My oldest is going through the college application process. It’s stressful. I’m not sure whether he’ll get his first choice, I’m not sure how it will all work out with financial aid/scholarships, etc., but that is my stress. I want him to concentrate only on getting in somewhere, somehow we’ll figure out the rest. He and I agree on one thing. The goal is for him to go to a residential college and live on campus, preferably hours or even a plane ride away. I know there are many different ways to get a college education, from living on campus to strictly online. And I know it’s a personal and family and financial decision. But I want my son, and then later my daughters, to go away. It’s largely because of the divorce.
For years the children have had to navigate a visitation schedule on top of all of their many activities. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: The cute little visitation schedule that divorced families create when the kids are little turns to a burden when those same kids hit middle school and beyond, especially if the kids are involved in sports or other school activities. You can divide time all you want, put at some point there are many other demands on those same hours. You think you can’t split the baby? Try splitting a teen. When kids get older, parents are no longer in control of their time, other people and institutions set your kids’ schedule, and let me tell you, they don’t care about the custody order. But for us, when something pops up on the calendar, our first thought for years has been, “Wait, is that a Daddy day?” The schedule has given the children an added stress that’s frankly getting really old.
Also, though I was able to keep the kids in the same schools, we had to move to a neighborhood that carries a bit of a stigma (understatement). It’s safe; it’s just not very nice. The kids had no choice in this. I barely had a choice, except as a compromise to keep them in the same school. It was an obvious compromise, just like so many things in our daily lives, occasioned by the divorce. My Ex-Husband has remarried, and I’m assuming happily remarried, but for the kids that carries with it an obligation to meet and mingle with an entirely new extended family. It’s not that there is anything wrong with the new people, it’s just yet another community that the kids are unfamiliar with, did not choose to join, and to which they have no connection. It’s an addition to already divided time.
“Wait, where are we going now?” is something my kids have to deal with a lot.
So yes, fly, fly away, little bird. Go and study and stay in one place.
I support my son trying to get into a school where he would have to live on campus, one that is not close to home, where he will not have the ability or expectation to come home on weekends. I want him, for the first time in his life since childhood, to live and STAY in a community of his choosing and not commute between two or more worlds. I want him to make friends and have the ability to hang out with them whenever he wants, without regard to his parents’ schedules.
Right now, my kids are living in a very artificial world. Usually, for two parent families or single parent families when the other parent is not in the picture, a teen is not required to spend Saturday night with his or her parents and siblings. Normally, a kid is not required to travel to another house for a three-hour dinner on a school night unless they have a valid, acceptable excuse not to go. In our house there are days that my kids leave the house at 7:00 am and do not return until after 8:30 pm on a school night and then start their homework. Don’t get me wrong, family time is great. Having dinner together is important, but as kids get older on which days that happens and how much time it takes should naturally change, without getting lawyers involved. The way it is now? Not natural.
And as my son ages out of the required visitation schedule, I do not want him to be anywhere nearby where he’ll either feel pressure to continue to honor the visitations or guilt when he doesn’t. Imagine if he was living at home while his younger siblings still went on the visits. His not going would be a statement. His choosing to go would be a statement. I don’t want him to have to make statements anymore. I just want him to study and grow as an adult and connect with family because he wants to, not because he’s required to, or is afraid of the fallout if he doesn’t. I want him to be able to make plans for consecutive weekends. (Gasp!) And I don’t want him to need a ride or a car or permission or explanation. I want him to manage his own schedule without regard to the custody order entered into when he was elementary school. And I don’t want him to have to adapt to new people, extended families, and sketchy neighborhoods that were the choices of his parents– not him. It’ll be the first time he’ll be on an even playing field with fellow students of similar abilities. He’ll actually live where he fits in and won’t have to commute elsewhere to put time in different communities. I want him free from being defined by his neighborhood, his parents’ marital status, or an old court visitation order.
I want him to be somewhere where no one is expected (or required) to spend time with either parent.
My son is troubled. He’s a complicated, quiet young man. He’s anxious to go away. He understands the difficulties of the home situation more than he talks about and he plays the game. He picks and chooses when to approach his dad about a change in the schedule, knowing that asking too often will make his dad angry and might draw a “no” when he really needs a “yes.” My ex-husband is sometimes less open to the kids choosing to spend time elsewhere unless it is a sanctioned school activity. He takes it personally. In response to the boy’s request to go to an end of the season sports party (they’d won states — yay!) on a “Dad Day” my ex-husband texted me, and said,
“He’s going to have to miss things to spend time with me. The kids need to know that.”
Well, no more. I want the boy to live in a community of his choosing, day and night, a community that reflects his interests, his abilities and his personality. And one that values his time. Of course I’ll miss him and I’ll look forward to him coming home on holidays and some breaks, but I think it would be a breath of fresh air if, for the first time, when Mom or Dad want to see him, we will have to carry our behinds to him, on his schedule, that is, if he’s available.
Just Me With . . . a little birdie planning to leave the nest — or should I say “nests.”
All of this reminds me of when I went away to college many moons ago, and my ex-husband, then boyfriend, still scheduled my time with him. See, The Night I Became Cinderella.
I’m just trying to make it “One Day At A Time” like divorced TV mom Annie Romano, except that I have two Barbaras and two Julies, and a boy.
Let me set the scene. As per usual I was unsuccessful in getting certain tasks completed before the kids came back from a visit with their dad. As per usual none of the kids gave the requested heads up text to let me know they were on their way before they came. (I didn’t know what time they were coming home, only that they’d be home earlier than the required drop off time because one of the kids had a rehearsal.)
So the kids walked in to me in the middle of various projects — hanging a shelf, bagging their clothes they refused to wash, my private journal open on the kitchen table and Sex and The City blaring on all three TVs. (It’s one of my secret single behaviors to turn on all the TVs while cleaning so as I’m walking around the house I can still hear and glance at whatever is on. Don’t judge.) I was startled and felt like I got caught doing something wrong.
Turns out, I apparently had done something wrong.
My cleaning and organizing efforts were rewarded with a fit of rage from the Anxious child. Her twin, the Angry child was — guess what? Angry. As per usual, she did not enjoy her visit with her dad and brought her frustration home to me. The other kids just breezed in, dropped their stuff where they felt like it and perched various places in the house to eat the fast food their dad sent them home with. Someone got the Angry child’s order wrong and she was angry about that, too, no surprise. Somehow this anger was directed toward me.
It is always stressful when the kids get home. They’d only been gone for twenty-eight hours but the whole visitation process: getting them ready and out of the door when they’d rather not go, their behavior when they return, my guilt over how I choose spend my time when they are gone (not getting enough done, not having any fun) is always difficult. See Weekends Off.
After the tirade from the Anxious and Angry twins and my frustrated response, I still had to drive the oldest to rehearsal and get some dinner for myself.
During the drive I tried some relaxation techniques I’ve been reading about. I took deep breaths. I sat in my car for a bit to calm down. And, in an uncharacteristic move, when I returned I decided to sit down and watch something funny. Normally I would hide from my ill-tempered children or launch into a series of chores and attempt to get them to do the same. But instead I loaded the DVD player with my new favorite guilty pleasure, Pitch Perfect. Don’t judge. Okay, go ahead and judge. And yes, we own it.
The girls joined me. When he returned from his rehearsal, the Arrogant one — the boy, retired to his boudoir as per usual. To his credit, he was doing a massive amount of homework that he saved for when he got back from the visit. His choice, his stress.
What people say about humor and music is true. Watching Pitch Perfect made me feel better. Miraculously, both the Anxious child and her twin, the Angry child, calmed down.
But when I got up to go into the kitchen to get a drink, however, I was met with a surprise.
Someone had opened every single cabinet and drawer in the kitchen.
It’s not just a matter of neatness, leaving cabinets open has scared the bejesus out of me way back to The Sixth Sense!
Do you remember the abused ghost wife and the open cabinets in The Sixth Sense?
I stopped dead in my tracks. I was already emotionally fragile.
I WAS TRYING TO CALM DOWN!!!!!
But those people I made, those people I grew in my belly like mold, those people know that having all the cabinets and drawers open frightens me!
It probably goes back to Poltergeist as well.
I just don’t do well with kitchen surprises. I’m okay with bugs, I’ve dealt with some nasty stuff, see Piss, Puke and Porn, but open cabinets — scare me.
I froze in my steps, mouth agape. When I could finally move I gingerly walked the five steps back into the family room and cried to my four female spawn,
“WHO DID THAT? You know that scares me!”
Then I collapsed on the floor and laughed so hard I cried. I didn’t go back in my kitchen until I got a confession out of the Quirky one and ordered her to go in there and close everything up.
Oh, those people I made all had a good laugh about it. Great big belly laughs. I was a hysterical mess on the floor, but unlike some of my past days, it was in a good way.
I guess the experts are right that laughter helps with depression and anxiety.
But does it have to be at my expense? Does it?
I just looked at my girl, the Quirky one — the Offender, and said,
“You used to be one of the ones that I liked.”
Just Me With . . . a weird phobia, an unexpectedly devious Quirky child and a good laugh — on the floor.
Given my mood, it was a bold move on the Quirky One’s part. I have to respect her risk-taking.
Shout out to Merbear who inspired me to write something positive about my girls. Well, I don’t know if it was positive, damn kids.
Other Kitchen Surprises:
I was listening to some radio show where they asked a little girl what she wanted for Christmas. She said, “A stuffed animal.” She said Santa could choose what kind. When asked if she wanted anything else, she added, “Chapstick.”
With all the ads and shopping frenzy it occurred to me that it’s easy to ignore the actual requests of children — and adults. Despite the elaborate Barbie houses and race car sets and “i” everything and “e” readers and bright lights and touch screens, sometimes it’s the simple things that matter. Now I’m not perfect. There have been times when I’ve over indulged my children and there have been times when my children were sorely disappointed, but here’s a list of some of the simple things that brought joy:
1. Goggles. One year when my daughter was little all she asked for was goggles. I guess Santa went to Home Depot, because a $2 pair of plastic work goggles appeared on Christmas morning and the girl was ecstatic.
2. Stuffed Animal. My kid was just like the girl on the radio, except she was older, maybe eleven years old, right on the edge of the electronic appetite. But she has always loved to cuddle with soft stuffed things. Still does, even in her advancing teen years. The stuffed bunny she received that year “lives” in her room and she takes it with her on sleepovers and visits with her dad.
3. Nothing. Babies are simple creatures. They like to look at bright lights. When they are older they play with boxes. Except for maybe purchasing something they may have needed anyway (a new teether or sleepers), babies don’t need anything for Christmas except someone to show them the pretty lights and sing to them. Sometimes I would ball up pieces of wrapping paper and toss it to the babies (under supervision of course, can’t let the little angels eat paper) and the babies would be occupied trying to pick up the strange, shiny ball.
4. Etch-a-Sketch. Low-tech. Gender-neutral. Hours of fun. Needs no insurance. When it breaks (and it will) it will have served its purpose and you can replace it, or not.
5. Coupon for Playing a Video Game with My Son. Okay, so this one hurt a bit. But it cost me nothing, except for maybe a couple of Tylenol. I’m not a gamer. I do a lot of activities with my kids, but gaming, at least the warfare type, has never been my cup of tea. But one Christmas I gave him a coupon promising an hour of video game time with me. I broke it up in two segments. It was horrible. I’m horrible. I tried to do my best, but I shot at the ground, repeatedly. He took great joy in this. But bonus? He doesn’t ask me to play anymore. On occasion I’ll him ask if I can play and I get the response,
“No, Mom, no.”
6. A lock box. This wasn’t for my kids, it was for another relative. He was twenty something and had mentioned in passing that he always wanted a safe. I think he was recently out of college at the time and literally had nothing of value to protect, but I guess he had some personal items, because when he opened that fireproof lockbox safe ($19.99) he laughed broadly and exclaimed,
“I always wanted one of these!” At six feet five inches tall, he was like a big little kid.
“Thank you!” He continued to smile as he examined his box with the same look of joy and amazement he used to have when opening a new Lego set.
I don’t want to know what he keeps in that box.
Just Me With . . . thoughts on keeping it simple.
There have been others, but I’m trying to keep this simple, and short.
Other holiday related posts:
Blowing Off the Holidays — Just say no.
Time Management, Procrastination, Holiday Shopping and Moving — Some things will take exactly as much time as you allot to them.
The Annual Christmas Party — At Least I Wasn’t Insulted This Year — Unfortunate comment.
All I Want for Christmas is My Kids — Splitting the babies after divorce.
A Good Neighbor, An Accidental Friend, and a Christmas Surprise — You never know the impact people have on each other.
My First Grown Up Thanksgiving — Kind Of — Thanksgiving my my house, without my kids.
Craigslist Angels — One Man’s Trash Is Another Man’s Treasure — Giving Away Christmas Decorations Can Be A Very Good Thing.
Yeah, I know, Father’s Day is over. But here’s a story about my Daddy.
When I was little my dad was a teacher, but at a residential school for delinquent youth. This meant that in addition to his classes he had to work night shifts at the school. When I was in kindergarten he worked from 1 to 9 pm. My mom was teaching during the day while my older sisters were in school. So it was Just Me With . . . my Daddy in the mornings before I went to afternoon kindergarten and he went to work.
One day my dad was fixing my lunch, which meant he was heating up a can of soup. He’d put the soup on the stove and went outside. My dad is not the kind of guy who sits still for very long. I think he was working in the yard or something.
But he forgot about the soup.
My five-year-old self saw the soup boiling over and ran outside,
Of course he didn’t come right away. But I persisted and screamed,
“Daddy, Daddy, come QUICK!”
I’d made him listen to me. He ran inside, turned the burner off and the crisis was averted. The house did not burn down. All was right with the world. I had saved the day.
He was so proud of me for making him listen. He was so pleased in fact that he took me out to the toy store and let me pick out a Teddy Bear.
Now, we were not a wealthy family. We got presents for Christmas and birthdays, I’m guessing picked out by my mom, and our parents provided us with what we needed, but “just because” presents were few and far between. Plus . . . I’m just going to say it, my Dad is, well, . . . frugal (the voices in my head are screaming CHEAP!!!!!). My Dad buying a gift for me when it was not a national holiday was a big deal. Even at five I knew that.
Most importantly, my Daddy made me feel like I saved the day. He was impressed with his baby girl and let everyone know it. It might not sound like much, but it must have meant a lot to him. He has retold this story countless times over the years. And to hear my Dad tell this story, mimicking my little girl voice — “Daddy, Daddy, Come Quick!!!” — is just the sweetest thing ever! Notably, he usually leaves out the part about buying me a Teddy Bear.
I had made him listen, and he made me feel important — and a little bit like a superhero.
That Teddy Bear was one of my most precious toys, she stayed with me for years to come. I credit my Dad with instilling in me the feeling that I matter in this world and that I can make a difference. It’s the little things.
And bonus, my older (evil) sisters were sooooo jealous that I got a present. Heh heh heh
Just Me With . . . a Dad who made me feel like I have the ability to save the world! [insert Superhero music]
Narrator: There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone.
— The Twilight Zone, 1959, Season One
My narrator: Meet Roxanne, a divorced mother of five who sometimes forgets to eat, or chooses to save a simple breakfast bar for her children rather than “waste” it on herself. It’s an ordinary day for Roxanne, who had left home for her only true indulgence — getting her morning coffee. She didn’t know that when she returned into her neighborhood, she would cross into . . . The Twilight Zone.
Over the weekend we had some icy snow in my part of the world. I was out running errands (in other words: getting coffee). On the way home I was wondering whether I could get my children to shovel the sidewalks for me, doubted that they would before going to visit their father and worried about whether doing it myself would throw my back out again. My Aching Back A neighbor offered to pay my daughter to do hers. I wished that daughter or any of the children would do ours also, without back talk, threats or rewards — and before they had to go. It probably wouldn’t happen. I got my coffee, and while there I picked up my daughter’s favorite breakfast sandwich as a treat, plus I wanted her to get something warm in her belly before going out to shovel the neighbor’s walkway. As is often the case, I didn’t get a sandwich for myself, saving a couple of bucks, not wanting to spend the money on — me. As I turned into my neighborhood, I had my daily thoughts of “I really hate this neighborhood, I don’t like living here.” Followed by, “I wonder if I can figure out a way to move again but keep the kids in the same schools.” And rounding out the trilogy, “Don’t be ridiculous, there’s no reason to move except that you don’t like it here and that’s just not a good enough reason.”
Given all these thoughts rushing through my head it was rather amazing that I happened to spot a woman on the side of the road. She had plastic grocery store bags spread in front of her in the snow, was shaking and clenching her hands and seemed to be trying to figure out a way to pick them up again. Clearly she was struggling to carry her groceries home in the snow.
I stopped, backed up, asked if she wanted a ride. She only gave pause for a moment and eyed me to make sure I didn’t look like a crazy. (Sometimes I can appear quite normal . . . but I digress). It was bitter cold outside. She accepted the ride, put her bags in the back seat and sat up front next to me, thanking me. She explained that she rushed out so quickly to get some things from the store that she had forgotten her gloves. It wasn’t that the bags were heavy, she said, it was that her hands were frozen and she couldn’t hold them anymore. “My hands hurt so bad,” she said.
It didn’t really matter to me why she was in her predicament, I just wanted to get her home. It was too damn cold and icy to walk, especially with groceries, no cart and no gloves. She went on to explain that her brother couldn’t shovel the car out because of his eye. His eye. Huh. I pondered this. Why would his eye keep him from shoveling . . . maybe he’d had surgery? I drifted off to my own little world, thoughts racing for first place in my head.
Then my passenger said, “I’m Roxanne.”
Skid marks on the brain. Thoughts stopped on a dime.
“Get OUT!!!” I responded, perhaps a little too energetically, reminiscent of Elaine from Seinfeld.
“What?” she responded, looking concerned. It was an unfortunate choice of words for my exclamation — I mean, saying “Get Out!” to a passenger in my car! Smooth, Roxanne.
“MY name is Roxanne,” I quickly explained.
“Yes. Really. Wow, that’s wild.” It’s a fairly uncommon name. It was surreal.
Roxanne said that I could drop her at a nearby intersection but I told her, no, I would take her all the way home. During the ride I discovered that we had gone to the same high school, and though I had assumed she was older than me, it turned out but she was too young for me even to have known her from school. She appeared worn beyond her years. I didn’t recall ever having seen her in the neighborhood or around town. It was odd.
So what of my surprise passenger, Roxanne? A woman who shared my name, who was walking alone in the snow-covered street, who failed to think of her own needs while rushing to meet the needs of others. The consequences of her neglect of self was finding herself standing in the snow with frozen fingers, groceries at her feet and blocks from home. For whatever reason– her family was not there to help her and she had to accept a ride from a stranger.
It gave me pause.
I’m that Roxanne, too, coming home with a sandwich for a child so that she could shovel another family’s walk but bringing no food for myself.
I almost said to the other Roxanne, “How could you leave home without gloves? You’ve got to take care of yourself. You’re no good to anybody if you get sick or frostbite.” But what stopped me, other than that being creepy coming from a stranger, is that other people have been saying that to me lately. My therapeutic goals are largely based upon meeting my basic self-care needs without guilt.
“Roxanne, have you been eating and sleeping? You can’t take care of your family if you don’t take care yourself.” I’ve heard often. Too often.
Did the universe send me that other Roxanne to remind me that I need to help myself? I mean, I know that when I get sick, the whole system fails. I know this, yet I still need reminders that protecting myself from the elements, eating, sleeping and yes even doing something just for my sheer enjoyment of it is as important as, well — anything. Somehow, that reminder got in my car that day, and her name was Roxanne.
I dropped Roxanne off feeling good about having helped her, since it was so very cold outside, but I knew that both of us need to take care of ourselves. I need to take care of me.
Maybe picking up a reflection of myself — what I could become, what I have been . . . was meant to be that day.
My Narrator: Roxanne, a functioning, yet melancholy divorced mother who often puts her basic needs well behind those in her care, stops in the snow to assist an eerily familiar woman in distress, a woman who perhaps shares more than just her name in . . . The Twilight Zone.
Just Me With . . . an over-active imagination?
P.S. I told my therapist about it. She queried whether the woman was real.
I’m not even going there.
See the Sequel: The Twilight Zone — Again? Seriously?
Thanks to “Lipstick & Playdates” for –A Tribute To Shirley Partridge: The Coolest Single Mom Of All Time — for the great post. I started a comment, got a notification on my iPhone and couldn’t find it again. So I wrote a little post.
I completely agree, Shirley Partridge was the coolest single mom. But, had Shirley Partridge been a current day divorced single mom rather than a widow it would have been completely different.
There’s simply no way she could fit rehearsals and gigs in around the kids’ school work and visitations with Daddy. No way.
” You want us for a great gig next month? Oh sorry, no, the kids have to visit their father that day, any other dates? I can see if I can switch. Can I get back to you? No? “
Mr. Partridge would have the final say-so. If he won’t switch dates, no gig. Gotta work around “the schedule.”
And what about that cool bus? Painting that bus would surely have been used as evidence against Shirley, calling into question her sanity and her parenting ability.
I can see it now:
Lawyer: Mrs. Partridge, how do you and the children expect to travel to these, what do you call them?
Mrs. Partridge: Gigs.
Lawyer: Gigs? Ah, yes, gigs. And again, how do you suppose to arrive at the destination of these gigs.
Mrs. Partridge: By bus.
Mrs. Partridge: Yes.
Lawyer: How did it come to look like this?
Lawyer: The children painted an old bus. No further questions . . . except . . . Tell me, does Danny play football?
Mrs. Partridge: What? No. Have you seen Danny? No. He has no interest. Plus, the other kids would probably kill him or he’d convince them to kill each other.
Mrs. Partridge’s family time consists of children either spending countless hours in the garage playing rock music or riding for hours on a psychedelic bus going who knows where to be put on display . . .
And consider this young boy, Danny — instead of playing football or soccer as young boys should, he’s painting buses and playing bass in a “family” rock band. It seems that a lack of male influence is having an unfortunate effect on this boy.
Then there is a “Manager” — music business executive — a man — seen coming and going from the house at all hours, and spending time alone with the children, including a teenaged girl.
This is no kind of family life to model for these impressionable minds. Clearly, Mr. Partridge is within his rights to prohibit his children from performing in this “band” and disallow any changes in the visitation schedule to accomodate such a pursuit. Such rehearsals and performances should not interfere with the time the children are scheduled to spend with Mr. Partridge and his second wife and growing family.
Mr. Partridge is making a family. Mrs. Partridge is making a band.
No, no, no. Had Shirley been going through a divorce she would have been forced into the traditional suburban housewife role. Ironic, isn’t it? She’d probably have to take a low paying but steady, boring job, pay other people to give the children music lessons and present them, like clockwork and with a smile, to the court devised visits with their father. There would simply be no time for a band. Time can be divided upon divorce, but not created. And interests that may have been supported within a marriage, can become a battleground after. Yup, Mrs. Partridge would pretty much have to walk the straight and narrow and live by schedules forced upon her by somebody else’s system — somebody who has never even thought about playing in a band.
Yeah, I’m guessing divorced Shirley girl would always have open bottle of Xanax or Vodka nearby. That’s much more acceptable to most: misery and medication — over music.
Just Me With . . . no band, no bus, and a drum kit collecting dust in my basement.
Bitter in Suburbia.
My daughter recently asked me if she could fake being sick to get out of spending Thanksgiving with her Dad’s new wife’s family. Of course I said no. She’s a kid, and basically she has to go with the grown-ups. But it got me to thinking. For an adult, who, for whatever reason, wants out but doesn’t want to offend, here are some excuses to use to get out of the holiday dinner.
1. Fake illness.
Yes, my daughter is a genius. A stomach virus works best, because no one wants the prospect of developing diarrhea after sharing a big meal with you. But food poisoning is perfect — it only lasts 24 hours, so when you show up at the stores on Black Friday after having skipped Thanksgiving with the family, you won’t be “outed.” Ladies, just don’t use blush the next day. You’ve got to look a bit pale when seen in public again.
2. I have to study.
Students, you are very, very lucky, you’ve got a built-in excuse. The higher the education, the easier it is to use. When I was in law school, all I had to say was — exams. People pretty much left me alone. I would imagine a simple word like “dissertation” would send people backing slowly out of the room. I used the “exams” excuse once. Actually, it was true, and effective. I ate a convenience store turkey sandwich and studied at home alone. Very relaxing, and productive.
3. Fake or exaggerate your child’s illness.
Okay, this one seems creepy, but even if your kid is on the mend with barely a sniffle, you could rock the “I don’t want to expose him/her to everybody,” excuse. Then you sit home, watch movies and cuddle. Again, very relaxing.
4. Pick a fight with your significant other.
You really have to want to skip the dinner to do this, but let’s face it, we probably all know how to do it. Then, tell him/her to figure out what to say because “I’m not going!” The offended significant other can consult this same list. Bonus, your significant other may bring you back a plate.
5. For those expected to travel, say you just can’t afford it this year.
It’s tough out there. You can’t afford a ticket, gas, car needs repair, whatever. You do run the risk that someone will offer to pay your way. If that happens, carry your butt to dinner, you’ve got good peeps.
Just Me With . . . a holiday opt-out plan.
Thankfully, my kids have all been healthy. Their gross motor skills developed early. Translated, that means as toddlers they were (are still) runners, climbers and jumpers.
Once somebody gave me one of those big plastic houses kids are supposed to play house in. I had space inside so I put in it the family room. Not once did my girls play house in it. No, no. They did, however, stand on top of it and jump off, repeatedly. Had to get rid of it. That cute little house was a safety hazard for my twins, two of whom I call Thelma and Louise . . . but I digress.
We had a long informal dining table, also given to us. With the leaves attached it sat eight people. It was just the size we needed. However, according to my Olympic monkey children it was also long enough to run across. Again, a safety hazard. The table wasn’t that long and once the toddler runs and reaches the end? BAM! No, this was not going to work. I’d caught the kids right before falls on previous table running attempts but sooner or later my luck would run out. My daily goal back then was just to stay out of the Emergency Room (and off the Six O’clock news).
Still, I needed a table, so it could not suffer the fate of the play house. The table and the children must learn to co-exist safely. But the children were still little, they were at that age where I could really only chase behind them. They had no concept of consequences, danger, or any real responsiveness to my voice — they were all,
“Oh I can run, I can climb. Therefore, I will run and I will climb — all the time.”
And all my parental, “No, Stop! Wait!!” and all that jazz — meant nothing.
Absolutely, nothing. Say it again, y’all . . .
Back to the problem. How to keep the girls off the table? (Later it’ll be how to keep them off the pole, but I digress again.) They could only get on the table by first climbing on the chairs, but simply moving the chairs away from the table had not worked. These minions simply pushed them back to the table and climbed up, then a sibling would follow and in a blink of an eye, I had a line-up of miniature Village People looking toddlers on a table.
No, no. I needed something more secure.
I think it started with a jump rope. No, I didn’t tie the children up (not then, heh heh heh).
But after every meal, I would push the chairs in, grab a rope, thread it through the chairs around the table and tie them up in a nice knot.
The children’s fine motor skills had not developed enough to untie the rope. They weren’t (yet) strong enough to pull the chairs away, though they tried.
I didn’t realize how weird it was until a friend from out-of-town came to visit. We sat at the table together, ate, fed the kids. When we were finished I cleared the table, got out the rope and proceeded to tie the chairs around the table while we were chatting away.
She stopped talking and said, carefully, slowly, like talking to a crazy person:
“What are you . . . doing?’
Oh snap, sometimes you don’t know how strange and dysfunctional you are until there is someone to see it.
Me: “You mean you don’t tie your chairs together after every meal?”
Sometimes the kids did listen to me, even when I didn’t want them to. See, “Momma said, No!“
We do not have holidays spelled out in the Custody Order, rather, we are supposed to work it out, so this is a big deal. I’ve always had the kids at Christmas since our separation, he’s always had them at Thanksgiving. This is really an extension of what happened during our marriage. We spent Thanksgiving with his family, and Christmas with mine. That worked for us. In fact, when we were together I spent Easter and all of the barbecue holidays (Independence Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day) with his family. I traded all celebrations throughout the year just to get Christmas.
Last Christmas when I asked for the kids over Christmas break, he said fine but added that one of these years he’s going to want them at Christmas. That scared me. He meant it to scare me, I believe. But then he and his wife (then girlfriend) went on a beach vacation together over the holidays. He didn’t even spend it with his family, something the kids noticed and openly wondered about. “Why didn’t Daddy spend Christmas with his own family?” they asked. (No comment.) Last week I heard from the kids that my Ex-husband had already made Thanksgiving plans with the kids, his wife, and her extended family (again, not his family, something the kids are upset about, but again, no comment). I hoped that this meant that he would honor our tradition of “letting” me having the kids at Christmas. But one never knows. There’s a new wife in town now. Plus, my Ex can be mean. When I had to speak to my Ex about Summer vacation plans he yelled at me for almost an hour about various unrelated crap before eventually saying, “Go on take them for as long as you want. I don’t care, just let me know.” Haven’t been feeling up for a verbal beat down like that again.
So today, when he informed me he’d be traveling for work and would miss his visitations with the kids for the next couple of weeks, I finally got the nerve to ask him about the holidays. He was completely fine with it, not even a pause. My guess is he had already made plans with his wife anyway and/or assumed I’d take the kids regardless. He assumes and makes plans. I ask permission. (Yeah, I know, I see it, I’m working on it, acknowledging his rights does not mean being a doormat, but this is a lifelong pattern of accommodation I’m dealing with “My High School Self”. ) My Ex-Husband added that he had been planning to tell me that Christmas presents for the kids from him will be sparse this year, his wife isn’t working and he’s struggling. (No comment.) I’m just glad, hell, I’m freaking rejoicing in the fact that now I can openly discuss Christmas and that I didn’t first have to take a verbal beat down for the privilege.
Christmas with my family has a special meaning for me. It’s not even particularly religious, and we’re not wealthy so it’s not about the gifts. It is, however, usually the only time that my small but geographically fractured family gets together. My sisters went to college and moved hundreds of miles away from our home of origin and never moved back. They rarely made it home for Thanksgiving, don’t always make a Summer visit, but have always made it home for Christmas, even after they married and had children of their own. They, like me, often spent Thanksgiving, Easter and Spring Break with their in-laws or their own homes but reserved Christmas for us. It’s always been that way. Perhaps it is because so many of my family members are involved in academia. Teachers, people who work for universities, and students have off the week between Christmas and New Years Day and this is when they can travel and relax. Even now, my oldest sister’s grown children with professional careers make time and arrangements to travel cross-country to be with their grandparents and the rest of the family at Christmas. I know that one day someone won’t be able to make it; I know that one year we will have lost someone. But it is our family tradition to be together, and I look forward to it. My kids look forward to it. I’m just so thankful that today I know for sure I “have permission” to continue the tradition — to spend this Christmas with my kids, together with their grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins and that my divorce did not change that — this year. What a relief.
Just Me With . . . holiday plans. Woo Hoo!!!!!!!