parenting


Plane taking off

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Rob’s been in Texas since Sunday. I didn’t blog or Facebook about it because that’s like inviting serial killers to your house for tea.

“My husband’s out-of-town on business. Why don’t you stop by in the middle of the night and murder us in our sleep?”

When I spoke with him last night, he mentioned that trips to Texas might become a habit, which reminded me – again – that our house is not up to “Dad’s away on business” standards. There are no blinds or window coverings of any kind in areas that make it too easy for even the most casual observer to notice that it’s just Dee and I. With the absence of daylight becoming more pronounced, I feel quite exposed in the evening with all the lights on. That needs some immediate action.*

I am actually able to sleep now when Rob is away. Without leaving lights on even. But it’s not restful. I sleep lightly most of the time anyway, and his absence just attunes me that much more to the creaks and groans of the house, sounds outside that penetrate the windowpanes and to Dee’s restlessness across the hall.

Dee hates her dad being away. She almost takes it personally.

“It will be better when Dad is back,” she remarked.

“Aren’t I doing a good job?” I asked.

“It’s just better when Dad is here,” she is tactful with her dismissal of my ability to manage.

I reminded her that once upon a time it was just she and I, and I managed everything without any major mishaps.

“Yes,” she agreed, “but with Dad, it’s better.”

And there you have it. Dads are better, and I kind of have to agree. Single parenting is not a choice I would ever purposely make.

The threat of a traveling for business husband has got me thinking that the house needs to become a bit more ship-shape, and in a hurry. The kitchen is all but done. Just a few things left and the living room is nearly painted which paves the way for fireplace, flooring and light fixtures that aren’t hanging  loosely from the ceiling. The old kitchen, however, is nowhere close to its future as a dining room, and it needs to be because Christmas is now 25 days off.

With his mother’s impending divorce, we will have at least her for the holidays. Edie, Mick and the future sons-in-law haven’t nailed down their holiday itinerary, as far as I know, but Rob’s youngest sister is making noises about a visit. CB even threatened to drop by if he could sneak across the border, but I have doubts about that. So Rob’s traveling couldn’t have come at a more inopportune time. Between the days away and the days he will need to catch up on his rest, this week is a wash, and the weekend is given over to the company’s children’s Christmas party and children sleeping over. The next weekend is my birthday, and I had designs on it that will probably need to be sacrificed for the greater good. It’s a good thing I will be 48 and not 8 or this might sit poorly with me.

The Texas thing has a stinky disruptive feel to it. We had thought that travel, and the specter of relocation was off the table, but its shadow is casting a pall again, and at a time when we were settling in and rooting deep too with the house on the cusp of being livable and practically perfect in all ways that matter. Isn’t that always the way of it?

Relocation would be better than Rob traveling or Rob having to be on some insane schedule like those husbands who work up in Fort Mac on or around the tar sands. I have a yoga teacher friend whose husband works three weeks, comes home for a four-day weekend and then heads back to work again. One of Dee’s little soccer mates has a father who is away for as long as a month at a time.  If we were young, the awesome of good money might off-set the sucky of separation for a  few years, but we are not young.

Rob and I worked the heck out of the LDR thing before we married. I daresay we were as good at it as a couple could hope to be, utilizing email, IM, and the phone to maximum advantage, but even with the addition of smartphones and Skype, maintaining an intimate relationships via technological aids is difficult. It’s like having another full-time job (if I had a job that is) and not really as good as being in physical proximity. But what is?

Dee is correct in her appraisal of the situation. It’s better when Daddy is home. Home is missing a vital component when he is not around. In a lot of ways, he is home itself.

Life is good regardless but it’s practically perfect in every way when my husband is here, and selfishly, I prefer the latter.

*And I also need to locate my big baseball bat like stick and find the hatchet that we keep in the bedroom of the holiday trailer for when we are camping in remote areas. Seriously, a nice sturdy axe does wonders for a person’s peace of mind.


"It's YOUR time to SHINE in 2009!"

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And at the risk of sounding shrill as I repeat myself, “unless someone is dead or nearly so, don’t call me!” Really. I mean it.

The latest non-life threatening emergency that presented itself for my immediate attention is the ongoing drama surrounding my older nephew’s premature entry into the adult world.

I am standing in the check out at Safeway yesterday and the phone ringles. It’s the oddest ring tone but the least annoying of the generic options available to me as I don’t (yet) possess a smart phone with all its sci-fi tone upgrading capabilities.

Snatching it up as quickly as the confounding zip locks on my purse will allow, I am expecting a request from Rob. I’d spoken to him a bit earlier, so he knew I was shopping and I thought perhaps he remembered something he wanted me to pick up while I was still in town.

It was Mom.

Since day one of cell phone ownership, Mom’s treated my cell as a homing device. I knew she would. In fact my chief objection to getting a phone was Mom.

“She will see this as permission to track me like an endangered animal on the plains of the Serengeti,” I told my late husband, Will.

He wanted me to have one so that I would “be safe”, but the truth was that he just liked having the same type of instant access to me that I didn’t want to hand over to Mom.

“You can screen her calls with the caller ID,” he said.

“Because having her call me over and over until I picked up would be better than just picking up,” I replied.

I still lost on the issue of carrying a cell phone and Mom went from her habit of leaving me multiple messages on the answering machine to simply stalking me by cell phone if I didn’t answer the home line. The cell phone thing has worked out nicely for everyone but me no matter how one looks at it.

Because it’s the middle of the day on a Tuesday, I know right away that Mom isn’t calling to ask me how my day is going. Like DNOS, weekday calls mean that something is wrong.

“I need to talk to you,” she began.

“I’m standing in the check out at the grocery. Can I call you when I get out to the truck?”

“Okay,” and she hangs up on me before I can even say “good-bye”.

Naturally, I am in the lane of the cashier who least loves her job. She is a dour woman, who moves at the speed of drying paint, so by the time I get to the truck, I have run through a dozen desperate scenarios – which all involve dead or near so relations.

“I’m so worried about N1,” she tells me. “He was up here yesterday for a visit. I made him his favorite lasagna and he couldn’t even eat.”

Mentally, I note that the drama queen gene is overly represented in my nephew, but say,

“Why is he upset this time?”

I’m expecting that he’s made another pitch for a car or asked her to co-sign a lease on an apartment for him because he and his dad are continually at odds, but she tells me that she thinks it’s about his wanting to go to community college and study mechanics.

It’s about no such thing, of course. N1 launched a campaign over the summer to be allowed to move back to D-port, where he went to high school. His dad moved them there a couple of years ago. N1 fell in with a group of older kids – drop-outs to varying degrees – lost interest in school and then quit himself when his dad moved them back to DBQ last winter. He’s moped about ever since, plotting to move back and get a place with some of them and work at a fast food place that someone’s grandmother owns.

It’s a seventeen year old plan and that about sums up the long, short and every which way of it. There is no merit to it. It won’t further his life in any meaningful way because at the end of the experiment (which is where he loses the job, can’t pay his share of the rent or make up the difference his friends won’t be paying either and Mom is stuck with the bill), nothing is gained by way of N1 being even marginally closer to the “contributing adult” status that is fervently wished for by all.

“I think he might be severely depressed,” Mom went on. “Who knows what he might do?”

And I’m thinking now? What the fuck? And why couldn’t she have burdened DNOS with this nonsense after she got off work?

But my wiser younger sis, DNOS, refuses to have anything to do with the half-assed attempts to first aid our nephew’s life. As far as she is concerned, when N1 gets tired of lying in the lumpy mess of a bed he’s made for himself, he will do something related to “constructive” and until he makes a move in a positive direction without help or coercion, he is best left to flounder.

Good point on the “he needs to do this himself” front but it overlooks the fact that N1 is a kid who has mostly been raising himself, and badly, since he was 13. Even before that, parenting isn’t something he’s had too much of.

After fifteen minutes and much reassurance, I talked Mom back off the ledge she tearfully teetered on and promised to talk to N1.

Who wouldn’t give me his damn phone number when I messaged him on Facebook for it.

I’d had it, couldn’t find it and asked him to send it to me. Little monster would only talk to me via “chat”.

Grrrrr.

And no, I didn’t tell him how much like his mother he was behaving though I was sorely tempted. Baby won’t talk to me in real time either.

Back and forth over the course of the afternoon and evening led me to the conclusion that N1 was playing the drama card for a bit of sympathy from Grandma. In fairness, she is as close to a mother figure as he’s got. It didn’t have to be that way, but I failed time and time again to get custody of N1 while he was growing up. My last attempt came just before he entered middle school and I warned my parents then that it was unlikely that I would be able to take him once he hit his teens for real and they would rue the day they turned me down.*

As per her request, I called Mom back that evening to let her know how N1 was. We discussed again my brother CB’s offer to have N1 come out and live with him in Cali.

DNOS is adamant that N1 not go, but she is hopelessly biased. Baby really hasn’t said how she feels about it except to reiterate her inability to foot his room/board in any way. I don’t know how his dad feels. At the moment, his father seems to be wallowing in regret over his own wasted life**, so he isn’t much use.

For all his faults, CB has been a pretty good father and N1 needs a father. CB was also once a 17-year-old high school drop-out with nothing but more ideas than capital and a GED. He certainly has the right credentials for understanding just what N1 is up against in the real world that the kid hasn’t clue one about navigating.

N1 admitted to “thinking about calling Uncle”. We went back and forth and then he stopped responding.

What he will do now, I haven’t the slightest idea. He’s a lot like his mother. He hates the unknown and invents all sorts of worst case scenarios to justify avoiding change, and while he makes friends easily in new situations, he loses them just as quickly. Partly because he trusts where he shouldn’t and distrusts where he should be more open. It’s a gift he inherited from Baby, who has only rarely lucked into good friends and never into a good relationship.

The last meddling I did was at Mom’s behest. I contacted CB and asked him to talk to N1.

And now, let’s all remember – dead or nearly so – anything else really needs to be referred to someone who actually lives south of the Canadian border.

*And I get no pleasure out of this particular “I told you so” because N1 needed a parent. I can only guess where he’d be today if Baby would have given in and let me raise him the first time I asked when he was two, and there is no sense crying over the spilled milk, but few things make me as angry as adults who waste the little lives that life puts in their care. A wasted child is one of the saddest sights. I encountered so many children as a teacher who were ruined by crappy and/or indifferent parenting.

**He was a 19 year old high school drop-out when Baby got pregnant. She was 25 or 26. N1’s dad was a foil. She used him to try and make the real objective of her attention – a mutual friend of theirs – jealous. This guy, though a royal sleeze, was wise enough to realize that Baby was looking for a baby-daddy. She missed being on welfare.


The only "protective custody" availa...

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At least for a few more weeks according to my older nephew N1, who at my behest called his mother, Baby, last night to tell her  – from me – that ignoring my calls would not make the situation go away. Fortunately, DNOS had already managed to get my rock star sister to take a call and proceeded to royally ream her backward ass, setting her straight on the new world order.

Baby cried persecuted to her son though he informed me that he didn’t believe a word of it, and when I spoke to Mom late Sunday afternoon, the harassing phone calls had stopped.

This was not before she received at least two more after her trip to the police station and was a nervous wreck.

As I chatted with Mom, I called her the traces of anxiety and exhaustion in her voice. This latest incident with Baby being a baby strained her, but unlike times past, she didn’t cave. She’s determined that the Bank of Mom is closed, and she hinted at “other changes”, which can’t be good for Baby. Whereas my dad didn’t believe in punishing us from the grave, Mom is perfectly capable of playing behavior accountant from beyond. Dad was a hammer in the moment, but Mom had the longer memory and could wait patiently for the right opportunity to throw youthful indiscretion squarely back at you when the moment presented itself.

LawnMower Man is on work release, so apparently he was tormenting Mom before or after milking and field work at the farm where he is one of several hired men. My late husband, Will, used to refer to such a set up as “baby jail”. An old high school friend of his wound up in a similar program early in our marriage, and he was mercilessly teased about it.

Between Baby’s broken back and LawnMower Man’s incarceration, they are a hurting financial unit. In days of yore, he would simply phone Mom and inform her that if she didn’t help them out, he would pack Baby up and dump her on Mom’s doorstep. Since the beginning of the year, however, DNOS and I have made it clear that there is no way on any level of hell that we’d allow her to take Baby back. Normally, Mom listens to us not even the littlest bit, but we’ve made surprising headway in the influence department and Baby’s going to have a difficult time getting out of the corner DNOS and I have left her to manuver this time.

“She has the numbers of all the women’s shelters,” Mom told me. “It’s time she got herself out of her own messes.”

Forty-three at the end of the month, she looks a decade older and telegraphs “poor white trash” with her every word and action. No one in the family has an ounce of patience left. If she had  real emergency right now, she had to rely on the kindness of strangers quite literally because anyone who knows her is done with her. She’s played too many people and the chickens are roosting for real in the yard of the possibly condemned trailer she lives in.