Divvying Up The Days

04/04/2013 03:03 am ET | Updated Jun 03, 2013

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.