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:
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.