gender


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Here was that conversation:

“I choose not to this week.”

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

“That nothing is guaranteed.”

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

“Yes.”)

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

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

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

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

Advertisements

There’s the subtle:

“So what day should I come this week?”

“You only want to come one day?”

“Well, I don’t want to come two days in a row.”

And the not-so-subtle:

“So, do you want to spend one day a week for the foreseeable future? Or more than that?”

“One day. I guess so.”

The superfluous:

“Can you please tell me before you take things out of the house?”

“What are you talking about?”

“The glasses. The DVD player. Etc. I want you to show enough consideration to tell me BEFORE you take them out of the house.”

“What’s the problem?”

“It’s rude.”

“Whatever.”

The disappointing:

“So, we talked about how we believed that the children’s standard of living should be consistent with our own.”

“Yeah. Of course.”

“And we talked about agreeing to pay more than the state-mandated child support if we make dramatically more money.”

“Yes.”

“So I’d like to make an agreement now that if in the future we do make more money, our percentage of child support will not go down as far as the state calculator might suggest. As a commitment to the kids.”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Because there might be money that could be better allocated elsewhere. The foundation of my life for the next ten years is entrepreneurship. I’m not going to commit to that.”

“But don’t you think the children have a right to our support beyond the paltry amount that the state mandates? Like for college funds? We could make an agreement, say, to not go below 35% of our incomes in child support and to put an extra beyond the state mandate into a college fund. And it’s not just you; if you had the kids half-time and I made a lot more, then I would be paying more child support.”

“I’m not going to make an agreement. I will always support them, but I’m not going to make an agreement.”

And the ill-advised:

“Is it that you were never the person you said you were? Or did you just stop?”

“What?”

“Did you just stop. Being him.”

“I don’t know. I don’t know who that was. Or if I’m not.”

Oh, you’re not. The lack of resemblance is striking. My husband, that guy I loved, who loved me, the one who fathered my children, the one I believed in enough to create those two children with and carry them in my body despite grave reservations about the process and its prospects?

He’s dead.

Or maybe never was. And I guess I don’t get to know which.

I know, I know: Cher is not exactly what you want to be thinking of, at least not before noon. And my Cher repertoire is actually very small, despite the amount of time I’ve spent singing karaoke in San Francisco’s Mint, where the queens are thick on the ground and the Cher thick in the air. But I have a special fondness for this song ever since I saw Lloyd Cole and Jill Sobule cover it, with technical perfection and to raucous applause, at Arlene Grocery in something like 2000.

It was an encore, and it was amazing. I mean, picture Lloyd Cole, who’s kind of an ironic college radio circuit crooner, belting out, “I can feel something inside me say/ I really don’t think you’re strong enough, no!”

Completely deadpan. There’s something endearing about a performer willing to completely transgress his own style to adopt someone else’s.

Maybe that moment in Arlene Grocery somehow correlates to what I’m doing now. In many ways, this is exactly what I never wanted to do: be a single mom of two children. Even more so given that I’m a single mom who has to deal with a father who’s neither very present nor very interested. But lip service, and service to my own sense of ethics about including him in decisions/apprising him of them, has to be paid. So I’m in the unenviable position of having to chase him down or prolong our now-ultrabrief Sunday night “scheduling meeting” by importuning him with these concerns.

Last Sunday was pretty amazing. Yes, I woke K. up nine minutes before he was supposed to come over; I then drove the kids to pick him up and sat in a parking lot waiting for nigh on twenty minutes. When we got to the house, Thing Two was crashed out and I put her down. I thought I’d do some work while she napped and K. played with Thing One.

He wandered into the kitchen and picked up the coffee pot, which was empty. He then wandered back into the living room, where I was talking to Thing One (who had remarked quietly, in the car on the way over, “Mama, I don’t want Daddy to come over.”). He said,

“Since you’re here, can I go to the coffee shop?”

“Why don’t you just make some coffee? You’re welcome to.”

“It’s too hard. I don’t want to make a whole pot.”

“K., it’s your parenting time,” I said. “I’ll stick around the house, but if you want to go to the coffee shop, you need to take Thing One.”

“Thing One,” he said, “do you want to go to the coffee shop?”

Thing One looked up from his trains and turned his eyes, which are a changeable bluish color and at this moment were turquoise and piercing, on K. “You can make coffee AT HOME, Daddy. And drink it AT HOME. You don’t need to go to the coffee shop.” He continued playing. Dis-missed!

A frustrated K. took Thing One upstairs to the playroom. I found him there, slumped on a couch, blearily watching Thing One and his trains, when I brought him a cup of coffee ten minutes later.

None of that was really surprising. It’s been pretty typical. And I guess I agree with the counselor, who says that it’s better for the kids to see and know K. even if he’s not a very good parent in terms of the quality of time and attention he offers them or spends on them.

I finally made it out of the house and did a little work, got a little air. Mostly I walked a couple of miles in an odd, alternately sleeting and sunny day, and wished for a cigarette. But I took a vow that I wouldn’t drink or smoke for March, and I’m keeping it. (I felt my body needed a rest from smoking. And drinking is a gateway drug.)

When I returned around six, K. and Thing Two were in the bathroom. Thing One was sitting alone at the table in front of a bowl of something reddish and gelatinous. He poked at it. I sniffed and examined the detritus on the counter, deducing that it was the soft rice noodles I’d left in the fridge boiled into a glutinous mass and covered with the contents of a jar of Pad Thai sauce (mainly sugar and tamarind).

“Mama,” he informed me gravely, “Daddy says I have to eat this.”

I really don’t want to undermine K.’s parental authority. And I really do want to teach Thing One to eat his dinner, which he’s constantly questioning as a concept. But I submit that the dinner looked disgusting, and also not very nutritious. K. hadn’t totally neglected nutrition, though; there was a plate of steamed broccoli on the table, too.

“Why don’t you eat your broccoli,” I suggested. Thing One seemed only too happy to comply.

After the kids were in bed, it was meeting time. I asked K. when he was going to be able to come this week. [As you may remember, we had set out a schedule on Feb 1, when we divided our finances, figured out a basic child support plan, etc., that had K. coming over three afternoons a week. That didn’t last long before it became two afternoons a week, one during the week and one on Sunday. I realize that from an antiquated perspective that assumes it is the mother’s responsibility to do the child-rearing, that may seem like a lot, but from a perspective that each parent is equally responsible for the children, it’s peanuts: less than 10% of the time. K. and I always discussed how we (and perhaps especially I) wanted to equally share the parenting; I worked and earned more during our marriage, although paradoxically I also spent more time with the kids (he was in school and that took up a lot of mental time/space). ]

K. said, “The only day I’m not working this week is tomorrow.”

“What?” I was shocked. “You told me last week that Monday is the only day you will always work!”

“I asked for it off a month ago,” he said, “because I’m going to see M. Ward play.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t know.”

“You asked for it off a month ago!”

“I didn’t remember.” He didn’t look sheepish, even, just abstracted. “So, should I come over tomorrow afternoon?”

I was chagrined. I had made plans to watch Ron’s daughter, Lorena, that afternoon so that Ron could work on her book. I’d lay money on Ron not wanting K. to watch L. even if he were willing to, and I was disinclined to cancel. On the other hand, I hated the kids not seeing K. all week. But I’m a firm believer in Natural Consequences, and it seemed stupid to go to still greater lengths to rearrange everything so that K.’s complete neglect to inform me of his schedule (which is only necessitated by K.’s refusal to set a regular schedule to see the kids) could be accommodated.

“Unfortunately, I have plans to watch Lorena, and I can’t cancel them,” I said. “So you’re not available the rest of the week?” (As we know, K. works at 3:30 most days; the kids are home by one. Additionally, Thing Two does not go to daycare on Wednesday, when he could be with her all morning.)

“Guess not,” he replied.

“Well, that sucks,” I said.

“Yeah,” he agreed.

So that was that. He’s not seeing the kids this week. He saw them Sunday and he’ll see them next Sunday. It sucks, yeah, but it sucks because he engineered it that way, or failed to engineer it another way, or failed to make the kids a priority over a singer-songwriter or his own scheduling snafus or however you want to look at it.

Should I talk to them about this? Since they haven’t been able to form an expectation of when he comes, it seems pointless. They are learning that Sunday is his day (even if we have to go fetch him and drag his smoky, booze-scented ass out of bed in the process). I guess they’re also learning that Sunday is lackluster and anything else is unreliable.

I’d been thinking about how K. seemed to be failing to realize how much, just in terms of real time, he is cutting himself off from his children. Now I’m thinking about how he also doesn’t seem to see why consistency and effort on his part might be important. His attitude seems to be that he’ll see them when it works out and if it doesn’t work out now, it’ll work out later. This sort of passivity is shared by his sister, who also hasn’t been the best planner, but he is not their aunt. He is their father. At least in name.

Meanwhile, we’ve been busy. We had that playdate Monday. We had a surprise goodbye party for one of the playschool parents yesterday afternoon, and Thing One had a grand time running around with a pack of his peers. My dad is coming over today.

And K. and I are filing for divorce next Wednesday. I will try not to cry. I realize I’m crying over something that’s long dead, or maybe that never was. I doubt, even so, that I’ll succeed.

But as I finished up this post, I watched that Cher video. Maybe she has the right idea. If I could just get her to appear behind me as I weep and morph, thunderbolt-like, into my body, maybe I too could resolutely walk away.

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.

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.

So I keep noticing new things that are gone as the result of K.’s clandestine packing spree. I also learned that his friend Alec was here with him that day, because, you know, if you’re going to sneak into your former residence without telling the current occupants, you should definitely bring an uninvited guest. Apparently his excuse for dumping the contents of his dresser (that he didn’t want) on my desk and shoving random items in my dresser was that Alec was there and was waiting for him. Perhaps this also explains why he let the children’s lunch items mold all weekend…

I’m not really as bitter as I sound. Just crabby and acknowledging. I took the kids to a playdate with one of Thing One’s former playschool families today. The moms asked how it was going and I said okay, but that I was unsure how things would proceed. In response to learning that K.’s parenting time is 10%, they remarked that it seems men have a greater tendency to abdicate responsibility for their kids and wondered what was up with that. They told the story of Hedy’s best friend who has just lost her husband, who refused 50% parenting time and said magnanimously, “I’ll do thirty.”

K. worked with one of them, Angelina, at the playschool for their parent shift, and they always seemed to like each other. I can’t help wondering if she doesn’t feel a personal sense of puzzlement, or even disappointment.

Now we’re home and in the playroom. Thing Two is sleeping. As I was tidying up here, I noticed that the collage K. made for Thing One when he was an infant, at his first Christmas, is gone. It was a large-format plywood piece, maybe 2.5 x4′. He had created a timely and semi-political collage on it out of his magazines and said it was for Thing One.

I don’t know where it is now. But since there has been no question, or suggestion, or proposal that Thing One spend time wherever K. is living, at least not in the near future, I wonder what possessed him to take it away. I can’t help feeling that Thing One’s connection to his father is eroding through his father’s own volition.

I got a call from a single mom friend last night. She said, “For the first time, I’m really realizing how hard it is to be a single mom. And how lonely. And how much it just…sucks. And I don’t hope that for you.”

Funny, I’d been thinking the same thing. I spent a lot of time yesterday thinking about practicalities; how to keep the kids safe from K.’s “episodes” where the anger spews and the verbal abuse/bad parenting tactics abound, how to encourage them to feel secure and loved by him as well as me, but discourage them from putting up with bad treatment, how to deal with logistics. I had a counseling appointment with a new counselor, who is supposed to be my space to just deal with my feelings, after work. She asked me to start telling her the story of how I met K., and it seemed, as it always does, fairly random in the hearing. It was happenstance, it was hormones, it was on the rebound. How do you explain, even to yourself, that the person whom you may not have chosen to be with in a mythical state of total sense and objectivity has become your family, that you miss him, that you shudder to think of a future of negotiating relationships with people who are not your children’s father, and, at times, forcing your children to negotiate them when they shouldn’t have to? How do you explain how angry you are at his leaving and his dallying and his refusal to consider coming back while at the same time you have compassion for how difficult it is, and has been, and you understand that if you hadn’t had an unexpectedly large circle of support running to catch hold of the edges of your emergency blanket, as well as the unexpected realization that your coat could be used as a parachute, you might be taking that line as well? How do you explain to yourself that there are still benefits to trying when you know you’re trying alone?

Yesterday afternoon, we had a playdate with a mom from Thing One’s prior playschool, a mom who had always seemed content, and she asked me about how it was working with K. coming over to visit and the time and the finances. Then she said to me, “I really don’t think Rob and I are going to stay together.”

I was floored. Not that it makes sense for me to be; surely I am not the only person in the world whose marriage is giving indications of ending. But I was floored, because it does feel like that, because you don’t see past other people’s exteriors into the messes in their basements and bathrooms, because her baby daughter, who is nearly one, was swinging in the swing and Thing Two was standing at my feet contemplating wood chips and Thing One and her son, both dressed in appropriately manly kelly green-and-navy combos like two cutouts from the Appropriate Gender Identity Factory, were chasing each other around the play structure, climbing camellias, and shrieking with glee.

She seemed so calm.

“Is it going badly?” I asked. “Has this been happening for a while?”

She told me yes, that she and Rob were basically just living together because they couldn’t afford to live apart, that they had spoken recently about how they would manage doing so, that they had spent an hour together the other day and it had been…bad.

Just bad.

Now, insofar as I know him, I like Rob. But I’ve been him hanging out at coffee shops around town a fair amount, and I never see Jolie hanging around anywhere. She’s on with the kids 24/7. She takes them everywhere she goes, including to do email at the library. She doesn’t work, and it has always seemed to me that it would impossible for her to work because Rob is never home, and parents perhaps five hours a week.

“Is Rob a grown-up?” I asked.

“Not really,” she answered. We talked about how, when you go from being a young couple to having kids, you change your priorities and expect your partner to change his as well. And how often it doesn’t quite happen, and one partner, usually the man, doesn’t quite get it, doesn’t realize the weight of this work the two of you have been given, and continues as before. Whereas, to the primary parent, the one enmeshed in the day-to-day, the one who checks the sleeping babies before bed (and after dinner, after going to the bathroom, before Grey’s Anatomy, and upon returning from smoking) just to make sure they are breathing and unentangled and in safe stasis, nothing is as before.

One thing that K. and I talked about on Tuesday night, the night of the angry episode and declaration that to stay with me would be mercenary, was the work of parenting. We talked about how he’d let me do the heavy lifting. I described a conversation we had, when Thing Two was tiny, in which I was so tired and defeated and desperate that I said to him, “You have to take this baby. Now. Or I will drop her!”

He didn’t take her. He told me I could handle it and that he’d help out later. And I didn’t drop her. But later we talked, and I said that when I was clearly articulating that I was at the end of my rope and I needed him to step in right then, he needed to do so. This seemed intuitive to me. If the bus driver is having a seizure, you don’t just let him keep driving the bus.

He said, “Can’t it wait an hour or two?”

When we talked about that on Tuesday, I was not recriminating. I was trying to explain how difficult it had been for us because we had so few resources, I was so tired and postpartum whatevered and he was depressed and hypersomniac and unable to help. How lonely it had been to be that person, saying, “PLEASE HELP ME. I AM SCREAMING FOR HELP RIGHT NOW! THIS IS THE VERBAL EQUIVALENT OF EVISCERATING ONESELF AND SPELLING OUT S.O.S. WITH ONE’S OWN ENTRAILS!”

He said he didn’t remember.

“How much is your apartment?” I asked Jolie. She told me. I told her that for that same amount, she could have a better two-bedroom, of similar size and vintage, in the building our friends live in seven blocks away AND Rob could get an apartment share for some $300 a month. I was contemplating proposing she move into the apartment that K.’s sister is vacating, but I need to get the highest rent I can for that so I can keep paying all the bills. We strategized a little.

Thing Two got weepy. Jolie’s daughter sat on the ground and threatened to eat cigarette butts, which Jolie scooped out of the way. Thing One wanted to hide behind trees with Jolie’s son. At some point, we all ended up on the empty basketball court, Thing One and his friend using great big branches to rake the wet leaves into piles, Thing Two walking in purposeful zigzags in the waning sunlight and occasionally trying to exit the park so she could catch a bus.

“I worry about that,” she said. “I worry about how Rob would take care of the kids. He doesn’t really know how. He thinks he spends a lot of time with them, but he doesn’t really.”

“You can’t worry about that,” I said. “You have to assume it will make him rise to the occasion. Maybe he’ll actually start parenting them if you’re not around to help out. But as long as he’s not dropping them on train tracks, you have to let him do it.”

I know, she said.

Now I know I’m not alone. For Jolie it is different: she has been dealing with the slow burn of disappointment and resignation, whereas mine was more a blitzkrieg of destruction and refusal. And she sees the future of being a single parent as probably less work, whereas I see it as the shattering of something that has become the center of my world.

On the bookshelf in the living room is a Navajo wedding vase, a wedding gift from K.’s parents. It is essentially a representation of the myth of Baucis and Philmelon: the bottom of the vase is one, but two stems grow out of that to put flowers in.

(The irony grows in that K.’s middle name is the name of one of those types of trees. But I am not the other. I am a small, scrubby, fragrant herb, commonly used in pork dishes and clear spirits. Five miles east of this house there are two lanes, one with my name and one with his, all alone and next to each other across from a vast field. We used to see that and smile.)

It is beautiful in both concept and execution. And I have toyed with the idea of asking K. to destroy it when all of this is over.

Because I can’t bear to look at that symbol of a life that’s over.

Next Page »