Hello, Readers! I’ve been out of touch for a few days—I apologize for not posting this update before the Thanksgiving holiday. I know my voice mail is full and I don’t know why because I have actually cleared the messages. I guess I am due for a trip to the Genius Bar. I also haven’t responded to my email since Tuesday and without any of those little out of office auto-replies or anything. If I haven’t replied to your correspondence, it is because I haven’t had time to give it proper consideration or attention. You see, I’ve been busy, wonderfully busy. A friend calls it “ambitious” and perhaps that is exactly what it is.
Ex has frequently offered his criticism of our divorce decree, including calling it “garbage” under oath, (which didn’t go over so well—judges tend not to appreciate disdain for the court’s decisions, even if they weren’t the one who wrote them). The decree is a document which is imperfect and if you are drawing up one of your own with kids in your picture, I’ve got some advice for you: Spell out every last detail and think carefully about how each will affect you and your children in years to come.
One of the details I hadn’t thought through because “it’s the customary arrangement” was an agreement that the children change caregivers for the winter break holiday on Christmas Day at noon each year. This unfortunate arrangement has meant Christmas Day drama every single year. Either our short jolly family celebration came to an anxious end on Christmas Day (last year involving a police escort from house to cab), or the holiday began in sadness with the departure of the depressing and depressed wish-he-was-a-real-dad. I am determined that my children’s experience will not be spoiled, that their lives won’t be. Yeah, I’ll accept the term ambitious, and I started with Thanksgiving, because this year the decree reserved the Thanksgiving school holiday for Ex’s visitation.
The children heard nothing from their father with regard to the holiday nor did I. Perhaps Ex “forgot” that he was up to bat this holiday (and Ex would probably say it’s my fault because I didn’t remind him). I know that if I were separated from my children as he is, I would be counting the days until I could next see them. I would be working as hard and as long as I could to try to make my fortune such as to advantage them and to advantage myself in order to win more time with them. I would be kissing the other parent’s (yes, even Ex’s) arse to win favor and trust, to win a livable peace for the children. However, as you know, I am not Ex.
I sat watching the clock run out and couldn’t plan anything. I had to preserve the time for Ex to guard myself against contempt if at the last minute he announced a plan “to exercise… [his] visitation”. (As though it were something he did regularly to keep his prostate healthy or something.) The situation is so incendiary that something seemingly innocuous, such as an e-mail, “Hey, Ex, just wondering what your plans were for Thanksgiving?” carries the potential to ignite a firestorm. In the end, he was a no-show as he has nearly always been for the lesser holidays. Two weeks ago, we wrote him off for this break and I scrambled to pull together some plans for a long holiday weekend.
My son’s friend, who just lost his father, came over on Wednesday evening and watched Doctor Who episodes with my son while I taught my daughter and her friends to make apple pie. They taught me how to laugh and to give them room to do things like throw flour at one another until crevices I didn’t even know my kitchen had were filled with flour. I let them go and trusted them to clean it up and they did. I spent most of Thanksgiving Day in the kitchen with my daughter who now knows how to make mashed potatoes Julia Child’s way, with a ricer and garlic slowly roasted in butter. I planned a Thanksgiving party, which grew to fill my entire kitchen and dining room. We relished an evening feast together with friends, family-of-choice.
Afterward, I helped the boys pack overnight bags and put them to bed. Then, I loaded and ran the dishwasher twice and set the pans to soak, I packed my own things and a bag of snacks, printed tickets and maps, and finally went to bed, at nearly two. My alarm sounded at six on Friday morning and I rousted the kids, tidied the house, and packed up the van. After four and a half hours with my kids, Billy Joel, Simon and Garfunkel, and Lady Gaga, I was emerging from the Lincoln Tunnel and the light at the end was not Just New Jersey. Within minutes we found our directions were useless and I was driving my minivan through a swarm of taxi cabs in Times Square, trying to find our hotel in the Bohemian neighborhood of Chelsea, which was, in my daughter’s assessment, a little “sketchy,” in mine, “affordable.” (It’s a grittier area, off the tourist path, and well, it’s NYC.) It was a perfect location for our adventure which was good fortune more than well-considered choice.
My twelve-year-old son is a history buff and for him, we planned a trip to Ellis Island, just days after he participated in a simulation of the Ellis Island experience at school. We spent thirty wonderful, fun, “sparkly,” (according to my youngest son), hours on the New York side of the Lincoln Tunnel before heading home. We ate New York pizza and bagels and soft pretzels and we did not eat “dirty-water dogs.” We walked past Ground Zero, which the children innately understood required reverence even though they only really know about 9/11 from their history books. It made me cry. We went to the top of the Empire State Building at night and looked out on The City’s rivers and bridges and on all New York’s buildings and neighborhoods, twinkling in the cold. We retired early after winding down with some nature programs that aren’t part of our cable package at home. (Clarification: Nature programs, like Animal Planet, not the kinds of things high school kids might witness in their hallways.)
Next morning we rose early, grabbed a bite and went searching for High Line Park, a relatively new and cutting edge of strip of urban green/outdoor art space on a reclaimed L-train line. A friend has mentioned the project, knowing it was something we would like to explore and we had seen the southern tip of the park from a distance the previous day. We wanted a closer look, but the end of the park nearest us was still under construction and the icy wind made New York City feel like Chicago in January. We flagged a taxi and headed for the Museum of Modern Art instead. An old friend joined us and tried to share his love of impressionism with my boys who were, um… not impressed. We’d have done better to proceed straight to the architecture and design galleries. Once we did, temperaments and life improved immensely.
We then grabbed a quick bite of lunch at a nearby diner and hustled to Lincoln Center to see The Nutcracker. (This was my favorite part of the trip—worth a whole separate post.) Afterward, we meandered through The City back to Chelsea, 37 blocks, on foot. Our breath was visible in the crisp air, but we were warmly dressed, the wind had died, and the body heat of thousands of others warmed us and made us feel alive and a part of something. We walked through Rockefeller Center at night. We stopped at the Lego store which was nearly as tightly packed as the subway at rush hour though not as smelly. I struggled to keep track of both boys in the crowd and disappointed them by refusing to wait in the long line to buy them some little something when they were already hungry and tired. We found some food and once we did, again, dispositions and life improved immensely. (Note to self: In the interest of parental sanity, twelve-year-old fussy-eater boy must eat constantly. Always carry preferred snacks.) We reclaimed our bags at the hotel and our van from the parking garage and the children were home and in their own beds shorty after eleven p.m. The trip had been a huge success by all accounts. I get to keep my Ninja badge.
Boy, was I tired. The next day, we made the pilgrimage to a cute little family farm out in the countryside about forty minutes away to stomp around in the fresh air and sunshine and choose the perfect Christmas tree as we do every year. (This was the part of the long weekend that was mostly for my youngest son.) We ate Thanksgiving leftovers which we also do every year. I worked on the tree while the kids finished their homework.
Family traditions provide the children with a sense of belonging. They are the reason our house always smells good during the holidays and the reason we all gain a few pounds. These traditions are the reason my children don’t dread the holidays, the reason they look forward to them, even with looming conflict and strife, even with Ex’s email this week:
According to the decree, I am entitled to have the kids from noon 12-25 to 5:00 12-31 this year.
I’m trying to figure whether I can bring them here, or whether I will have to travel. If I travel to DC, I won’t be able to stay the entire time. I just want to let you know that one way or the other, I intend to exercise my visitation this Christmas.
After everything, including booking my trip to the Midwest, a trip I have been ordered to make for a trial to determine just how little Ex should pay to support the children he considers his, I find myself returning to gratitude. I am grateful to have so many good people in my life for whose feelings I must account. I am grateful to be surrounded by love and I am grateful for the opportunity to give my kids something beautiful.
I neglected you, Readers, I neglected everything but my children. I can’t regret it either. After all that has happened and all that is likely to come, they needed it. We all needed it. Today, after spending five days just loving one another, (and one catching up on housework and homework) we’ll join the family of our departed friend and our community in celebrating his life and saying goodbye. Then, we will again turn our faces toward the welcome sun and start walking, hand in hand.