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 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.

Actually, this post is not about anything to do with the seminal Gainsbourg song, although that song has always been one of my favorites and I did find myself recently driving over the I-5 bridge singing along to “I Touch Myself,” by the Divinyls, and then segueing into a Birkin-esque moanfest. It’s the aural equivalent of a happy ending; all songs should have them.

Anyway, I’m sitting here in my local independent bookshop cafe with three books I got from the self-help section. Yes, things are dire. In my defense, they’re probably the least self-help-y books in that section: one is a memoir called Millions of Women are Waiting to Meet You, by Brit novelist Sean Thomas; one is Rachel Sarah’s Single Mom Seeking, about the trials and tribulations of dating as a single parent; and one is The Divorce Culture, by Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, which is exactly what it sounds like and says “Sociology/Current Affairs” on the back. The last I got so that I could morbidly tabulate the deleterious effects of the divorce on the children and their roots in society and then repeat that info, in sepulchral tones, to my in-laws. The first two are, in fact, for purposes of self-help, which is to say mood lifting. I need some help to look on the bright side of all this, or perhaps I’m just narcissistic enough to want to read about people in a similar predicament to my own. Either way, the seed was planted this week, and now it’s growing like a pernicious weed.

What happened is this: on Wednesday this week, Thing Two and I were early to pick up Thing One at school. Since his school is on the west side of town, where I rarely go, I felt a mad inspiration: we would use the 15 minutes we had to kill and swing by the Library of My Childhood, which is a bit up the hill, across the street from the Park of My Childhood and the Baskin-Robbins of My Childhood, and see what we could see. Thing Two had a great time in the library; it has recently been remodeled and bears no resemblance to the sixties-era carpet and ceiling tiles I once enjoyed, and it is full of young bourgeoises and their children, so that Thing Two, who has recently expanded her vocabulary, delighted in running through the aisles crowing, “A baby! A baby!” every time she saw a pram. Between following her and trying to keep the books on the shelf in her wake, I didn’t get much time to look myself, but I did grab, from the Recent Arrivals shelves on the front, two books that seemed fun and somehow relevant to my life: Touré’s Never Drank the Kool-aid and Sills’s Getting Naked Again.

The first is just ’cause I enjoy that sort of thing now and then. The second was a slightly shamefaced pick, but how can a recent divorcée resist the urge to read about that seemingly mythical (and I mean mythical like the unicorn, which you of course can’t know because I have yet to write my post on my actual dating, or lack thereof, but suffice to say that not only can I imagine a totally sexless future, but I am not even particularly disturbed by that imagining; in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if, when I get through, unicorns will consort with me) re-entry into the world of Love and Lust, Hormones and Herpes, Seduction and Stickiness?

It turned out the book was primarily intended for the 55-and-up age group (it assumes, for example, that you are past your childbearing years and that your kids are at least teenagers, if not grown), although some of its points were certainly relevant, and it makes a compelling, if unoriginal, case for neither completely shutting yourself away from that sticky world nor diving in intent on finding a new soulmate and surgically grafting your bodies together. It’s mildly funny and mildly comforting and would be even more so if I were twenty years older and fifty IQ points stupider. But it sparked a hunger for something like an affirmation that there’s life after this, or something, so here I am with my furtive Self-Help section picks. I’m kind of glad that K.’s uncle, who actually works in this bookstore, is off today, and at the same time I’m kind of sorry because it would be fun to out myself as a Self-Help Reader and because the uncle is not unsympathetic, I think, to my plight. At least not so much that he would treat me with scorn and derision.

We had a good week this week. Coincidentally or not, K. didn’t come Wednesday — this is the Wednesday he canceled to fly to Colorado (on his mother’s dime and at her urging) for his uncle’s surprise birthday party. We were kind of party animals, and we had a good time: park and tacos with K.’s aunt and uncle Wednesday, tacos and park with three playschool friends Thursday, hanging out Friday, Saturday park and shopping — you haven’t lived until you’ve seen a one-year-old and a three-year-old pushing mini shopping carts around the Whole Foods and flinging all kinds of inappropriate food choices (mac and cheese, which they don’t eat due to the dairy; Emergen-C, which I don’t buy due to the cost) into them, and I realized that earlyish on a sunny Saturday was the perfect time to go, because the store was almost empty and both child carts were free — and then a visit to the Festival of Asia at the Convention Center — the festival was poorly-attended and sort of lame, but the kids running through the wide air-conditioned halls of the Convention Center and being amazed at the Monolithic Gingko Bulb statues and the giant glass flowers suspended from the ceiling (there was some discussion of taking them home and ornamenting our house with them, and if this were that kind of blog I would share the photos and you would all swoon from the cuteness) was definitely worth it.

So we had a good week. And now it’s Sunday and K. is with the kids, having shown up on time, and I am at the café trying to think and plan, trying not to think too much about the fact that I am still worried about K.’s ability to parent safely or that the hearing for changing Thing One’s last name to mine is this Thursday and I am fearful of K.’s bullying, reprisal, threats of non-forgiveness, etc.

But there’s been something brewing that I wanted to get on (virtual) paper. We saw K.’s sister for forty minutes on Thursday.

You may remember that K. has a sister in town. She actually moved here in Dec. 2007, pursuant to a visit in October of that same year, just after Thing Two’s birth, and she seemed to want to be with the children; in fact, when she first lived here, we gave her free rent on the one-bedroom downstairs in exchange for 15 hours a week of babysitting, which was really a pretty good deal. It was my idea to try and foster her starting a life here instead of the grad school she clearly didn’t want to do in Tucson, and K. was fine with it.

Over the course of that year she lived with us, she and I became friends of a sort, or at least, I became her advisor. She’d come upstairs and hang out and talk and then stay and talk to me about her love problems or her life choices or whatever. I didn’t mind. I thought we were developing a relationship.

When I told her (because of course K. had not confided in her; he doesn’t in anyone) that K. wanted a divorce, she cried with me. But then she stopped. She stopped being my friend and she (mostly) stopped seeing the kids. She gave a lot of lip service to the idea that she wanted to be supportive of me and a friend to me and that she wanted to be a support to the kids — but she didn’t. She wasn’t around. She was too busy. She got into the habit of doing drive-bys, visits where she’d stop and see me and the kids for fifteen minutes on her way somewhere, until I asked her not to come unless she could stay for at least the better part of an hour. I also asked her, at one point, if she could commit to spending some regular time with the kids. She said yes. She didn’t. She’s busy and she’s young and she’s…well, basically, she’s selfish, and she’s uncomfortable, and she doesn’t know how to have a friendship with me when I am no longer with the brother she worships (and whom she admits has often been mean to her and has never shown much desire to have the close relationship she craves).

Early on, she said to me that she wanted to be a support to me and she wanted to maintain our friendship. She had a hard time articulating what was going on with her, why she’d been so distant/avoiding, so I told her that I understood that she probably had certain boundaries and that I understood that, but she needed to let me know what those were.  She looked squirrely and abashed for a while, then said, “Well, I’m not comfortable hearing anything bad about K.”

You might think that sounds normal. But I don’t think it does, or is. Because I had not been telling her “bad things” about K. — I may be that bitter, but I’m definitely not that poor a strategist; I have enough respect for others’ feelings and my own maneuvering position to not bad-mouth my ex to his own sister — but I had been telling her things he had said (verbatim) and/or done (as in, “Well, K. says he doesn’t want to see the kids more than twice a week, that three times a week is too much and he needs a day off for himself.” Is that “bad”? Not really, at least not in the sense that I’m inserting any editorializing, altering, or even much emoting about it; but it is “bad” in the sense that it means I am not protecting her from her brother’s failings).

The last substantial conversation I had with her was in late January or early February, when she told me that K. was going to move in with her for three months. We discussed that a bit and she admitted that she should “grow a backbone” but that she was, in fact, desperately hoping to get to know him better, and she also admitted that she had essentially moved her fourteen months before in order to get closer to her brother, to develop a relationship with him, that in fact her therapist in Massachusetts had suggested spending time with our children as a way to develop her relationship with K., and that she was disappointed that that hadn’t happened.

So I see that the kids and I — though I know she does love the kids — were a means to an end. And I see that now that we no longer offer that (and it’s interesting, isn’t it, that getting close to the kids no longer equates to getting closer to K. for her; it’s a tacit admission that they are no longer that close to him themselves), we’re not such a draw anymore. And yeah, I know she’s busy. But you know what? I’ve been that busy. I’ve been 24 and had a job and a love life and a life and whatever. And I still managed to spend more time in a week with the children in my life (the kids I babysat, whom I loved) than she has spent with my kids, her niece and nephew, in the last three months. Because in that period of time — the time since she moved out of our downstairs apartment — , she’s spent (and I am looking at the calendar here) less than eight hours with the kids (maybe much less; I’m trying to be safe on the generous side). And that’s including the 2 hours (at least, I estimate it at two hours) she spent with them and K. one Sunday when it had been a while and she tried to coordinate that.

And that’s just sad.

So this is what I have to say to her:

Dear E.,

I understand that you may feel there are some obstacles to maintaining a relationship with me right now. These issues are complex, and loyalties tend to divide divorced families, and if your sense of loyalty asks that you put distance between us, I won’t fault you for that. I ask, though, that you be honest about it. There has been too little honesty our conversations as it is.

I don’t understand why you have not made more of an effort to give your niece and nephew some regular time, and more of it, especially when I explicitly asked that you set up a workable (for you) schedule with me and we discussed the importance of family and loving adults in their lives. I don’t understand why you’ve spent so little time (yes, you are busy; I know what that is. And what it is not: an excuse) with them, and I don’t understand why you’ve been so last-minute and erratic about planning it.

I don’t understand why you seem to maintain this fiction that you are trying and you are planning and you are communicating. If you are doing any of those things with me or with the children, it is mostly in your own head. Their connection to you has suffered, the emotional bolstering you could have offered them has been absent, and you have been dishonest with both me and yourself.

Step up, sister. I don’t like being ashamed of you.

Naturally, I wouldn’t be quite so brusque if I thought she read this blog. And obviously, these things go triple for K.. But it’s a sad situation. And her cowardice and selfishness (she who purports to be and, I think, believes herself to be, genuinely giving and caring and organized) just add insult to the injury of K.’s.

Can I just say that when it’s K.’s “parenting time” and I happen to be around and am waiting for him to take over upstairs with the kids, but find him downstairs talking to some chick on the phone while snacking, I find that irritating? That I have to continually remind him to parent while he’s here? That, despite having agreed to not make personal phone calls on the minimal kid time he has, he’s chatting up/with someone giggly (and my irritation at this is compounded by the fact that he recently lifted a bunch of beach photos of the kids off my Facebook page and reposted them on his page with the title “Things Missed,” as if in the Novel In Which K. Is the Protagonist, he’s a poor disenfranchised dad who wishes he could see his kids more? Despite the fact that he, once again, has canceled Weds. this week and not offered to make it up?) Yeah. Okay then.

1. Did I mention that my Mother-in-Law stayed with me for three days last week, during which time she spent many hours with realtors trying to buy a house for K. to live in? Because, you know, she’s going to buy the house anyway, when she moves here in 1.5 or 2 YEARS, and she should really just buy it now so that she has a convenient way to manipulate and demand attention from K., who will otherwise not answer her phone calls but who is fine with taking her ‘sponsorship,’ as well as eradicating all financial consequences of his actions that out of the way.

2. I keep meaning to write a post entitled “Sex and the Single Mom.” Consider that a teaser. It will involve Hugh Grant (definitely) and (possibly) vibrators. It may also involve the observation that being childless is like having perpetual beer goggles on, for many of us. When would-be swains dangled their lures at me, I used to make like Paul Simon and just say, “Who am I to blow against the wind?” Now I make like a tree and run for my fucking life.

Today, Memorial Day, K. was to show up at noon. (We’d switched Sunday for Monday since he didn’t have to work today and I wanted to take the kids to the farm this weekend.) At quarter to, I got a call saying he’d be late. I called to ask why and he said that he had been out to the bar last night and had fallen asleep on the couch without setting an alarm. “It’s a miracle I woke up at all,” he said, which is true. He was awake before he had to be here. And the theme of his being late because he overslept/overpartied is becoming comfortably familiar, anyway.

On a related note, here’s what happened Wednesday before last:

K. showed up a bit late, a few minutes past three. He was visibly disoriented and made a beeline for the coffee pot, which was empty because I take it in my thermos every morning. In trying to fill the pot and make some more, he knocked the part that holds the grounds off, sending dry coffee scattering across the kitchen. In trying to clean that up, he knocked down a vase and sent shards of pottery and rocks flying.

As this happened, I was trying to leave to go to an appointment. I said goodbye to the kids. Thing One pleaded with me not to go. Thing Two cried and cried. I suggested to K. that he might drop the cleaning (which he was bungling and swearing at and generally not executing well) for a moment and deal with the kids. He barked at them and kept at it. I left.

I returned a bit after six to nurse Thing Two (it is K’s time, but I come back by to do this for bedtime). K. immediately left and smoked, then parked himself on the living room couch with a magazine. I was trying to get my things put away so I could nurse and go — hoping to make it to the local Divorce Support Group. I asked K. to come into the room where the kids were. He came in and sat against the glass doors. He passed out — eyes rolled up in his head and jaw slack — and I urgently called his name. He came to. He admitted that he was tired, saying he’d gotten up at 2 that afternoon (hence the lateness) and that he couldn’t seem to ever fall asleep before 5:30 a.m.

“Uncle Dad” is what one of my colleagues calls his children’s bio-dad because of his lack of involvement. K. seems to have a similar level of engagement, and I’m starting to worry that he’s not even competent. The passing out thing is alarming. And yet how much do I want to pull rank on K., to push him toward a point where he might actually choose to try for a change in the parenting time and put the burden of proof (about his minimal compentence, etc.) on me? I am lucky, luckier than many single moms, in that K. at least doesn’t fight me for control much. Those of you who are divorced parents already know what I’m going to say; the rest should listen up, because if you pay attention, you’ll be scared straight, hopefully straight enough to avoid divorcing with children — either by divorcing before children are born or by never getting married in the first place.

I see what happens to divorced parents and their children: the parents are in a position of trying to collaborate with, at best, someone they’ve failed to make a life with, and more likely someone who has rejected or been rejected by them, betrayed or disappointed or otherwise deeply fallen in their regard. And so it becomes a life of the misery of trying to work with someone you’d much prefer not to deal with at all, and the kids are stuck in the middle, their security and consistency and quality of life shot. It’s terrible. Your ex has control, to a large degree, over your life and livelihood, forever, and you are forced to consult with him or her, negotiate with him or her, and adapt to his or her needs. You are no longer free.

So I am lucky because K. has given up so much of that control that it would be hard for him to make a case for strongly influencing one of my decisions, and yet I’m unlucky because he does seem to think that, despite what’s going on now, at some point in the future he’ll become Awesome Involved Dad and that up to and including that time, his wishes will be respected with regard to the children. He seems to think we’ll just wait around and keep time open for him. And this is a sort of Sword of Damocles hasnging over my head; what if he asks for his “rights,” at some point? How much should I bend for his sake? How much should I do so for the children?

I talked to him on Sunday. I suggested that he see a doctor. I suggested that passing out when you’re taking care of the kids is not normal. He said it wasn’t a problem.

Thing One says, “Daddy goes to sleep. But I wake him up.” I guess to him it’s totally normal. Meanwhile, everyone I know is telling me not to leave K. alone with the children. And I’m not sure they’re wrong.

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