Rough Cut

We stand at the edge of the playground. A throng of racing children and chattering parents presses us to chain link. He asks about the house and I give him the latest update. Good news, for once. When the celebratory chaos has melted away along with the popsicles, Bug and I will head back to my office to print and sign 44 pages of loan documents. The seller’s bank has approved an extension and my sketchy but efficient new loan officer is pushing for the end of the month. Tee listens and asks polite questions. Neither of us ever bought a home before and I am now tackling this with the help of a huge circle of friends and family which does not include him.

He says that he’s heard about the housing market around the place he is considering. Four-bedroom homes there are going for about what I am paying for this cramped condo. He has dreams of a fixer-upper and his father swooping into town in a van packed with a table saw and hydraulic nail gun to help turn the place into a masterpiece.

Continue reading “Rough Cut”

Deposed

It is almost 6:30 pm. Congestion on 66 West backs it up all the way to Falls Church. After a grind of a day, a co-worker saves me a metro trip by letting me hitch a ride back towards home. My car waits near the station, a stack of overdue library books in the trunk alongside a bag of clothes destined for Goodwill. Somehow I will have to make room for the giant sack of special Active Maturity dog food I hope Target has on the shelf because PetSmart is in the wrong direction. The dog’s bowl has been empty for nearly two days.

In an hour, friends will be gathering for Team Trivia at the bar. As for dinner? The leftover apple banging around in my backpack will have to suffice. As we sit in stop-and-go traffic solving the problems of the world, my phone rings.

Noisy air when I pick it up. Then, “Mommy?”

“Hey, buddy. What’s up?”

“Can I stay with you tonight?” His sing-y, plead-y voice spills into the car. Sweetness bomb. My friend rocks from the blow.

Continue reading “Deposed”

Happy 100 Days: 39

Being cross for a week does not make a lady enjoyable company. Every time my son goes away, my fretful nature hijacks the controls and takes me for a joy-ride (or a doomride, as it were). Solitude leaves me with too much time on my hands. The long-awaited freedom to “get some work done” takes me on a detour where thoughts spin out at 95mph and the engine burns into the red zone before sputtering out.

It is these sorts of weeks that have me deciding it is time to pursue a PhD or get a second job, start dating or never date again, expand my social circle or remove my broken self from the friendships I am surely already screwing up. Without the ritual of waking to his sleepy voice, without the practical choices the day sets before us (Waffles or pancakes, Buddy? Should we ride the metro to DC or go cut a Christmas tree?) I notice long-ignored pings in the engine and go wrestling the whole beast up onto the hydraulic lift.

What good does it serve, plunging my hands up in there? Still, who can resist? I poke into every dark corner seeking the missing piece and come out choking on grease.

Then he returns.

Every time my son comes home, I tuck my arms around him to sing him down to sleep. Everything slides back to ground level. The engine chugs to life.

It is a wonder how quickly I forget that Bug’s absence is the trigger for all my wrongness. It is a blessing how easily his presence restores me.

Happy 100 Days: 70

Tee and I crossed paths at our university’s faculty and staff enrichment day this morning. We lit up when we caught sight of each other. Between sessions, we made a beeline for each other to chat. At lunch, we found a table. He invited a friend to join us and I pulled up a chair for another co-worker. Greetings all around. Tee still introduces me as his “ex-wife.” I always say, “Meet Tee, Bug’s dad.” It feels good to make this conscious shift in my language and to let him follow his own instincts.
 
We laughed and talked, our little lunchtime foursome, going on about kids and birthday cakes and university parking tickets. The only friction came at the end when we had all packed up to head to the next breakout session. Tee held me back to encourage me to take Bug to a high ropes course they had visited over the weekend. Tee nudging me to follow his lead with all his super-daddy activities does not have the intended effect. Instead, I feel myself getting panicked and irritated. I have explained as much in the past, letting him know that Bug and I have our own rhythm on the weekends. Tee can’t seem to help himself. He is like a little kid bursting at the seams to share his new discovery. I can appreciate that Tee is hungry to describe these adventures to someone who knows his son’s unique ways.
 
From time to time, I indulge a little of this. Tee returns the favor in kind, I’m sure, putting up with my over-sharing when I forget to reel it in. Still, I am starting to let myself pay attention and trust my gut. If I notice an interaction is rubbing me the wrong way, I ask for us to stop. I know this perplexes Tee. He seeks to know more about why or at least to explain what his “side” is, as if my feelings have a counterpoint in logic. Sure, I could go on a reflective, meandering journey to understand why. I have done exactly that since. . . well, since forever. Even as a kid, I thought I had to have a rational explanation for a feeling AND a defensible position for my reason before I was allowed to ask for it to be respected. It is a revelation to hear my own voice saying with gentle frankness, Stop.
 
I am still learning how to identify my limits. The next step is to hold them without fear and without apology.
 

A peacemaker is a bridge walked on by both sides. You can either make peace or get the credit for it. But you cannot do both.
David Augsburger, Conflict Mediation Across Cultures

I am learning all over again how to do the elegant dance of caring for my connections while also caring for myself. It is strange to leave a marriage and return to parents. Strange, but also illuminating. I can see more clearly than ever the fascinating give-and-take in which my folks engage. Being here now shines new light on the odd mix of lessons I learned growing up. They have been married, as my mother like to say, “Oh, on and off for about 40 years.” After the drama of the Off, they have certainly earned their On. They have settled in. Even as I type this, they are downstairs giggling on the couch, delighted that they have finally learned how to use the On Demand feature on the Fios. “We have a new toy!” I hear my mother cry, and they both cheer when they discover yet another episode of their favorite British crime show.
 
Living so closely with them, I see how they have become a kind of hybrid being, each compensating for the weaknesses of the other. She worries about every impending disaster. He barrels in, guns blazing, his confidence more than compensating for any missing facts. They find balance in the partnership. That partnership still changes in ways that surprise me. Years ago, for example, they came to a grumbly truce about tennis. He is a fiend who goes out to hit on the backboard every weekend. She doesn’t like playing with him and flatly refuses to go. He asks her every Sunday as he’s packing his racket. Every Sunday, she says no. For years they have been going through their little Sunday routine. Then, one day in early October, I came downstairs to find them gearing up and getting in the car.
 
“Where are you going?”
 
“To hit a few!” My dad grinned. My mom rolled her eyes and off they went.
 
I am curious about how this happens, how people concede a little here and advocate a bit there, adjusting to similar adaptations in the people around them. Doing this while also staying true to one’s own path is a mystery to me. I am aware, though, that I have to resolve this polarity in myself first. I have a little bit too much of both of my weird and wonderful parents battling it out in me. Most days, I want to resolve the confusion by wrestling those extremes into submission and then crowing to the world that I am victorious.
 
Seeing Tee today reminds me that such deep change requires strength, not force. I can make peace in my relationship with my son’s father, my parents, my son, and my demons, but I have to do it with a quiet fortitude. With a loving touch. With a few private promises and a handful of well-placed words. I suspect that I also have to do it without “doing” it. Instead, I can let go of the pieces of what I believe to be true or right. Shake off the habits, watch them scatter, and welcome a new arrangement of things.
 

Happy 100 Days: 79

Tee is responsible for

  • drinks
  • ice
  • cookies
  • fruit platters
  • a camera
  • sending invites
  • crafting a scavenger hunt for the playground and nature trail outside the rec center

I am in charge of

  • lego cake
  • paper goods
  • birthday signs
  • cheddar bunnies
  • goodie bags
  • having a stack of pizzas delivered hot at 1:15pm

Continue reading “Happy 100 Days: 79”

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.

Continue reading “Stuck Landing”