Calm Christmas

I absolutely didn’t expect to have a calm or very enjoyable Christmas. The weeks prior had indicated December wasn’t going to give us a break, and then Jack was slated to be with his dad all week, which generally makes it harder for me to get into the festivities. Still, I dutifully did my shopping and wrapping and decorating. It turned out to be worth it, too!

The Sunday before the holiday, I decided I didn’t care if we weren’t having a big family gathering – I was gonna bake anyway! So I got together with my friend Kurstan and we baked our hearts out. We made cookies and brownies and rice crispy treats and then split them between the two of us. I find baking relaxing and it was also wonderful to spend so much time with Kurstan – between our jobs, her upcoming wedding, and various trips and illnesses, we don’t get to just hang out as much as we’d like.

On Christmas David and I were joined by his sister Stella, my mom and her partner Jim. We opened stockings, had a delicious dinner that was just the right size, played games, and opened up a bunch of presents. We got some awesome things that we wanted and some even better things that we needed. Oh and I made a cake that David has been requesting for the past four years – it turned out perfectly delicious.

Yesterday we had tickets to go see the San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker. It was supposed to be the three of us plus Stella, but David got sick and had to stay home. Jack’s friend Alex took David’s ticket and then Alex’s family ended up getting seats behind ours, as well, so we went in a big group. Thanks to a friend I know in the ballet, we were able to get backstage and see the sets and play in the fake snow, too. It was a magical experience! I’m so glad we got to share it with friends. And Jack loved it just as much as he did two years ago!

Jack got to open all his presents yesterday. He got so much stuff! We’re not quite sure where to put it all but he is super happy with his gifts. I even scored him a couple things he didn’t know he wanted (most beloved is the fire-breathing Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon). WOOT. And he now has a TON of Dr. Who toys, including the 11th Doctor’s sonic screwdriver. He’s barely put that down since he got it. I’d say that makes him a happy camper.

So, we didn’t have a huge gathering of friends and family or a giant spread of food, plus some of our celebrating was delayed, but the holiday was pretty drama-free and relaxing. And you know what? I’ll take it!!

Happy holidays, y’all!

Child of Divorce

Since Joe’s work schedule changed recently, we have also changed our joint custody/visitation schedule.  This is the first week trying out the new pick up and drop off since the Texas trip.  Generally David will be picking Jack up from Joe’s on Thursday nights since it is on his way home from work and I don’t drive on Thursday evenings (that’s a post for another time although I’m not making any promises).  David is out of town currently so Joe was kind enough to bring Jack to my house this evening so that I wouldn’t have to drive.  This seemed like a good thing…until around bedtime.

We have a routine of tooth brushing, picking out three books, and going to bed.  I needed to tell Jack to pick out books several times and at one point Jack dissolved into tears.  He told me he was sad that his dad brought him here.  Wow, that was hard to hear!  After setting aside my own feelings on hearing that, I asked him why it made him sad.  He told me he thought his dad, stepmom, and he were visiting and then going back to his dad’s house.  I reassured him that his dad loves him and the dam broke.  I told him that it’s okay to be sad and miss his dad, that I love him too and he’ll see his dad soon.  We snuggled and talked and eventually he relaxed, smiled, laughed and was back to his goofy self.

To my knowledge, this is the first time this has happened.  Somehow we neglected to discuss the schedule change with Jack and prepare him properly, I guess.  I remember being a kid and having feelings similar to what Jack expressed tonight after getting dropped off at my mom’s or dad’s.  I think perhaps a drop-off can feel a bit like abandonment.  So heartbreaking!

There are a few ways I think we can approach this.  It might be best to avoid drop-offs.  We were doing that previously (unintentionally) but I didn’t realize how important it was until now.  Talking and hugging and reassurance seemed to help Jack a lot.  He pays a lot of attention to the messages in books, so we read The Kissing Hand tonight (it was loaned to me today – great timing!) and I recently purchased Two Homes.  I was planning on giving him Two Homes for his birthday but perhaps I need to pull it out earlier than that.

This has honestly caught me by surprise.  Perhaps due to his age, Jack has seemed mostly unaffected by the divorce until now.  I have to wonder if this incident was due to our poor preparation this once or if this will come up more as he gets older and can reason better.  Anybody know?

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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…

Visitation and missing pieces

One of the hardest parts about divorce with a child involved comes from custody and visitation arrangements. Joe and I manage pretty well with figuring this stuff out, but there are always issues somewhere!

For some reason the judge is requiring that I fill out forms (an ORDER, as verbiage in the settlement agreement just won’t do!) about which holidays belong to each parent, how many days a week each parent has, and how much support is owed. The bizarre demand for these forms is the main reason why the divorce is not yet finalized. It is frustrating because filling out the extra forms is repetitive. Also, apparently they are not required of everyone so the company I paid to draw up the papers was surprised to have to generate these forms on top of the settlement agreement! Arg! Leave it to the government to make a fairly straight-forward divorce waaaaay more complicated.

I’m not entirely sure how others arrange visitation with their exes. When I was a kid, we went to see my dad every other weekend. That seems like a ridiculously small amount of time to me now. I don’t know how my parents chose that arrangement or why anyone would really. Perhaps it was just a different time, or maybe it’s just that my dad’s lifestyle was less kid-friendly. As a child I disliked this arrangement for a couple of reasons. The first was that I wanted to see my dad more than once every two weeks. In addition, it was difficult to get into a routine when we went so long between visits. By the time the visitation weekend came around, I just wanted to stay home because I felt unused to my dad’s house again. Of course, after the weekend was over I didn’t want to leave.

In any case, the visitation arrangement between Joe and me is mostly based on our work schedules. Unfortunately equal custody was not possible at that point in time as Joe moved an hour away and we wanted to keep Jack’s daycare stable. Joe is a park ranger and his job changes seasonally, as does his schedule. He usually gets one weekday and one weekend day off. I work a typical Monday through Friday 9-5 week with Saturdays and Sundays off. Last summer when we split up, it just seemed to make sense that Joe would take Jack on his days off since they were different than mine and I’d have Jack with me more. This precedent has continued and Jack generally goes to see his dad for 2 days each week – Joe picks Jack up from daycare on Thursday and brings him to my place on his way to work Sunday morning.

We’ve tossed around other arrangement ideas, such as switching every other week, but so far we’ve stuck with what we have. It seems to work well for Jack, so I’m afraid of changing things up. Even so, I always wonder if there is a better way, especially with how things have been going lately. I have Jack five days a week, and four of those days he goes to daycare. I effectively have one day each week where I get to focus on my kid and four days where I’m carting him to and fro and splitting my attention a million different ways. I fully admit that I envy Joe’s two workless days with Jack each week. Not only does Joe get more quality time with Jack, but he also doesn’t have the daily daycare drop-off to deal with or the struggle between needing to rest after work and wanting to enjoy time with his child.

I am not writing this to say “woe is me” with regard to how things have worked out. I know that it is incredibly lucky to have things running so smoothly in a divorce situation. This is just an area that was difficult to imagine prior to the separation and I feel the need to put it into words. At any given time one of us is losing out on time with an individual we love and need desperately. We are happier and healthier than we were a year ago, but one of us is always missing something.