Change, Choices, Co-Parenting

Stuck Landing

We will need to limber up for the advanced scheduling contortions set to begin on September 4th. Kindergarten means our little family-ish arrangement has to bid goodbye to the preschool on the campus of Tee’s university. Aligned calendars and an easy childcare commute have been blessings in a rather tumultuous chapter, and now we brace ourselves for a school-year timeline designed for long extinct agrarian families. Bring on the yellow buses, packed lunches, and after-school children’s warehouses.

The bus hisses up to the corner a few minutes before 9:00am. The kindergarten day ends a little after 3:30. With Tee’s commute clocking in at 30 minutes and mine at twice that, it baffles me how public schools expect the grownups even in two-parent households to manage their eight hours at the office. God help the rest of us. Tee and I agreed to adjust our work schedules so one of us goes in early and the other late, but we have to take into account the fact that Bug is sleeping a couple nights a week at one or the other house.

Tangled up in the schedule planning has been the decision about which school Bug should attend. Tackling this was no small feat. Even though Tee and I only live about three miles from each other, our neighborhoods feed two different elementary schools. The fact that they are both among some of the best performing in an already off-the-charts county only made the decision harder. Do we choose the one where the chicks were hatching in incubators during the open house or the one with newly renovated kindergarten classrooms? Either choice being so very good, we had no clear indicator of the “right” location. It came down to each of us wanting Bug in our neighborhood school.

Co-parenting is a truly gymnastic endeavor. Trying to maintain grace and creativity while discussing complex logistics with an ex all while holding a temper in check can build some serious muscle. Tee and I spent several months twisting ourselves into knots as we considered contingencies and consequences. Bug was starting to obsess a little, too. “Where am I going to go to school?” He lobbied first for one and then for the other. Clearly, we needed to determine a course and fix it in place. We could worry about the choreography later.

Tee and I sat down for two hours in a lounge on campus as mapped out our options. My goal was to minimize the amount of transitions Bug has to experience throughout the week. Tee was more focused on the quality of the teachers and principal. Between the two of us, we sketched out a plan that lets me take the morning shift but allows Bug to stay put after he has spent the night at his dad’s. It wouldn’t really work in reverse, so the decision was made. I will come to Tee’s house on those mornings, give Bug breakfast and put him on the bus.

The bus I put him on will be the one for Tee’s neighborhood school.

For a number of reasons, this is the best option. I have to keep telling myself that. It feels awful, yet no matter how bad a taste it leaves in my mouth, the choice is neither a win for Tee nor a loss for me. It is the right thing for Bug. Forget the histrionics of resentment and pride. Let the attention just pass them by. My kid’s well-being is my only orientation.

Tee’s landlord has been gracious about all this, offering me ready access to her house on those days. Bug can sleep in. I show up, Tee leaves, and Bug moves smoothly from bed to breakfast to bus. Both our bosses have also been more than accommodating. It seems we have established ourselves well enough in our respective jobs to manipulate our schedules a bit. All of this flexibility is fabulous, but it also has unintended consequences: Tee and I will have to stay put in our in-between jobs and temporary houses for at least another year. All the while, we must keep sharp because every single day of the week has a unique timetable. Whatever communication skills we have honed during the past two years will need to become even keener as we keep each other in the loop about unexpected work meetings, traffic delays, and vacation plans.

I also have to keep sharp about the fact that my son is still mine.

Filling out the kindergarten paperwork last night, I had to swallow back my resistance. Every document asks, “Enrolling Parent.” I wrote Tee’s name. “Address.” I put Tee’s address. The county requires it, and so it is. Where it indicates “Other Parent,” I put my name. Next to that line is written, “Resides With.” There are two boxes. I filled the hole in my chest with breath and faith. I checked, “No.”

I picked my son up early from preschool yesterday because he had a fever of 102 and strep is making the rounds. Cranky and listless, he grumped around the house while I refilled cups of iced seltzer and brought him slices of watermelon. When the clock finally dragged its hands around to bedtime, we cuddled on the pillows and enjoyed our chapter of Harry Potter and our three songs. Just when I was at the final verse of “If I Only Had a Brain,” Bug drifted off.

I would show the dino-saurus
Who’s king around the forress
A king they’d better serve. . .

Bug is mine, as much as any child belongs to any parent, which is really not very much at all.

Bug is here, but only to the same limited extent. As he sleeps, he wanders through some fecund island jungle of his own creation in the company of the pirates he keeps telling me show up in his dreams.

My son always resides with me. Right here is his home, scratched deep into a furrow on the underside of my breast. I will bend myself into impossible shapes to be the place he is always safe. I will stay limber. This is his permanent address. Here.

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