Revisiting My Mission

I haven’t written in a while since the last post I put out there was met with a bit of a backlash from some.  So I needed to take a timeout to revisit the reasons why I decided to do this in the first place and to also get clear on what I am not trying to accomplish with this journey I’ve found myself traveling.

First, what I don’t expect these writings to accomplish…

I DO NOT expect my accounts to be met with full agreement from others who were part of these experiences.  I said at the beginning that I am presenting my perspective and that I fully expect my ex, my son, or others to remember these events and how they felt about them differently.  Of course they will.  They are not me and while we all know each other well, we all own our personal reaction to the events in our lives.   So I am NOT shocked to get a response of “That’s not how it went at all” from anyone at any time.  What I did not expect was to provoke genuinely new anger or sadness toward me from anyone for events that took place 17 years ago.  Why do that?  I certainly can’t change any decisions I made back then now even if I wanted to.  So I guess when Ian and a few of my friends referred to me as brave for doing this blog, now I kind of get what they were talking about.

As for the desire to relive painful events from the past, it’s not that I want to do that but it is not something I can worry about either.  I have a mission to accomplish.  I’ve cried enough tears for shit that happened a long time ago and it hasn’t changed any of it.  So how about let’s just take account of the lessons we learned, recognize that some of what we chose worked out pretty well, share our experience with the world, and move on with it.

I am not writing this blog to suggest that this way of doing things is the right way or even a good way of handling anything.  It was just our way and as a result, I have a well-adjusted son that feels he had a happy childhood in which both parents were involved and loved him.  I also have an ex-spouse, ex-in-laws, and even his new wife and many of his friends to call my friends too.  So even if some of us saw things differently, we stuck with it and ended up on the good side of the equation overall.

As I write about certain topics, I seek to evoke in my reader the emotion that I felt at that time.  But to get there, I do more than call upon one experience in my life.  When I write about the emotions that surround a particular event, I’m not necessarily drawing up how I felt in any one moment with any single person but rather I draw upon my collective experience with that emotion – all the times I’ve felt love, happiness, pain, or sorrow.  In fact, I might even draw upon imagery of love stories from movies I’ve watched to describe to you the reader the emotional depth that I hope you will feel as you read a certain passage.  So not everything I write is a purely literal account of what happened or what I felt in any given moment.  Hopefully this serves to allay any discomfort some feel as they read events to which they were close in those days.

So again, why am I doing this?  I’m sharing our story, or at least my version of our story, because this is important.  Raising a child is a big responsibility.  And we as parents will leave our mark on this world through our kids – good or bad.  If you hope to contribute to the greater good, raise a responsible, kind, and caring human being. Just because a marriage ends doesn’t let you off the hook.  If your child treats people with disrespect or anger, no one is going to give them a pass because their parents got divorced.  If your kid doesn’t have a childhood on which they can look back and reflect fondly, you don’t get a do-over because you handled a divorce situations badly.  But if you handle it well, you may still end up with a child who has happy memories to reflect on. If your kid has a failed marriage in which children are involved and doesn’t manage to maintain a good relationship with his ex-spouse or children, that may not be your fault.  But you will know you did what you could and didn’t leave him or her to guess what that would look like.

Parenting is tough.  Divorced-parenting may be tougher.  I’m not really sure.  And being a single parent or remarried parent certainly complicates the already difficult task of raising a child.  So I feel that the more we can learn from each other, the better.  What works for one may or may not work for another. But sometimes just the act of thinking about something from a different perspective brings about new ideas one might have never thought of otherwise.

Am I brave?  I don’t really know. But one thing is for sure.  In the face of some pretty hurtful criticism, I’m going to forge ahead to share this story.  It is just too needed in this world to go untold.

Happily Divorced Tip #2 – Practice the Golden Rule

Honestly, doesn’t this tip apply to everyone?  Imagine if everyone solidly stuck to this approach in every encounter with others.  What a world it would be.  People would be less likely to insult one another, to disregard the consequences of their actions on others, or to inflict physical pain on another human being because they would always remain steadfastly focused on a knowing of how that would feel if they were on the receiving end.

When it comes to divorce, I think all too often we abandon this very simple rule to happier lives.  I’ve witnessed varying degrees of parents who act out such behavior from those who simply don’t think to let the other parent know about their child’s sports schedule or school picture ordering deadline to the more extreme examples of parents who withhold visitation from another parent or speak badly about the other parent to their children.  If only they would stop and think how they would like it if they were the one who had to endure these situations.  And for those that have such great disdain for the ex-spouse that they just can’t give them any consideration, if only they would consider how the child feels when they are denied the attentions of another parent.

I’m sure neither of us was perfect in this regard but here were some of the things I did in my quest to honor the golden rule:

  1. Share all extracurricular and school schedules including photo ordering deadlines and forms with my son’s dad. Going one step further I also tried to extend the sports and performance schedules to Bob’s family as well to make sure the grandparents and other family members would continue to be integral to Ian’s life and get to share his special moments with him.
  1. Give dad a copy of all report cards
  1. Make sure my son always got to spend his dad’s birthday and father’s day with him according to his dad’s wishes
  1. Trade off the opportunity to host my son’s birthday party year to year
  1. Remain flexible to allow for family vacations with dad
  1. Honor the conditions of your divorce decree. If you said you would abide by a certain visitation schedule, honor it.  If you said you would pay for certain things or provide particular types of financial support, pay it.  If you agreed to live within a particular distance of one another, then don’t move beyond that distance.  Conversely, if your ex is slightly late returning your child from a tradeoff between homes, be reasonable.  Don’t freak out over 5-10 minutes unless it is habitual, avoidable, and causes you real (not imagined or exaggerated) consequences.  If a payment is less than expected, ask questions and find out why it happened before assuming the worst.
  1. If you don’t have a financial arrangement with the other parent, expect to split reasonable expenses for your child. Plan to pay for half of the school supplies, clothes, camps, and more extravagant purchases such as cars, college tuition, and large family celebrations honoring your child (as long as you both agree to the choices).

Now I am not condoning spending beyond your means.  So the flip side here is that you jointly discuss expenses and share with each other the limits you can live with for cash outlays. There may be some things that one parent thinks are necessary that another either doesn’t agree with or can’t afford.  In these cases, the parent who really wants to make the purchase has choices – go it alone and accept that it is your choice to pay for it without assistance, choose something less expensive, delay the purchase, or decide not to make it at all.  I’ve made all of these choices at one point or another and I don’t get pissed at my ex for the choice he made.  There have been times when he had more money and times when I did.  If I wanted my son to have something and his dad didn’t agree with the purchase, I listened to his perspective and then usually would find a compromise that still worked for everyone.  When I wasn’t making any money, Ian’s dad agreed to front some expenses and allow me to pay him back when I had it.  Of course, this presupposes that one has established a record of doing such a thing.

The other thing I will say about buying things for your children is this.  Don’t use it as a weapon or to buy your child’s affections.  Don’t lavish your child with extravagant gifts to make your ex look bad or to make your child like you more.  Don’t set out to put your ex in a position of overspending as that one will surely come back to bite you in the ass when they can’t afford to maintain your child’s standard of living on their end anymore.

Finally, it is only fair to alternate claiming your child as a dependent on your income tax returns – especially if they are splitting time between your homes.  This can amount to tens of thousands of dollars over the course of a child’s life.  But be smart about this.  If you taking the deduction doesn’t save you anything because of your particular tax situation, then why waste it?  Give it to the other parent and forge an agreement that any refund will be split between you.Throughout Ian’s childhood, we maintained a spreadsheet of expenses between us.  And I swear even when we might go six months without updating it, when we each finally got around to it, it would balance out almost to the dollar in what each of us had spent on Ian.  I always got a chuckle out of how that worked out.

  1. Share special moments in your son’s life with his other parent. From the little things to more significant events, this bank of memories will not only be priceless to the other parent who may not have been able to be there, but also strengthen the parental bond with the child.  And this can only benefit your son or daughter in the end.
  1. Be kind to each other in the presence of your child. This may be hard for some divorced couples.  It was actually easy for us or at least me if I’m only speaking for myself because I like Bob as a person and friend.  For others this may be hard.  But continuing to ask oneself how you would like it if they took a certain action will make this abundantly easier and help to keep actions and words spoken in check.
  1. Don’t take your child’s side against your ex. If my son complained about his dad, I listened and then, if I thought Bob had acted reasonably, even if I disagreed with the specific approach, I would offer insights to Ian in support of his dad’s actions.  If I didn’t particularly think the choice Bob made in a certain situation was the best, I simply suggested to my son that he should talk to his dad about it and work it out between the two of them.  I tried very hard to respect that each of us is an individual who has different styles and desires.  I also tried to remember that there is more than one way to solve most problems and maybe in some cases, Bob’s approach was possibly a better one that I might have taken.  And actually, when I came at it in this way, I found that it sometimes offered me a learning opportunity hearing how Bob handled something differently than I might have and still precipitated the desired result.  That doesn’t necessarily mean my son always saw it that way.  What I absolutely refused to do was bash his father or show a lack of support for the decisions he made in our sons life as long as it was at least reasonable even if different from the one I would have made.
  1. Don’t try to manipulate your ex’s post-marital relationships because of your feelings toward a new someone. We all have free will whether you like it or not. So you will not get to choose who they have relationships with.  And this may be hard to take, but you also won’t be able to completely block your child from developing relationships with that new someone assuming they aren’t a real physical or emotional threat to your child.  After all, your ex chose you at one point.  So you have to have faith that they will choose wisely and in the interest of your child in the future.

And let me tell from firsthand experience, if you do try to deny your child of a relationship with a new partner in your ex’s life, it will likely backfire by either driving a wedge between you and your child or denying them what could have otherwise been a very rewarding an loving experience for them. It might even result in both.  Always remember, what if your ex were to attempt to impose these behaviors on you.  Would you think that was right?

Fortunately for me, I wasn’t faced with any circumstances where I thought Bob’s choices were truly damaging to our son or worse, dangerous.  I know some parents face these situations.  And in those cases which can vary greatly I won’t try here to suggest how one should always respond.  But it probably should start with addressing your concern with the other parent – not with the child.  It is unlikely the child will be in a position to provoke a change for the better in these situations anyway.  So this could just frighten them or put them in a tougher situation.  While you can bring your concerns to the other parent’s attention, you can’t make them choose differently.  Of course, if the situation is a downright dangerous one for your child to be in, you may have to take preemptive or even drastic measures to protect the child.  But even in this case, bashing the other parent in front of your child does nothing to this end.  So just don’t do it.

Divorce Tip #1 Honor Yourself

Contrary to conventional wisdom, there is no honor in martyring oneself for a relationship.  How many times has a friend said to us that they are staying in a relationship either for the kids, for their family, or for the other person?  And how many times has that ended well?  Oh sure.  The relationship may continue and they may very well celebrate years of anniversaries.  But will they really be celebrating the relationship or just the fact they survived another year?  Is this all they deserve?  If this is you, is this all that you want from your life?  To survive?  Or do you want to thrive?  If the latter, my friend, I must tell you that you will never find the path to thriving by living or doing things solely because it benefits someone else.  To thrive, you must by definition do those things that benefit you whether it is financially, emotionally, physically, or spiritually.

Now some will think this sounds selfish.  But if you are a parent, consider thinking of it this way.  If your child were to make a decision that didn’t benefit him or her in one way or another but only enhanced the life of another person at his or her expense, would you want your child to make that decision? I doubt it.  We all want what is best for our kids and we know that their only path to having what is best for them is to act in their own self-interest.  So why do we consider it a bad thing if we act in our own self-interest?

To be clear, I am not saying there is no honor to sacrifice in the service of others.  Our military heroes, police officers, firefighters, and countless others die or are injured in the service of others.  And their parents probably questioned at least momentarily if their child’s decision to take up such a profession served them.  This must be a tough concept to contemplate.  But only the individual can answer for himself if his choices served him.  There are many heroes that derive such great spiritual benefit from their service to others that the physical injuries are a small price to pay to gain such immense payback.  Of course, we don’t all feel this way which is why we don’t all choose such professions.  And thankfully, there are many patriotic souls among us who do.  But I don’t think we should call them selfless.  That would actually dishonor them by implying they are without self… an empty shell.  I think not.  So bottom line, even those that befall seemingly negative circumstances did so in the pursuit of happiness derived on their terms and according to their definition of the word.

Now back to my point about martyrdom and its destructive path.  Going back to others in your life whom you watched engage in this truly selfless endeavor, how many did you perceive as being happy?  How many did you feel had just conceded their desires to another?  How many of these relationships ultimately ended anyway?  And for those that eventually ended, how much time was invested into the sinking ship they were on? What did they deny themselves in the process?  And if this is you and you just can’t get past the idea that you acted selfishly to leave the other person, why do you feel it is your right to deny them the opportunity to have the quality of relationship that they really deserve?  That’s right.  You’re actually not benefiting them by forcing the relationship to continue.  You’re either delaying their happiness or outright deny them of it.

When Bob and I first got together, there is no doubt that the relationship served both of us and continued to do so for a many years.  But sometimes even when a relationship is great at the beginning or for a certain span of time, that doesn’t mean it will always continue to server our happiness.  We are all continuously evolving and changing.  As Bob and I grew as human beings and evolved, in our case our service to each other as spouses waned.  There is no shame in ending a marital relationship when it ceases to serve up happiness to those involved.  In fact, doing so may be the kindest thing one can do for another and for oneself.

I will leave you with one more thought on this topic whether you have already divorced and suffer from guilt or are considering ending your marriage.  If you stay in a relationship strictly “for the kids”, what does that teach them about creating a successful romantic relationship in the future?  Does it truly teach them a valid path to happiness?  Does it teach them real compassion for others?  What do you want them to learn?

The Friendship Web

Friendships are the collateral damage of every divorce.  Let’s face it.  If you hung out with certain couples before your divorce, that isn’t going to happen afterwards… at least not in the same way.  You and your ex probably aren’t going to double-date with a “friend couple” you had when you were together.  And at least for a while – maybe forever, you won’t be showing up to the same parties with another date.  Even if you would be fine with this, it will make everyone else uncomfortable for quite a while.  So don’t do it for at least maybe a year depending on how long you were married.  It’s really asking too much of your friends.

Likewise, if you are both single heading to the party of a mutual friend, it’s going to be very awkward for a while and it may be best to avoid this situation to give everyone time to adjust to seeing the two of you without one another first.  Then, maybe show up with someone else only if you are absolutely certain the other isn’t going to be there.  Look, it’s called respect for other’s feelings.  Always think about how you would want to be considered and treated.  This will normally keep you from careening off the courtesy path.  Bear in mind, your friends may be grieving the loss of their couple friend too.  Or, they may be relieved to not have to withstand your arguing with one another in front of them anymore.  I’m sure we left plenty of people feeling that way.  Either way, they don’t need you thrusting more negative energy into their lives.

Of course, there will be those friends who “take a side”.  A lot of times this will be the friends who you came into a relationship with or met separate from one another or whom you never introduced to your spouse for one reason or another.  In my case, I came into my relationship with Bob bringing only a couple of friends with me while he, on the other hand, was part of a large group of friends from his childhood.  In the nine years we were married, we hung out almost exclusively with friends of his, their girlfriends or wives, and their friends.  I became casual friends with some of the women.  But mostly, I was Bob’s wife – a friend-in-law.  So when we divorced, they had no vested interest in me.  Those friendships simply fell away and I would go on to find more meaningful friendships.

Still again were Bob’s friends who I gave a lot of distance too for quite a while even though they meant the world to me.  But I just couldn’t figure out how to continue a friendship with them without it being awkward and force.  Over time, once Bob and I developed a friendship beyond our divorce as new separate people rather than the Bob and Teresa Show, we would occasionally end up all together in the same place.  There were all of my son’s band shows for one where I as the consummate promoter of all things “Ian” wanted as many people to pack an event as we could muster.  So I was going to thank every one of them for coming and truly appreciate them for supporting our son.

Of course, since Bob and I got together in the first place because we had a lot in common including our tastes in music and social settings, we frequently found ourselves with our different groups of friends in the same bar or restaurant.  Yes we both enjoy a good drink or two.  While early on, I would relocate on occasion out of courtesy or a desire to avoid confrontation, eventually if felt okay and even enjoyable to stay and reconnect with some of the special people that had been Bob’s friends.  Today, when Bob and Brandi host parties at their house and I’m invited, it feels quite natural to freely interact with most of them.  We genuinely treat each other as friends, joke around, give compliments when warranted, and catch up on our lives… just like any friends do.  Then the rest of the friends can behave normally as well.

The few with whom we both had a stronger bond was more difficult to manage at the onset of our divorce.  There was our friend – we’ll call him Paul – who was Bob’s friend first but had worked with me over the years on a couple music projects.  Upon learning of our divorce, Paul promptly declared to Bob that he was “with him”.  NICE!  That one kind of hurt.  But even so, when I run into him now, it’s amicable and a pleasant stroll down memory lane.

Then there were our boating couple – we’ll refer to them as Bill and Crystal.  We went on vacations together, hung out at their house on the weekend quite frequently, and even lived with them for a couple months when our house was being built.  So this was a much more difficult relationship for either of us to lose, although of course Bob and Bill were closer than I was with either Bill or Crystal.  Still I really didn’t want to lose them altogether.  So for the first few months after the divorce, we literally took turns hanging out with them on alternating weekends.  Crystal used to joke that it was their weekend with me or vice versa.  I appreciated their friendship very much in those days while I began to derive friendships of my own making really for the first time in my adult life.  They also had been in my son’s life since his birth.  So hanging out with them was another activity that provided continuity for Ian.  Eventually, I backed away from Bill and Crystal as I formed new friendships.  Although we still talk and laugh together when we end up in the same places.

I really do appreciate our friends who put up with us during our marriage as we fought over euchre, volleyball, and pretty much any competitive situation we found ourselves in.  We even fought about fighting.  When we were together, our friends would literally conspire to ensure we didn’t end up on the same teams just to avoid having to put up with the incessant arguing that was sure to ensue.  I’m sure some of you are reading this right now and fondly reminiscing (NOT!) about those days.  Yeah you know who you are. Thanks for continuing to be my friends and following Bob’s example. It means a lot!

For those of you beginning or are already on your own divorce journey, try to remember it is not all about you and to practice the golden rule.  I know that may feel like a very tall order.  But consider that one day, you may very well find yourself standing right in the middle of the bridge you considered burning.

Shared Parenting

Of course the most important decision we had to make with regard to our future lives as co-parents was how we would split our time with our son, Ian.  Again, the words “you’re going to miss half of his life Teresa!” replayed in my head over and over again cutting through my soul each time I allowed the thought to enter my head.

I talked to a few friends who were divorced to ask what their arrangement was.  Mind you, since we were in our early 30s, many of our friends hadn’t even married yet much less had kids or gotten divorced.  So I had few people to ask.  There was the typical arrangement of the State of Ohio (common in many others as well) which the majority of people still defaulted to, probably only because it was easier than taking the time and energy to discuss the situation with your soon-to-be-ex.  That would require communicating with one another after all – the very reason many end up in divorce to begin with.  The default arrangement works like this:  The mother is granted full custody of the child or children with the father getting visitation every other weekend and Wednesday evening from 6-9PM.

For me, the word visitation just pisses me off.  It is so negative, evoking visions of either prisons or hospitals.  It is not an appropriate term to associate with the hopefully happy time a father spends with his children.  And the allowance of time?  I was heartbroken when I thought about taking that much time away from Ian and his dad.  I just couldn’t do that.

For those that opted for arrangements other than the default, one option was the six months in one home and six months in another approach.  No way was I going to do that.  I would rather die than be apart from my son for 6 months at a stretch.

Then a friend told me about “Shared Parenting”.  Now this isn’t a legal definition.  So please consult an attorney.  But the general idea is that you really are sharing the parental experience and responsibilities.  Many do a week on / week off arrangement where one parent has the kids Sunday to Sunday and then they trade off.  My friend who had this arrangement with his ex decided to modify this to a Friday to Friday arrangement.  That way, they could start the weekend off happy to see their kids rather than spend Sunday dreading they were leaving.  As a bonus everyone could get ready to start their work or school week without the added turbulence of switching locations that evening.  This sounded pretty good to both of u.  So Bob and I went with a Friday to Friday arrangement.  Although we did make one more modification.

I simply could not come to terms with not seeing my then six-year-old boy for seven solid days at a time.  So I suggested a mid-week switch.  We lived close enough that this was easy to pull off.  Yes, our residential choices were already about to pay dividends.  So either Tuesday or Wednesday each week, Ian would go to the opposite parent’s house to spend the night.  He would then return to the other house for the remainder of the week the next day.  As I usually became uncontrollably weepy by Monday night due to separation anxiety, we opted for Tuesday during most of the time we maintained the midweek swap.

When Ian got into middle school and was involved in a few activities, we all mutually agreed to forgo the midweek swap.  Sure we had duplicated a lot of things.  But not everything.  So it was a consummate challenge to make sure the soccer gear and band equipment – especially the small yet significant stuff to a 7th grader was in the right house at precisely the moment he needed or wanted it.  And let’s be honest, at least from my experience, most guys and boys don’t check if they have everything they need for any activity until about 5 minutes before they actually needed it.  As such, there was the inevitable panic that set in for both child and parent when either realized 10 minutes before the start of practice or, worse yet, game arrival time, that the only set of shin guards for soccer were at the other parents house and that parent was not at home.

Of course, thankfully do to our carefully orchestrated arrangement, we had even found a way to deal with these last minute snafus which seems like yet another obvious solution but not one everyone is either comfortable with or thinks about.  We gave each other a means of accessing the other parents home either with a key or using the key pad on the garage.  Now you have to have a pretty high level of trust in your ex-spouse to literally give them the keys to your home and granted this isn’t for everyone.  But if your only hesitation isn’t a trust issue but rather an unnecessary belief that this isn’t appropriate or “people just don’t do that”, you’re just making life harder on yourself and your child for no good reason.

Some might also say that you could just deal with the issue by giving the child the access and of course you could.  However, let’s be real.  If the child has the key or code, then the ex-spouse has the key or code.  Going further, if the other parent is forbidden from accessing the ex-spouse’s home and the child is young, there are at least a couple of situations you could encounter, some of which we did.  There were times Ian would go into his dad’s house to pick up something he needed ABSOLUTELY NOW and in full blown panic, of course, couldn’t find it.  Mom (or dad) was there to calm the situation down and help him focus on finding this item that, to him at that moment, was the difference between life being perfectly fine and the impending end of happiness as we know it.

On the more extreme end of the spectrum, one that fortunately we did not encounter, what if the child goes into the home without the parent and something awful happens?  Maybe he injures himself as he climbs a piece of furniture to grab something.  Or maybe he turns something on that, if left unattended would cause a fire after we’ve left.  Sure we try to teach our kids how to avoid these situations.  But everyone can make a mistake and one of our biggest responsibilities as parents is ensuring the safety of our children.  So you have to consider that a young child is not mature enough to be saddled with so much responsibility without as much as a second set of more mature eyes walking behind him in such situations.  At least that’s my belief.

In addition to our week to week and mid-week swap arrangement, both Ian and I, and Ian and his dad spoke on the phone every day for several more years to further perpetuate the parental bond during absence.

I can’t express here how far this arrangement of week-to-week shared parenting, the midweek swap, and shared access to each other’s home contributed to a smoother, more relaxed, and happier existence.  But hopefully, this gives you some idea of what can be gained from considering it.  If you have younger children and are in the throes of deciding on your child-parent visitation, or as I like to call it, shared time, I would highly recommend trying it out to see if it works for you.

Growing Up in Two Homes

When we decided neither of us was keeping the home we had built a mere two years earlier, I looked at many neighborhoods, many homes, and a couple of other school districts.  Fortunately, I made enough to afford to buy a home on my own.  So I didn’t have to consider apartments.  Bob too could swing a home mortgage and expenses on his own.  We would both have to downgrade on the luxuries slightly and not have as much money left over for extras after the mortgage for sure.

I decided to stay in the exceptional school district we were in and I got lucky enough to find another home in the same neighborhood, about a quarter-mile away on a street that I knew had several boys Ian’s age.  It was on a cul-de-sac and backed up to a ravine.  No neighbors and plenty of woods and stream behind us.  While the home was smaller, the lot was an upgrade, something that eased the pain of losing our other home that we had built.

Bob, being in the building industry himself as a subcontractor in the glass and mirror sector chose to build a home that was in an up and coming neighborhood through a thin line of trees and across one main road directly behind my house.  It was only about a quarter-mile as the crow flies.  So I knew as Ian got older, he’d eventually be able to go between our two houses on foot or by bike.

Of course something I didn’t think about as much was how much easier that living so close made things for everyone.  Since we were in the same school district, there were some years where Ian could take the bus from and to either home.  And when that wasn’t the case, Ian’s dad was so close, he could drop him off to me in the morning since he worked earlier and I could put him on the bus.  This gave me a chance each day to see my son before school.  Yet another strategy for regaining some of that “half of his life” I was missing.  Then there was the ongoing transfer of clothes, toys, sports equipment, homework, and music instruments in between homes.  When he was young, of course I or his father packed his stuff up.  As he got older, Ian started doing it himself.  Whether it was us or him, there were hundreds of items over the years that had to be retrieved from one house or another.  His dad used to get pretty frustrated with Ian for forgetting stuff but I reminded him that it couldn’t be easy living in two places at once.  I had never done it and was sure given my crappy memory that I’d have been running back and forth in between houses at least daily and maybe even hourly to get a particular jacket, book, or stuffed animal.

To minimize this madness, we bought duplicates of some of the main items.  We also used this strategy to offer roughly the same experience at each home.  We even bought him the same bed.  As much as Bob and I had competed during our marriage to win every conversation, neither of us was interested in seeing the other one lose in the parenting game.  We had finally found a motivation to be nice to one another.  So we purchased two swing sets, two bikes, plenty of clothes for both houses, and two drum kits.  Oh there had to be two drum kits!  Otherwise, one of us would have never seen our child or we would have been stuck carting that set back and forth for years to come.  As it turned out, when Ian reached 5th grade and created his first rock band, we did end up carting around the drums a lot.  Except rather than it being between homes, it was from the house to a show and back.  And yes, we both helped load in and load out.  When Ian got big enough to carry the drums himself, we chose solidarity and both declared our days as roadies over.  Cue the frowns on 5 adolescent boys’ faces as they realized they weren’t rock stars and would have to carry their own shit.

Also with adolescence came some other benefits to the close living arrangement we had chosen.  Since there was literally only one house blocking my view of Bob’s backyard from my back door, I was comfortable allowing Ian to walk between our homes since I could watch him walk most of the way and his dad could see him on the other side when I lost sight.  This was very handy not only when items were forgotten at the other home but also worked out quite well during the middle-school years when Ian got along much better with the kids on Bob’s street than on mine.  This was great.  I never wanted Ian to prefer one home over another because of circumstances.  And I never wanted him to be bummed out that he had to go to another home and leave his friends behind for a week.  Oh sure, there was some of this.  Especially when our inter-district boundaries were different and the kids in Bob’s neighborhood ended up at a different middle-school and high school.  In general, though, I think this arrangement’s benefits went a long way to improve the circumstances of our separated family.  But it didn’t happen by accident.  We chose to make it happen this way.

School Days

One of the first things we had to encounter as recently-divorced parents was the school system.  Ian entered kindergarten about 2 months after we separated.  You would have thought divorce was a brand new concept.  Everything from emergency information forms to grade cards was designed to accommodate parents that lived at the same residence. And this was the year 1999!

As I was designated as the residential parent in our arrangement, everything school related was based on my address.  Nothing was ever mailed to Bob.  And this is where demonstrating kindness begins.  I know plenty of divorced parents who struggle with this most basic right.  I never hesitated for a second. I assumed Bob was entitled to all the same information about Ian’s education as I was.  How could I expect him to otherwise be a good parent.  I had to remember what I wanted my son to have and what I wanted in a father for him.  I always made sure Bob was offered the opportunity to purchase school pictures.  And I made sure he got a copy of every grade card.  The school didn’t do this.  I did!  They, it seemed, never even thought of it as a service they should offer.  This doesn’t make any sense to me.  Nor do the women who refuse to consider how they might feel if they weren’t even given the opportunity to get school pictures from one year of grade school.  All too frequently, divorced fathers miss out on a lot.  And this benefits no one.  The father suffers.  The child and father connection is weakened as the father receives less and less ongoing information about the child’s evolution.  And ladies, if you think you get out of this unscathed, you’re absolutely wrong.  Have you heard of karma?  Ever wish people would treat you better?  Well maybe you should practice the golden rule.  Also, ask yourself how it could possibly be of benefit to your child for their other parent to be denied information and experiences with them.

I remember the first night conference during which we met Ian’s kindergarten teacher.  We had separated about 6 weeks before.  Of course, we both wanted to be there.  So we did this crazy thing.  We talked about it.  Then we did another crazy thing.  We agreed to both go and let the teacher know that even though we were divorced, we weren’t one of those dysfunctional couples that hate each other and yell all the time.  Kind of an interesting evolution since one of the reasons we split up was because of our incessant arguing.  We argued about everything from life philosophies to how to play a Euchre hand.  God forbid I stray from Hoyle.  Yep divorce, or at least living separately, seemed to fix our dysfunction as a couple (and as Euchre partners).  Oh the irony!

As we squeezed ourselves into tiny little kindergartener desks, I made my pronouncement to the new teacher, Mrs. Joseph that we had recently divorced but that we get along and she would not have any problems with us.  As it turned out, this was Mrs. Joseph’s first year teaching anywhere.  So she was probably simultaneously concerned, skeptical, and relieved.  Disbelieving or not, Ian had this teacher for two years and as we approached the end of the second year, Mrs. Joseph pulled me aside to tell me not only how special our little boy is (yep, Mom already knows that) but also how lucky he is to have two parents who work so hard to make this whole divorce thing into a positive experience for him.  Now there’s two words that don’t normally appear in the same sentence.  “Divorce” and “positive”.  See the pattern that is starting to develop?