The Leaver took my son out to a movie so my soon to be eleven year old daughter and I sit over coffee and tea at the local cafe.
Occasionally, rarely, parenting genius strikes. Take note, Bill Cosby (or whoever is a divorced equivalent of Bill Cosby) of this brilliant rhetorical turn to broach a difficult subject.
“So how’s your brother handling this whole thing with mom and me?” I asked. “Anything that’s really bothering him.”
(Effin’ brilliant, huh!?
But I digress…)
Quick explanation — the Leaver does not drive, she lives just down the street and we still all go to the same church. So she gets a ride on Sundays.
“Gets tense, eh.”
“We should give you tape to put over your mouths.”
The other day as the Leaver left the house after dropping off the children, she slammed the door and exclaimed my name, “why is she mad at you again?” my daughter asked with a certain characteristic exasperation. There were probably a few Cosbyesque answers to that one that eluded me. I shrugged and gave that bewildered look admonishing the inherent rudeness in referring to her mother in the third person. The thing is:
- I’m not supposed to let my kid take sides.
- My kid probably isn’t taking sides.
- I like it that it sounded like my kid was taking my side.
Time to put in a call to Life Central Casting for a couple of convenient stereotypes. Enter Bitter Single Mom… oh yeah, I mean, Single Parent… from stage left — replete with fading clothes, broken glasses, frayed smiled bonded tight by smugness.
And on stage right the Weekend Dad… oh yeah I mean Weekend Parent: doing the minimal whilst expecting maximum acknowledgement. Every passing unplanned purchase from a book to a pair of underwear, must be acknowledged, catalogued and feted. Complaints of lack of money, lack of time, and impractical unaccommodating living situation (a situation of her own devising, that was until recently presented with considerable pride) gush forth and if they are acknowledged, or remedies are suggested then accusations of nagging and “you’re trying to tell me how to run my life” are levelled in response.
Meanwhile back at the ranch — daily shopping and feeding, cleaning, homeworking, shuttling, cleaning, moralizing, and did I mention the cleaning? blah blah blah. Perpetual righteous anger, simmering like a never-abating low grade fever seems to be an unavoidable occupational hazard of the Single Parent.
Fuelling the fever and/or strengthening the smugness is the fact that I’m not reaching for the handle of the nearest door to slam. I’m reaching for the magic phrase that smothers all with the damp flannel of appropriateness — “I don’t think this is the time and place to discuss this, do you?” When I’d rather make use of a more lyrical rhetorical opening. “Look, you narcissistic bitch….” comes to mind.
I sometimes think, why can’t I let that low grade anger loose a bit. The Leaver seems to be able to, despite the lack of any substantive motive for rage.
Today we went out to go cut down a Christmas tree. As I was checklisting the children (did you take mittenssweaterhatscarf ? etc. etc.) my daughter turns to me, rests her wrists on my shoulders as she does when she wants to trap my undivided attention and says, “Dad, when we went to get a tree last year, it was so different,” making it clear by her tone that she meant it was much, much better. “Last year, we had…” and she paused, arching the phrase. And in the seconds that she collected her thoughts for dramatic effect, I inwardly cringed, remembering last year — my wife, children and myself trooping up and down hills, enjoying cider and hot chocolate in the barn afterwards — anticipating what she’d say next. We had… what?
- a mother?
- 2 parents?
- a real family?
- I had a wife. oh. But she did say “we had.” Maybe “a dad with a wife?”
She looked me square in the eye, “snow. We had snow on the ground last year. This year it totally sucks. Are we going to get any snow before Christmas? At all?“
Perhaps the defining emotion for the Single Parent — or maybe just for this Single Parent — isn’t that simmer of anger after all. Perhaps it’s relief.