Right after I got divorced, there was an article in a women’s magazine that listed the reasons a person SHOULDN’T get divorced and among them was this idea that a mother would no longer have full control over her children.
The line of thinking was that if you thought your fellow was a bonehead who didn’t know how to diaper or how many chocolate chip granola bars constituted a single serving, wait until he lived in his own apartment and let your lifeblood watch every episode of every Kardashian show – and not just the ones that led to those after-school special kinds of conversations you always wanted to have with your kids.
And his girlfriend – some chick he met online who hadn’t fully divorced her first or her second husband — would be the one feeding the kids those granola bars.
Except they would be “sharing size” Snickers.
Naturally the thing to do, of course, was to suck it up and stay married so the only juice boxes in the house were the good ones from Whole Foods.
Because if you got divorced, you might have to share custody. Share ideas. Continue to share your life.
In some ways, my ex-husband and I have evolved into very different people – although at one time we were walking the same path. He lives in Bozeman, Montana, where we lived for seven years of our married life, and I live in Baltimore, where we spent the first years of our marriage and where he tried to live again after we got divorced. But he didn’t like it all that much, so he packed up and moved back west.
That means our kids spend time in both cities, which I think is awesome because they won’t grow up to be what my ex and his family fear — your typical Smalltimore children who think the world revolves around the East Coast.
I like that they know two different places really well. And they spend time with two totally different parents.
It’s all good. Our world is big enough for both parents, and the kids get the best of both worlds. Right?
Except that life – and by that, I mean parenting – is often like a video game. Just as soon as you master one level, you are kicked up to the next, and the little flying things are suddenly flying at you a heck of a lot faster.
So here’s how it usually goes: When the kids were in Montana for spring break, my ex called to say our daughter had a pretty serious toe nail infection but he wasn’t going to take her to the doctor.
Say what? I mean, I am very pro-physician for things like asthma attacks. Stitches. Blackened toenails. My ex isn’t, but hey, we had been co-parenting for a while, right?
We had a quick conversation. Then a visit was made to Urgent Care and with a follow up scheduled with a podiatrist in Baltimore. Basic Co-Parenting 101.
Then our son was texting me and he was having trouble sleeping and he didn’t want to tell his father. Our son was like that though – he liked to call me and not bother his father. This was trickier territory for me – my instinct was to help my son, but I didn’t want to undermine his father. I ended up talking on the phone about it with my ex. All good.
Next, I found out the teenaged daughter of my ex’s girlfriend had let our daughter – only 13 herself – drive her car.
And she ran a stop sign.
Deep breath, deep breath. Then a stern conversation with our daughter and a quick email to my ex.
It won’t happen again, he wrote.
By then, the kids were home from their break and that night I picked a tick out of my son’s head.
“When did you last go hiking?” I asked him.
“Four days ago.”
“Have you showered since then?”
“I haven’t really washed my hair,” he admitted. “But the tick was probably not from the hike,” he went on. “They were crawling all over the family room.”
“I’ve never seen a tick in this house,” my ex said when I called him a few days later, after our son had a fever and muscle aches. Luckily these were the symptoms of the flu – and not Lyme disease.
My ex hadn’t seen any ticks, but he had seen our son’s science project which he had left in Montana by mistake. That was overnighted.
So far, so good. We were balancing the chaos of two households in two states, the difference in our parenting styles. Finally one night at dinner, my son said his father’s girlfriend was going to dye the tips of his hair blue this summer.
“We told your sister she couldn’t dye her hair until she was 17. Why would you get to dye your hair now?” I asked him. “You’re only 10.”
“But I won’t be in school this summer, so it won’t matter. And it’s just the tips.”
And then this – his father had said he could.
That was it. Blue tips that made me see red, because we had just gone through the hair coloring debate two months ago. My ex begged to let our daughter have “face-framing highlights.” It was winter and her hair was so dull, he said. His girlfriend is a stylist and she really wanted to color it, especially since they were having family photos taken.
Are you people for real, I wanted to scream in the phone at that moment. Right after I took my angry self down to the Whole Foods so I could stock up on organic juice.
So much for being open to the notion of being open, and being grateful for the differences between me and my ex.
Here it is: I love the open spaces and freedom that Montana and my ex’s easy-going nature provide, but I wish someone would help our son pack his belongings so he didn’t always leave important stuff behind.
I love how open my kids are to new people and new experiences, so, no, I don’t think they need to be bribed with blue hair or illegal driving.
I love that they understand how big and diverse our country is, but I don’t want the experiences they have here at my house to be undervalued because they are the everyday experiences of homework and soccer practices and the latest season of “The Voice.”
No matter where they go, I still want them to remember their manners, their toothbrush, and their mother.
I don’t have any great answers on how to co-parent or any great advice for muddling through the co-mingling of ideas and families and beliefs which occurs after divorce papers have nullified a marriage.
But I don’t think the answer to that is to stay married and bend yourself into pretzel so everything goes the way you want it to.
Somewhere between the toenail and the tick and the one child’s sleeplessness, I realized once again that it will all work out.
And somewhere between the pretzel position and a Jerry Springer episode is the ideal place for a co-parenter. The trick is to stay on the trail to that destination.
And, of course, to watch out for ticks.
Jessica Gregg is a writer and teacher from Baltimore. Her work has appeared in the Baltimore Sun, the Christian Science Monitor, and Hektoen International. She regularly blogs here at www.charmcitywriter.wordpress.com