Little Things


My son had baseball practice yesterday. Tuesdays are days when he’s scheduled to be at his mom’s, so I don’t usually plan to hear from him or his sister on those days. However, late in the afternoon, I get an unexpected phone call: “Dad? Can you come pick me up from baseball practice?” I have two  choices: say no, it’s your mother’s problem, pick him up anyway and register a complaint with the former wife; or I can just say  “Of course,” which is what I did.

Since I get to be the hero of my own stories every once in while, I will add that if the shoe were on the other foot, I’d hear no end of the recriminations for having neglected my parental duties without so much as a text message. I try not to think about that,  to shove these thoughts out of my mind. The former is never going to change, and if the past 5 years are any proof (as if I needed some), the bitterness and the recriminations will not stop until the kids are out of college. Even then, I’ll probably get the occasional text starting Hey Asshole, because yes, the mother of my children has no problem addressing me like that.

But I’m not playing those games. I get the call, I go. I’m glad he’s called me. Thrilled. Another chance to see one of my children when it wasn’t expected.

He gets in the car, and I ask, What’s the best way to celebrate the return of warm weather? I know he knows the answer: ice cream, of course.

Off we go. We make our way through the horrible early evening  traffic that this suburb has.(Framingham! All the inconveniences of a city with none of the benefits!) I’m not in a hurry, though. I’m glad just to be passing the time with my son. In two years, he’ll be gone, off to college, off to wherever, and then three more years until the daughter leaves.

What then?

We go get the ice cream. I order a small, he orders a medium. We get cones, because even though it’s hot outside, we’re willing to risk the melting for the added pleasure of having the cone. They give me a safety cone, which is not what I wanted, but I don’t care. My small comes, and it looks like two scoops. Two big scoops.

I’ll eat the whole thing anyway. We sit down on the steps outside, and start talking. We’ll mostly talk about baseball, or whatever. I had pretty much given up on baseball after the strike of 1994, but having a son changed all of that. My son’s not the kind of teenager who will talk about himself. He doesn’t like reading (though when  he was little I read him chapter books, and he couldn’t wait for the next night’s story), so we can’t talk about books. He might ask for an update on the current turmoil, but that’s pretty rare. But baseball is good enough. We find things to agree and disagree on, and there are still a few–very few–things I know that he doesn’t (like what it is to have your town’s team lose for decades on end).

So here I am, enjoying an unexpected half-hour with my son, eating an unexpected ice cream cone on the first nice, summery day in what seems a long time. He’ll have to go back to his mom’s, but we’re not rushing. We eat the cones and then continue to just sit. I could be in Peru, or Italy, or who knows where else, but I’m in Framingham, and at least for the moment, it’s just fine.

Stoopid Kat!


IMG_0036Or stupid Homo sapiens.

(I’d write a post of import to someone other than me, but as I mentioned yesterday, the world is beginning to overwhelm me. Today I searched “Sunniest places in New Zealand.” I am sure that NZ has its own problems, but starting a war with North Korea and dealing with the daily antics of Tangerine Jesus aren’t among them. )

So you get this story instead:

I’m in the process of demolishing the downstairs bath. (I’ve got some really hideous pale yellow tile if you need some replacements.) Getting rid of the garbage is part of the challenge. I was shoveling out some of the plaster and tile through the bathroom window. I left the window open to get some fresh air in there. I closed the door to keep the animals out. Zoot and Dingo, my indoor cats, have occasionally gone walkabout, and it’s not fun.

She Went Out Through The Bathroom Window

Like most things in my house, the bathroom doorknob doesn’t work so well. (You should see what I have to go through sometimes to make sure that the boiler works. Another story, another time.)

Enter, or exit,  Genius Mutt, who was not on a leash, as I let him out into the backyard. The bathroom door was not latched, it turns out, and when I came home–after dark, mind you–there was Dingo, coming to the back stairs to come in the house. (For a long while I couldn’t tell the difference between my cats, so Dingo wears a collar with a bell attached to it). I can hear her usually before I see her. He sees the cat, which means time for terrorizing. When the cats are cornered, they’ll smack Kaleb on the nose, and he’s such a big chicken that he’ll back off, but when there’s open space, the cats prefer to retreat and the chase is on. Dingo runs and hides somewhere in the backyard. I bring the dog inside, screaming at him for chasing the cat (yes, useless at best, counterproductive at worst).

I set out to get the cat. I do not want my cats outside, not during daylight hours, and certainly not at night. We have a lot of coyotes here in suburban Boston. I hear them at night, especially when a chorus of pups starts on yipping fit. I’ve lost cats to coyotes, and it’s not pleasant, especially when you find the remains. I’d rather not be living among top predators in this kind of space–they can be packed much more densely here than in the wild–but I don’ think that that is about to change.

Missing animals upset me. They make me worry. My mind starts to wander to the worst-case scenario.

I go back outside to get Dingo, but she is still frightened from having the dog chase her all over the yard, and she bolts into the darkness. Shit. Back inside, get the flashlight, get a bowl of food.

I spend the next hour trying to find the cat.  I call her. I shine my flashlight into hidden places, including the neighbor’s shed. I wait for the police to show up and ask me what I am doing slinking around other peoples’ yards at night. I look under bushes, cars, along fence lines, up trees.  No cat. Not even the sound of her bell. I know that she probably hasn’t gone that far–cats rarely travel great distances under these circumstances.  It’s getting late, but  I don’t want to go to sleep. I want to stay outside and stay vigilant for coyotes and run them off if they come on my side of the street (they live across the street, in the woods by the river.

But eventually, inevitably,  I can’t do it anymore. I’m too tired, too worried, too frustrated. A lot of my worry is just about the cat, but it gets confounded and conflated with other things. I’m worried about having to tell my son and daughter that Dingo has disappeared, and may or may not come back. I worry that in the turmoil of the post-divorce period that the children are still feeling a loss, and I don’t want to add another loss. I think of my life here, how there is only one thing keeping me here–my children–and that I’m not ready for more loss, either. My life isn’t that bad. I’m safe, I have a roof over my head and food in my refrigerator. A family, who although not here, is behind me every step of the way. A woman who looks after my soul and my well-being. But a lot of things have disappeared in the last while, and I’m not looking to add yet another animal companion to the mix.

She came back. I woke up at 3:30 AM, went outside, and she wasn’t there. I woke up again an hour later, and as soon as I opened the door, she meowed, and ran inside, heading straight down to the basement where the food is. As I write this, she is sitting on the desk next to the computer, and when I rub her head she starts to purr.

I imagine that at some point she will again escape, and I will think, Oh no, not again. But for now I’m going to just enjoy the purring sound, and try not to think about everything else that’s going on in the world.

(Social) Media Shabbat


I imagine that your mind is probably shattering at the moment, too. There are too many mental balls to juggle, and they are flying all over the place and getting dropped. Some of them have explosives in them, others are just paint balls, and others are just trite metaphors getting overworked on an unread blog.

That can only mean one thing: It’s time for our weekly break!

I’ll leave you with this thought: It’s my former wife’s weekend with the kids. They don’t hang out with me, y’know,  being teenagers and all, but that sensation when I get back from dropping them at school, their presence still palpable (the humidity upstairs from the shower, the smell of whatever it is that my daughter put in her hair, the mug that I used to heat the milk for the hot chocolate my son drinks in the car), it is overwhelming and poignant, it fades all too fast.

And in other good news, it’s baseball season!!Pogo26

The Tortures of High-Conflict Divorce


Sometimes, the most sobering and the hardest part of the high-conflict divorce is the constant barrage of reminders of what a f@#*ing moron you were.

The signs were there, but you weren’t thinking straight.

A friend tried warning you, but it was a half-hearted attempt, and it was too late.

You’d been burned by love in the past, and  in the state you were in you were willing to settle for something a little bit less.

You’d been living in isolation, and it distorted your judgment.

You know that you should just put all of this behind you. You try to, every day. However, when you are chained to the rock of co-parenting with a psycopath  narcissist  someone with Borderline Personality Disorder  a difficult person, it’s hard, if not impossible, to do so.

So it’s Sunday, and we there’s a big informational meeting about our son’s upcoming trip to Israel. All the travelers and their parents are gathering at a Jewish day school about a half hour away. I will be driving the Kid as it’s my weekend. The former wife asks if I’ll be staying until the end–she needs to return to help a friend who is preparing chocolates for Taste of Boston. I say, sure, but I have a condition. She grumbles and rants, afraid that I’m going to ask for something reasonable, like she actually return something of mine that is a family keepsake that she decided to appropriate in the divorce. No, I ask for her to bring one of the chocolates. (I like chocolates). She says she’ll see if she can. I say, If you can.

I get to the meeting first. The organization running the camp is quite smart, at least in terms of self-preservation, and they bill me and the former wife separately. They also make us separate packages of the informational material. They’d rather go to the trouble of sending out separate bills and info than to have to listen to us call and accuse each other of being the bad parent.

Because I get there first, I grab the heavier packet. The packets are identical, except that the heavier packet has two luggage tags in it. The kids are supposed to use these luggage tags so that everyone in the group can have their bags identified by anyone in the group. I take the heavier packet. Why? Why not? I know that the former will have a strong sense that she is entitled, for chissà quale ragione,  to be the keeper of whatever keys need keeping. This belief is also reinforced by its correlate, that I am not capable of handling things. (In fairness, many women subscribe to this myth: men would be dead in their houses with their guts being eaten by the cat within days  of last contact were it not for the intervention of the Ever-Feminine.)

True to form, when the former arrives she comes up and asks for the luggage tags. When I answer that I’ll hold on to them, she goes on to demand them. Loudly, vocally, and of course, without regard for the fact that we are in public.

We are reliving our bad marriage all over again, in a microcosm.

It’s not a big deal, the luggage tags. But the assumptions and treatment are galling. So I say, calmly, I think I’ll just hang on to the tags.

The former wife stomps off, loudly, “Well, then you can’t have any chocolate!” IMG_0211 Play my way, or you can’t have any candy. Story of my married life.

 

What Happens When a Child Calls a Parent by their First Name?


calvin
apololgies to Mr. Watterson for the unauthorized use of Calvin.

(Please forgive me for the use of ‘their’ as a neuter third-person singular. I just can’t fight it anymore.)

Referring to  parents by their first names. It always shocked me as a teen when I heard peers do it, and though it turned into more disturbance than shock as I grew older, I have to admit that it still sends me some sort of an unsettling signal when I hear it. I have to wonder: Do they call their parents by their first names when they are talking to them, or just about them?

There was a time when my daughter would do it with me. It was away for her to express anger. I didn’t put up with it. I’d walk away. As far as I was concerned,  it was a conversation ender. She doesn’t do it anymore. However, she does still get angry with me. Go figure.

“They may already know too much about their mother and father–nothing being more factual than divorce, where so much has to be explained and worked through intelligently (though they have tried to stay equable). I’ve noticed this is often the time when children begin calling their parents by their first names, becoming little ironists after their parents’ faults. What could be lonelier for a parent than to be criticized by his child on a first-name basis?”

― Richard Ford, The Sportswriter

Personal Stuff: Divorce + Fatherhood = The Worst, Most Painful Irony of My Life


I am sure that it is not an uncommon situation that I am in: I have two wonderful children, and an absolutely horrible ex-marriage. If I want to deal with my kids, I have to deal with this mess. Easy choice, but man, sometimes…

I’m not saying that the former wife is a horrible person, that she is x, y, or z (the variables standing for any number of derogatory adjectives or nouns that are used by divorced people all over the world to describe the other cohort in the crime of their coupling). I am willing to assert, though, that she is the ne plus ultra of the, hmmmm, how to put this, the epitome of the difficult former spouse; if in the afterlife she is to be judged by her co-parenting skills, well,  it’s going to be a tough trip through Purgatory.

Nor am I saying that I’m some perfect or even good former spouse and co-parent. I wish I were made of tougher stuff. I wish that I could always do the right thing, that I could let every insult, every attack, every pointless (except for the point of hurting me) act of revenge for G-d knows what misdeed (the misdeed of wanting a divorce?), I wish I could let them all slip by. I have thinner skin than I would like to have. I don’t know how to make it thicker. (Maybe Sean Sphincter and I should attend a class on obtaining some tougher emotional armor.)

Were there no kids? I’d be gone. I’d fly away. I’d head back to Charleston without looking over my shoulder, and there would be no sequel. But there are the children, and they are the greatest thing in the world that has ever happened to me. I feel a glow in their presence. I love doing things for them. Watching them stirs such strong feelings that even when I worry about them, even when I am mad at them, even when they are purposely difficult, there is not a part of me that doesn’t want to protect them, to love them, to make the world a better place for them. I do not know if I would ever have had this depth of feeling for anything were I never to have had children.

I wish more of my time weren’t occupied by the strife. But here I am, slipping down the backslope of my life, having to force myself not to answer hostile texts, steeling myself not to strike back at things perpetrated out of pure vindictiveness, working to keep my mind on other, more pleasant things, and most difficult of all, trying to construct a view of my life that isn’t so filled with this regret at the painful paradox of being a dad thanks to the biggest mistake in my life; all this, in order that I might just let myself be filled with the wonder and the privilege it that it is to be that dad.

What I Threw Out Today


A Clear Modem. Worthless. They are offered for pennies on eBay. I found this in an unpacked box, 2 years after I moved into this house.

img_3697
This is actually a very sad picture. I associate this modem with a very hard time in my life. Good fucking riddance.

What I Threw Out Today: The Hotel Brochure from My Trip to Phuket, and what it says about aging


WAS I ALREADY TOO OLD to call it a voyage of my misspent youth? Maybe–we extend youth so long these days, heaven forfend that we get older, IMG_1879because as you age, you disappear. When you age you get to that point where, when contemplating the future, you no longer see the things that once inspired you, but rather the indignities and the infirmities that lie ahead. That is, unless you adopt a healthy attitude towards aging, and I haven’t. I’m in the midlife crisis I’ve been in since I was 25.

What does it say, in any case? It says to me that I went to Thailand with some woman. It says that people drift apart and experiences are the remembrance of emotion, not of images or place. The trip to Thailand was fun, and it wasn’t fun. It was one of those relationships that had just a bit too much competition and a bit too much held inIMG_1883 reserve. It’s all part of the past now, and whatever was good (or bad) about it I will hold in my memory. IMG_1886However, I’m at the point in my life where I’d like to–if I’m able–choose the time and place of my remembering things. I don’t like bad memories slipping in at inconvenient moments. It just muddies my mental waters. If I were a brightsider, I’d say at least I can still remember.

I know it’s only one piece of paper that I am throwing out. But they add up. If I kept it, my children would find it one day (maybe) after I died, and say, oh, so he went to Thailand once. It would not even be a footnote in their memories of me.

On the lighter side, the translations from the Thai are hilarious.
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