This morning, an email from my ex-husband: If you get the 25th through the 3rd that's 10 days, which leaves the split at 10 to 6.
This is how Larry and I discuss divvying up vacation time with our three kids. Matter-of-fact emails; our children checkers we move from square to square on some imaginary game board, keeping close track of how long they stay on each side.
I have spring break this year, I email back, my fingers jabbing at the keyboard, livid that Larry wants additional days with the children. We have been splitting our parenting time according to a property settlement agreement signed years ago when we divorced, and the scheduling is still grueling.
You had winter break I continue typing, feeling he's deliberately trying to make it impossible for me to make plans. I have to buy the plane tickets. He does not respond, the emails just stop, and I marinate in my anger. I will not call him. A direct conversation would be worse, my emotions would be amplified by anger and I'd tell him I'm going to call my lawyer -- always my default line. Or his.
At work, I try to gain control, organizing the junk in my desk drawers, sorting and tossing and thinking of Larry, the man I once married and had children with, who I now wish would just go away, though I know we are knotted into each other's lives forever, as parents of the same three kids.
That night after work, I lie in bed with my husband, who has an ex-wife we coordinate with, and I consider my stepchildren, Luke and Jamie, who are also on co-parenting schedules. "I envy couples who got it right the first time," I say, considering the swarms of normal parents who don't have to separate from their young children on school vacations.
I stare at the ceiling, a thin streak of moonlight smearing my nightstand. "Should I buy the plane tickets?" I ask Eric, and fall into sleep, my eyes half open all night as if my face has been starched. I dream my ex-husband does not bring the children back to me in time and we miss the flight.
The next day, I wake at 5:00 a.m. to check email but there is nothing new. Worse, in a few hours I will have to see Larry for our son Johnny's fourth-grade teacher conference.
At Cider Mill School, Mrs. Tate, her blonde hair loose around her face, Johnny's first crush, meets us at the classroom door. Larry and I sit on the kid-sized plastic chairs around a circle table and I try to keep my face, my attitude, neutral. Mrs. Tate shows us Johnny's short story The Frog Who Wanted to Fly. Rather than consider its content, I'm thinking how I need to be the one to take the story home for Johnny's baby book. I want to sneak it into my bag now.
"Johnny also did a wonderful job on his social studies and science projects," Mrs. Tate says. I look at my ex-husband with a look that says I'm the one who did those assignments with Johnny, don't you dare take any credit. I consider the field trip to the aquarium that I chaperoned, the science experiment two nights ago, a Mentos mint dropped in a Coke bottle that produced a ten-foot geyser in our kitchen.
While Mrs. Tate talks, I keep a silent tally of what homework gets done at my house and what homework gets done at Larry's. In doing so, I miss some of what she says and I wither in my little seat as I become aware on some level of my petty thinking.
"I just love having Johnny in my class. He's a super kid," Mrs. Tate says making direct eye contact first with me then with Larry. I don't even want Mrs. Tate to look at Larry, to consider him, to think he had a part in anything that might have made Johnny smart and good-natured.
We sit for a bit longer, looking at Johnny's standardized test scores, his self-portrait, and then his family tree, complete with both my family and Larry's. I think of Larry's mother, who I love, and his father, a mathematician, who I never met. I consider Johnny's love of math, so much like his grandfather and father. My small thoughts crack enough to let some other possibilities filter in. I consider this man who was supposed to be my forever. I look at his eyes and see my son in them.
And I know that I'm not solely responsible for the boy Johnny has become. My ex has something to do with it. I can't pinpoint what exactly, but I'm willing to admit for a moment that he's Johnny's father and he makes a contribution. I focus in then on what Mrs. Tate is saying instead of the sharp words from the emails Larry and I have been sending. My emotions flip. For the moment, I'm no longer obsessed with who has what day with the children. I'm thinking about Johnny being a well-adjusted little boy, and how perhaps Larry and I, though our behavior is often bad, have not done so badly.
"He's a great kid. We did something right," I say to Larry as we leave the school and walk to our separate cars in the parking lot, the morning gray and windy, the leaves blowing off the trees, unsettled.
Marcelle Soviero is Editor-in-Chief of Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers, and the author of An Iridescent Life: Essays on Motherhood and Stepmotherhood.