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 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.”

The hours before my boy leaves for the summer

Six hours before my

Small boy’s

Plane leaves,

And he and I are at the zoo.

I’m always the one who wants to come here

Before he leaves for the summer with his dad.

“I don’t want to go to the zoo,” he says as we’re leaving the house,

But I don’t give him a choice.

The impervious rhythms of the animals

Are a comfort to me.

And anyway,

He likes the sharks and

The giraffes and

Buying lunch in the cafeteria and

Cotton candy from a cart,

And a small toy from the gift shop.

Today we were watching the snow monkeys when my

Chest tightened up like a drawstring.

Nine weeks, he’ll be gone.

The gestation period of a dog.

Today driving here, I thought

There must be other mothers who put their

Kids on airplanes for the summer,

Who dread the last days of the school year

(“Any fun plans for summer?” people ask.)

Who take extra pictures and videos,

Who think melodramatically:

“What if he dies while he’s gone?”

Before remembering:

“I suppose he could die here with me, too.”

I say cheerily,

“You’re going to have so much fun this summer!”


As a tear tracks down my face.

And he will.

He’s got his life over there, too.

I don’t share much in it,

And that’s okay.

He’s not mine, really, anyway.

It soothes me to think that

He’s a child of God out in the world,

And I’m one of his guides.

Among my many duties,

I take him places like the zoo,

And let other people take him places

Without me.

On airplanes even.

150th anniversary of Civil War; Also anniversary of first marriage

Photo: civilwarhome.com

April 12.

In the throes of planning my

Second wedding.

I saw a headline about the

150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War,

Which reminded me:

Seven years ago,

Destination wedding in London.



In a London pub,

Over the fact that I was getting married on the

Date the first shots were fired on Fort Sumter.


With three weeks to go before I marry Joe,

It irritates me that I would be writing about my

First wedding.

The implication being that I’m somehow

Not over it.

(Although when you have kids together,

You never talk about “being over it.”

You just figure out how to

Get along day-by-day.)

In planning this wedding,

Joe and I both say it occasionally:

“At my first wedding…”

At first I cringed when I said it,

Or smiled apologetically at Joe,

Who was smiling apologetically at me.

Then it just became a joke.

The apologetic smile turned into a smirk.

We’re weathered.

We’ve lived.

We’re vintage.

Bought once new and discarded,

Only to turn up as a


On the rack

By someone who


The little details:

The fine stitching,

The unusual buttons.

When you have kids together,

These exes will




Sometimes you wish they would

Go away.

(Or in a moment of face-twisting anger and fear,


But they

Never will.

Interactions with my ex are

Calm and even




I can hope that April 12 someday signifies the

Start of the Civil War only,

Which it was long before

Me and my


Came along.

Call from school

I got a call yesterday.

My son’s kindergarten teacher.

I, who work in an office with adults,

Always have to adjust to the elementary school rhythm

On calls from school.

They always start rushed,

As if I’m dropping into the middle of a conversation.

Ever since he got back from spring break,

My son has been acting up:

Not doing his work,

Not keeping his hands to himself.

He’d been doing so well,

Making so much progress.

What happened?

“Maybe it’s his dad

Leaving,” I say.

“Yeah, I was thinking about that,” his teacher says.

My son’s dad had come for spring break.

The two of them had had so much fun:

Going on a train trip to Washington DC.

My son still talking about

George Washington,

The Washington Monument,

Washington DC.

And now,

He was throwing dice across the room,

And sitting in front of a blank piece of paper

Refusing to write.

“After all the progress we’ve made,

I just don’t want to go backward,” his teacher says.

In my office,

My cell phone pressed against my hot face,

I promised to talk to my son,

And his teacher promised to keep me informed,

And we hung up,

A little team rooting for my son.

On the bike ride home,

Swerving through construction on University Avenue,

Dodging potholes and

Tented sidewalk slabs,

I was thinking of how we would

Not be going to McDonald’s playland,

As promised.

There would be consequences.

So I got home,

And there he was at the dining room table,

Flicking the longish hair out of his eyes.

He crumpled a styrofoam cup in his hand,

And I

Sat down across from him,

And we talked.

Because that’s all I can do.

I can’t go back.

I can’t heal his wounds

Or prescribe his experience.

His father is his father

And that father lives in another country.

And I’m his mom,

And I’m here.

And that’s both his gift and his trial.

I can only guide, my

Hand between his butterfly shoulder blades,

Sometimes light,

Sometimes heavy.

Here are some tools to put in your

Thomas the Train backpack, Buddy.

You’re on your way.

I love you.

Airport good-byes

About to leave for the airport

You would think that the


Would be a devastating place for us:

For me, and my small boy,

And his dad.

The good-byes we say just outside security,

His dad or I knowing we won’t

Squeeze the small body

For months.


If you thought the airport was,

For us,

A scene of tears and


You would be wrong.

We made an unspoken


His father and I,

To have fun at the airport.

We send him off

With fart-kisses on his stomach

And tickles around his neck

And swooping hugs.

And laughter.

On Sunday, it was his dad’s turn to say,

“See you soon,”

And go through security


In three months,

It will be my turn to say

“See you soon,

When school starts again,


And watch them go through security


I know from experience

That for me,

The tears come at the moment they disappear from view

Behind security,

Looking not back at me,

But forward toward their


It wasn’t my turn to

Say good-bye today.

But when it is,

On the ride home

I will turn off the radio

And let the tears run.

Marriage the Second: In which our heroine wonders what business she has trying this again

Oh, and our marriage license came in the mail yesterday, too.

It was like a scene out of a sitcom:

Joe and I in a pre-marriage counseling session,

Reading through the vows we had written,

And then somehow getting into a huge fight

About who does the laundry

And how

And when

And who puts the clothes away

And how

And when.

I could feel the corners of my eyes drawing back,


And I might have been hissing

As I accused

And reared back

And struck again.

The minister,

A young guy who looks like Joe would with a beard,

Watched and listened—

I forgot he was there.

I imagine

His alarmed eyes flicking back and forth between us

Before he finally interrupted:

“Okay, okay,

This is good.

This is obviously something you need to talk about.”

Walking out to the car

Two strides ahead of Joe,

I made a decision to


And silently contemplate what business we,

Who have both failed once at marriage

And can’t even cooperate on laundry,

Have trying to do this again.

But as soon as we closed (me: slammed) the car doors,

Joe suddenly and uncharacteristically started

Talking (purging)

About his history,

And the harsh refrains that play in his head.

I softened in the driver’s seat,

Listening and asking questions.

This was new information to me.

(Will there always be new information?)

We stopped at an Ethiopian place by our house

And ordered a veggie sampler

And held hands across the torn plastic tablecloth.

“Babe, I want to be the

Best husband

You’ve ever had,” Joe said,

And I started to laugh and cry at the same time.

We went home and went upstairs to our bedroom.

And Joe turned off all the lights

But one,

And I fell asleep to him

Putting the laundry away.