a ton of groceries and some fun stuff and had actually integrated adult and child pastimes together, had walked down boulevards together, had been in the world. I reflected that in some ways, K.’s leaving is making me a better parent; it is forcing me to combine my life with the children’s more, to socialize with them and around them, to develop and maintain a network of like-minded friends who manage to be both people and parents. It is bringing my life more in sync with theirs. It unfortunately seems to have the opposite effect for him, but that is perhaps by design.

The house was different, but not in a bad way. The bedroom looks better without his enormous dresser as soon as you walk in the door. I had prepared and left out the vacuum, and sure enough there were dust bunnies and random objects where his things had been, especially the desk upstairs, so we took care of those. Then I moved the red couch to the deskless spot and created a reading/tv-watching alcove in the playroom, showed the apartment, played with the kids, made dinner, put them to bed after reading a bunch of our new books, and passed out at nine myself.

I had nightmares.

This morning I found the birthday card that K. gave me for my last birthday, not quite five months ago. I couldn’t help reading it and wondering how in the world he could express the sentiment that he loved me and was glad to have me in his life and then, just over two months later, unceremoniously leave me, our house, and that life. I couldn’t help crying.

Then K. got here for his afternoon parenting time and mentioned that he would not be able to come on Tuesday OR Wednesday, his regular afternoons, this week because he is working every day at three. Except Thursday. He’ll come on Thursday. But this will still cut down his time with the children by a full afternoon. And we discussed the possibility that this schedule might continue for a while, and he seemed completely unfazed by it.

It occured to me, as I went off to work this afternoon, to wonder why he didn’t have any regret about missing his regular days. It then occured to me that I might expect him (though I didn’t) to actually say to his boss: no, sorry. I can’t work that much. I need another day off to spend with my kids. It seems that for him, the kids are something to be worked in after his work schedule is determined; he is always available to work and expects his parenting time to adjust. And of course, this means that the kids get less Daddy and less reliable Daddy and that I get less work time and less reliable work time.

Well. It’s a new world. I wish I had more confidence in it.

Postscript: at our scheduling meeting, we discussed how K. doesn’t know how long this work schedule will last. He agreed readily to my putting Thing Two in an extra half-day of daycare; in fact, I’d meant just for this week, but he told me to do it for the foreseeable future and agreed to contribute money toward that. So for the foreseeable future, I’m going to try to add a day. And for the foreseeable future, I guess it’s okay with him to only see the kids two afternoons a week instead of three. I wonder if it will be okay with them.

He’s into his bar. He’s into his freedom, I’m sure. He works until 3 a.m. He drinks with his coworkers. He sleeps until noon. Repeat. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of room for these kids in his life, and although I think that what works for him has to be what works for us because there’s no point in an unwilling father, I can’t help wondering if this set-up might reveal itself to be a grave and lonely mistake down the road. For him, who will discover that he is no longer a primary parent to his children and may not even know them that well. For them, who will gradually decrease their expectations of him (and what will they be learning about fathers? About fatherhood).

« Previous PageNext Page »