Divorced parenting with benefits

Before I say anything,
A disclaimer:
Of course
I would always prefer to have my son
With me,
Playing with toy cars on the
Rainbow-striped pile rug
In his bedroom.
I have to say,
My husband and I have had a couple of
Very nice kid-free weekends this summer.
Between two co-parenting schedules
For three adolescent kids,
We get five to seven kid-free weekends
Per year,
Mostly in the summer when my boy
Is with his dad.
On the Friday of a kid-free weekend
We look at each other across the
Weirdly tidy living room and say,
“What should we do?”
We can’t think of
It’s my fault.
Joe comes up with ideas–a movie, a late concert–
And nothing feels momentous enough for me.
(Or else I’m too tired.)
The other night,
I was so determined to think of something
Amazingly adventurous and fun,
And I was so completely unable to do so,
That I spun suddenly into the
Sadness death spiral
Where I miss my son so much
That I want to crash to the rug
And lie there unmoving,
Not even crying,
Just blinking and staring at the dust heaps
Under the couch.
(I did rally that night,
And we played cribbage and listened to music,
The death spiral averted.)
The best kid-free weekends are ones that are either
Planned far in advance:
Tickets bought and
Time booked (concerts, camping),
Or the spontaneously inspired ones:
Yoga classes together,
Playing cribbage and listening to music,
Even grocery shopping,
Just the two of us,
Feels like a date.
But the best parts
Are the moments when,
Undistracted by other people’s needs,
I’m fully attentive to my husband
As he’s talking.
And I realize
I haven’t seen him clearly
For weeks or even months;
Seen who he is,
Not what I need him to do next.
Is being away from
Our children
Worth those rarefied moments?
I don’t know.
It’s our life
And I’ll take it.


The domestic arts

I can hang out here

Alone for the weekend,

I’m doing a little yard work,

A little cooking and cleaning.

Activities I used to have

No patience for:

The juicy smell of grass

Fresh cut with an electric mower;

How the heavy snake of water from the

Emerald garden hose is cool but not frigid;

The sizzle of chopped yellow onions

In hot olive oil,

Then garlic mince,

A carpet of ground thyme,

Flecks of basil and oregano,

Cubed tomatoes:

A marinara sauce to be

Dumped over a nest of pasta strings,

Eaten slowly

At a freshly wiped table

While I measure with my eye

The straightness of the folded throw blanket

Draped on the arm of the couch.

I have even folded

All the plastic grocery bags

Into triangles,

Like flags,

And they’re tucked in the kitchen drawer

Under the window.

I used to scoff at

Learning these skills,

Satisfying the

Basic human needs

With a little grace,

A little dignity,

Even some flair.

I had no time.


I enjoy these honorable, repetitive tasks

That are undone within hours or even

Minutes of completion.

It takes a gentle,


Patient touch

That I don’t naturally possess,

But could maybe learn.

I want to learn.

An open letter to my husband about why I like it when he and the kids go out of town

You get it, Joe,

Don’t you?

What I mean when I say,


Yes, please.

Go to your mother’s in California.

Fly standby with the kids,

Gamble that you’ll get on the next flight.

Don’t come home.

Not yet.

The quiet it this city and state

Is delicious.

You and my step-kids in California,

My son with his dad in Finland.

My parents on vacation in Alabama.

Even my brother is in Wisconsin this weekend.

My own little family diaspora,

Leaving me here in Minnesota,






What will you do with yourself,

People ask in wonderment.

Oh, I’ll meet friends for coffee,

Go to yoga,

Take a nap on the porch.

It’s supposed to be a secret from you, Babe,

But what I really like to do when you’re gone

Is clean.

I’ve got two small cleaning projects:

My mom cave, which became

The dump spot for wedding detritus,

And my son’s room.

Time to finally get rid of this five-year-old’s size 2T clothes.

But it doesn’t matter what I do.

The deliciousness is in the

Range of my thoughts
When I’m alone.
Books I might write,
Like cats that hide under the bed
Until the house is empty
And then slink out to play.
Or just nothing.
An empty mind
Filling up the unclaimed space.
The vastness of human existence,
I can see it
Like pulling back on a wide-angled lens.
It’s hard to explain without hurting your feelings.
You miss me when I’m gone
One night on business.
Without my civilizing influence
You stay up too late,
Zombied out on the Internet,
And sleep listlessly,
Staying on your side of the bed.
When I come home,
And am walking past you in our small kitchen,
You pull me by the waist toward you
And hold onto me until I fidget to be let go.
And it’s true.
I wouldn’t enjoy this solitude
Unless I knew you and our family and friends
Were aware of me,
Were maybe even thinking about me,
Were available if I needed them.
That’s the difference between
Solitude and
Solitude is supported by a
Foundation of
Who are not physically present
At that moment.
Loneliness has no such foundation,
Or has the perception of no such foundation,
So that you feel that you’re
Falling through space with
Nothing to catch you.
I’ve experienced both,
And you, Babe,
You’re a part of why this is
Precious solitude.
So thank you,
Thank you for leaving me
This weekend.


The Skype window flickered on,

Revealing my boy and his dad

Granulated and dimmed by a

Few thousand miles of ether.

They were giggling together.

My boy on his dad’s lap in front of the computer

Trying to squirm away

The dad’s large hands

Gripping the narrow ribcage

The thick fingers digging in

For the tickle.

Both of them laughing

White teeth flashing.

“What are you monkeys doing?”

I asked,

Feigning disapproval.

My boy

Broke free and

Scampered to the other side of the room,

Where he stood panting and laughing,

Watching his dad.

Who said,

“Okay, it’s time to talk to Mom.”

The boy walked out of the room,

And his dad said,


“He’s hungry.

He’s gonna have some ice cream in the kitchen.”

No tears for Mom,

No wails of longing,

Or I miss you.


Thinking about my boy

And our Skype time,

I was glad

That my boy is

Having fun

Without me.

I get it now.

That parent’s mantra:

“All I want is for you to be

Happy and safe.”

Incredible, the

Complex and paradoxical

Layers of

That kind of love.

That I could be happy and grateful

At the same time I’m

Sad and grieving.

When other parents say to me,

“I could never do what you do,

Be away from your child for months at a time.”

I always say with the assurance of

One who has experienced grace,

“Yes you could,

If you had to.

I hope you never have to.”