When Joe is disciplining my son,
And I don’t agree with what he’s saying
Or how he’s saying it,
I support him at the moment in order to provide a
And bring it up with him later,
In our bedroom,
After the kids are tucked into bed.
That’s the ideal.
But it didn’t work quite that way on Friday.
Me, Joe and my six-year-old Victor
Went to a circus-like burger and malt shop for dinner,
Magenta and azure murals of dancing cartoon figures on the walls,
Us glaze-eyed from a long week of school and work.
My boy wasn’t listening:
And he’d run.
“Don’t put your burger on the table,”
And he’d put his burger on the table.
The more he didn’t listen,
The more Joe fixated on him not listening:
“If I have to talk to you
One more time,
You won’t get a root beer.”
Victor tried to climb into my lap.
“Mom, I get a root beer, right?”
“Not if Joe says you don’t,”
I said wearily.
It went on like this for a few minutes:
My boy lapped at his water like a dog,
And Joe told him not to.
My boy blew bubbles in his milk,
And Joe said, “Stop.”
I tried to restrain myself,
But I finally couldn’t.
My mouth just opened and
Brightly, I said to Joe,
“Let’s talk about what Victor’s done right today.”
Joe’s gaze swung across the formica table top
And then he and I started going at it:
“You need to lay off.”
“But he needs to listen.
It’s a safety issue.”
“But this isn’t working.”
“He’s doing it on purpose.”
“No he’s not. He’s six.”
“Well, something needs to change.”
“Does it? Is something wrong?”
And on and on.
So here’s the underpinning of this
Joe doesn’t love Victor like he’s his own son.
Victor has a dad,
And Joe has children.
Those roles are filled.
Same with me.
Joe’s kids have a mom;
They don’t need another one.
We both love our step kids;
But not in that
Blindly unconditional way we do our own.
When Victor doesn’t listen,
I assume he’s just a distracted six-year-old
Developmentally incapable of following
Joe sees some insolence,
Some intention in the behavior,
Occur to me.
The thing is,
We’re both right.
We can both admit that.
Step parents can offer a lot:
They aren’t befogged by unqualified love–
Their objectivity can clarify the most
Confounding parental delusion.
Joe and I can do that for each other–
Not every time,
But enough to be hopeful.
We had a productive conversation about
At the moment of disagreement,
In front of one of the kids.
I truly witnessed Joe’s face
With hurt feelings as he described how
Victor ignores his attempts to
Ask what happened at school
Or at wrestling practice.
And he listened
To my points about
Developmentally normal behaviors
That don’t always need to be
It was Joe who was the lightest of all
Walking out of the restaurant,
Jokey with Victor, and flashing
Grateful looks in my direction.
So it worked
And for today.
Maybe it was the malts.