Or 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.
What Happens When a Child Calls a Parent by their First Name?
(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.
Lazy Sunday–The Week in Pictures
Mille torbidi pensieri mi s’aggiran per la testa se mi salvo in tal tempesta è un prodigio in verità
My son pitched 3 innings yesterday and had 6 Ks. I missed it! I was working on a project long overdue. I’m trying to learn a computer language at the same time so that I don’t have to look for as much outside help next time. That is, assuming that there is a next time.
I’m a bit too verklemmt for any real thinking. So, instead of working on less than a thousand words that I will struggle over, I will dispense the value of 8,000 words. Time-saver.
The Birthday Party, part 4
In spite of being separated for over 2.5 years, being divorced all summer, and the on-spot observation that both my ex-wife and I are better human beings when not in each other’s presence, my daughter wanted to have dinner with both of us. She is 11. I get it. When she took a long time on her birthday wish before blowing out the candles, I could only guess at what she was thinking. She has not held back for a moment on letting us know at every moment what she is thinking and feeling (including reconstructing the former version of the family). She does not wear her heart on her sleeve, but displays it on a large dirigible that is constantly circling overhead.
When she is angry, it’s not much fun, but at other times, when she is feeling generous, compassionate, kind and loving–which is quite often, actually–she is a contagious source of happiness.
So, in a way, even though she can be volatile, doesn’t worry me. I know what she is thinking. I know what she is feeling. And because I know these things, I can (usually) work with what I have with some sort of solid footing. She wants her mom and me–and her brother–together with her on her birthday. I can do that. I can behave, be sociable, and suppress the gunpowder when the ex either intentionally or unintentionally goes to light the fuse, which is easily ignited around here.
My son, on the other hand, is a cipher. In these past 2.5 years of separation and wrangling, he has only said one sentence about the divorce, in an aside to his sister. I have no idea what he is thinking. I do not whether he is angry, sad, OK with it, or–using his most commonly used adjective these days–annoyed.
I made it through the dinner. The ex-little woman made it through dinner (didn’t bat 1.000, but was close). I’m not in the unbiased position to judge my own behavior.
The Birthday Party, Part 2: But I digress. .
So now my daughter is in fifth grade, and her birthday is almost upon us, but she has been worrying for at least a month about what we are going to do.
This is tough. No dad wants to disappoint his children, even if when disappointment is inevitable, and even when the disappointment is good for them to boot. (No dear, we are not renting 2 stretch limos for you and your friends, and taking all of you on a whirlwind trip to Disney). Life lessons, you know. (Not that my daughter asked for that, but ya know, expectations higher than reality. Thank goodness we don’t live in Westchester County.)
Moreover, even though I’m divorced and have been living apart from my ex for over 2.5 years, this is yet another occasion where my ex’s and I embarrassingly pitiful ineptitude at co-parenting will become obvious in exquisite detail to not only my children, but (alas) to anyone who ventures within shouting distance (the normal range of her communication) of my ex. Regrettably, she does not have a whispering distance,or even a discreet distance (example: my great embarrassment, with her screaming at me from across the lobby at the Middlesex County Courthouse, not to chastise me for one of my many defects, but just to relay her latest counteroffer; me, walking over, trying to explain how the other hapless souls there were probably not all that interested in our divorce–except for the parts about Scarlett Johannson being an excellent step-mom–and that even if the others present were somehow so bored with their own lives as to be interested in our very mundane fights, I did not feel like updating the small percentage of MA who had, impossibly, not heard my ex’s opinion of me, our marriage, our divorce, and my afore-alluded-to shortcomings as a parent, human being, etc. Meanwhile, the lawyers charge while we wait for the judge who is downstairs at, of all things, a party, welcoming some other very average human being to the bench. So while they eat sheet cake–wait, do judges eat sheet cake, or do they get something nicer, the least he could have done was brought us up a slice, seeing as while he stuffs his cake-hole, we pay the lawyers, his little rush party costing us collectively over $1o a minute, all the more annoying because nobody really seems to give a shit, the whole idea of containing cost is foreign to these right honourable gentlefolk. . .)
And like most things, this party discussion will in all likelihood come down to a manner of money. My ex does not let a conversation go by without finding a way to dun me for some expense, from the ridiculous to the even more ridiculous, from the petty to the vengeful (Yes, I did get the house in the divorce, but you should pay for the diseased tree removal because the tree was here while you lived here and if I amortize the benefit you received from its shade, and besides that I would really like to not have to spend all the money if I can get you to shell out something).
Anyway, we weren’t going to spend a (relative) ton of money on the birthday party this year, most of our disposable income having gone to supporting our legal system (like our health system, the best in the world!). In the end, the ex caves to the kid, and I am left with a few bad choices, the least evil of which is contributing to a birthday party I cannot afford and which even has my daughter a bit nervous due to the social complications.
Indoor water park, here we come. Or rather, there they go. After last year’s birthday fiasco, I will send my money, but not myself. I will celebrate my daughter’s birthday with her in a less populated venue, with fewer guests and fewer complications, the week before.
Stay tuned for Part 3!
The Birthday Party, part I
Ever since my dog got hit by a car the day before my 20th birthday, the occasion has seemed less than auspicious. After all, if the magic of your birthday can’t keep your dog from getting hit, how much power does it really have?
When I was a kid, of course, birthdays were magic. By themselves, they turned a day no different on the calendar from any other into the most special day of the year.Did we have to do anything special in those days, other than cover a cake with candles, sing a song, and open up cards from every relative I knew? I remember that one year we had all my party at the Frontier Inn (of blessed memory), a cowboy-themed hamburger joint, but mostly I remember parties in the house. I remember a lot of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, dropping clothespins into milk bottles (clothespins! milk bottles!), duck-duck-goose, red rover if we could play outside, and then the same games at other kids’ houses. What I don’t remember is coming back from those parties thinking that they were lame, or that the goody bags weren’t good enough, or that the experience wasn’t novel enough. Sure, in time party anxiety crept in–were other people having a good time, was the party a success, but not until late junior high.
At least that’s how I remember it.
My last birthday party, my 50th, was horrid. My best and oldest friend had just died, I wasn’t happy about turning 50, I didn’t like where I was in life, and I sure as hell made it fucking well clear that I DID NOT WANT A FUCKING BIRTHDAY PARTY. But that’s another story.
This story is about my daughter’s forthcoming party, and how difficult it is to plan the damn thing. As a parent, I want her birthdays at this age to still retain that aforementioned magic but it’s getting harder.
On top of it all, there’s even a more than reasonable chance that I won’t have a home to throw the birthday party in.