Reveling

Gourmet Hot Cocoa Lotus Leaf Madcap Cafe 7-1-0...
Image by stevendepolo via Flickr

Every Sunday morning this winter, I drove down to South San Francisco.  I knocked on Joe’s door and waited to hear the high-pitched squeal of excitement from Jack.  Sometimes he threw himself at me when the door opened and sometimes he stood at the top of the stairs and announced something like, “OF COURSE it’s my mom!”  He would then spend 10 minutes or so showing off his most recent toy or Lego creation before shoving me out the door while declaring, “It’s time to go now!”

After pick-up, we drove down to Peet’s where Jack ordered “kid coffee” (aka hot cocoa) and I get the real stuff.  This has become our Sunday ritual and Jack totally knows the drill now.  He gets up on his tip toes to peer over the counter and orders for himself, “I want kid coffee please!  And pumpkin bread!”  The cashier gets clarification from me on what kid coffee means after chuckling.  Then Jack leads me to a table where he stuffs over-sized bites of pumpkin bread in his mouth while I sip my mocha.

Joe’s work schedule changes again this week, so there will be no more Sunday pick-ups.  Instead Jack and I will spend every weekend together until September.  We’ll come up with a new ritual, like homemade hot cocoa and waffles or a walk to the donut shop on Saturday mornings.  Who knows.

I enjoyed similar rituals with my mom growing up and it’s one of only a few things about my childhood that I am choosing to recreate for Jack.  Before becoming a parent, I dreamed of sitting down with my child, focusing on his company, hearing about his latest adventures, and reconnecting with him.  These are the moments when time stands still and I completely revel in being a mom.

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Little mister

Sometimes I look at Jack and can see our future, see him as a teenager.  He is so serious when he says, “Well, mom, when you said that it hurt my feelings,” or “Mom, I didn’t like that.  I’m going away from you.”  He is trying to be grown up and yet so obviously unprepared to deal with what that means.  I know how he feels.

Jack has a close friend at daycare again.  He and Sydney are often chasing each other around when I arrive to pick Jack up.  On the drive home yesterday, Jack told me, “Sydney is my best friend, mom.  She’s a nice girl.”  I’m thankful her parents have kept her in the daycare rather than moving her to preschool.  I worry about the day the two kids will be split up, though.  I wish I could give Jack the kind of childhood where he grows up with the kids down the street.  I’m not sure that kind of life exists in the city.

When we get home for the day, Jack usually runs to the front door and announces “I beat you!”  This time, he forgot to run and I got there first.  He dissolved into tears because he wanted to win.  I tried to explain that sometimes other people have to win: “you can’t win all the time but you should always try your best.”  He didn’t like that, of course.  I took him back outside to redo the “race” and halfway to the door he turned around and hit me to make sure I wouldn’t beat him to the door.  That brought on another explanation about how we don’t sabotage others just because we want to win very badly…yes, these are the conversations I have with my not-quite-4 year old child.  I’m sure I will repeat them over and over as he grows.

Lately Jack has become attached to a stuffed monster he calls Starbucks.  (How’s that for a sign of the times?)  He brings that monster to daycare every day.  Today he forgot and I was running late so I neglected to remind him prior to leaving the house.  We pulled up to G’s house and I unbuckled the carseat.  Jack started looking for Starbucks right away and my heart sank.  I saw his face when he couldn’t find his monster and when he asked me where it was, I told him the bad news.  Cue tears.  I felt like crying, too.  “I’m sorry we forgot Starbucks, honey.  I will bring him to you when I pick you up today.  I know you will miss him today.”  I considered going back home to get his toy before driving to work…  “He’ll recover,” G said.  I know she was right but still…I wish I had gone back home.

Primary

I never wanted to be a single parent.  I certainly would never have chosen to have a baby on my own – I know what raising a child on your own is like because I was one of three kids my single mom raised.  It has always been very important to me that my child have two parents that contributed equally to raising him.  I didn’t plan for divorce and was convinced it wouldn’t be part of Jack’s life.  Somehow, things didn’t quite turn out the way I thought they would.  Surprising, huh?

To be honest, I’ve felt mostly like a single parent since Jack was born.  At first I thought it was an inherent thing that went along with breastfeeding.  Jack nursed so often and seemed so attached to me – how was it even possible to distribute his care evenly between parents?  Then I was the one washing all the bottles and diapers, cooking dinner, paying bills, putting Jack to bed every night, doing daycare duty, and waking up to comfort him in the middle of the night because I had a shorter commute to work and Joe needed to be rested for school…and I was first in line to take days off when he was sick since I got paid vacation days.  Then there were football Sundays and “I need to get out and hike while there is sun!” days.  I began spending my Sundays with those friends of mine who loved to distract Jack long enough for me to drink a cup of coffee.

When Joe and I went our separate ways, I was actually surprised at how little things changed.  It did free up 3 out of 7 nights of bedtime duty for me.  Other than that, I was still doing all the diaper laundry (until I said I would no longer wash the ones sent with him to his dad’s), responsible for daycare drop off and pick up, and I paid the daycare provider every month, in full, whether the 20% child support check came or not.  I’m still first in line to take a day off when Jack is sick or his daycare is closed; I don’t have the option to say “I can’t.”  So, even though Jack’s dad is very much in his life, I feel like a single parent the majority of the time.

I am sure I contribute to this dynamic in my life.  I always had trouble being assertive in my marriage and I still struggle with this.  I try to avoid conflict, and when it can’t be avoided all of the frustration comes out at one time and isn’t quite productive.  I have thus far avoided getting the state involved in any of the custody and child support issues because I know that Jack’s dad is a good person who is trying to do his best to care for his son.  I know he wishes he could do more and I don’t think it’s fair to cripple him with a wage garnishment order, for instance, when I’m able to make ends meet.

Still, I get tired and have days or weeks where I am at the end of my rope.  I get frustrated that, although I have the lion’s share of responsibilities toward Jack, the times I get to spend with him at home are at the whim of his father’s schedule.  I get upset at myself for ending up in this situation and I wonder if I made the right decisions along the way (did I do the best with the information I had at the time or was I delusional?).  I worry about whether it’s right to lean on David for help and how much responsibility for Jack’s care belongs to him since we live together in a committed relationship.

I know it’s common for parents to go through an adjustment period to figure out division of labor and responsibilities when a child comes into their lives.  Some couples figure out how to balance things and some couples do not.  It gets trickier when there is a divorce and additional parental figures involved; i.e., if I need to work late, who do I call for Jack’s care – the partner I live with or the father who sees Jack only two days a week?  I still don’t know the right answer but it seems to be up to me to figure it out…