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Archive for February, 2006

Matchmaker

“Hey, Dad.”

“Hey, Lillie.”

“Hey Dad, I made a new friend in school today.”

“That’s great, sweetheart. Watch out for that puddle, please—here, step across on this snow bank. Take my hand, please.”

“Okay, hey Dad, so my new friend? It’s Sara.”

“Sara, huh? Is she—Collie, wait at the corner please!—is she a new kid in your class?”

“No, she’s been there, I just wasn’t her friend before.”

“And now you are her friend? That’s nice. Why now?”

“Well, we were in the yard and she wasn’t doing anything so I asked her why and she said because she didn’t have any friends. It was so sad! So I told her to be my friend.”

“That was very sweet of you, Lillie. What did you do with your new friend?”

“We made friends.”

“I know, but after you were friends, what did you do?”

“We made more friends.”

“And how did you do that?”

“Well, after we were friends, Constance’s class came to the yard. And she’s my best friend. So I told her to be friends with Sara, and she did.”

“How nice.”

“Yes, but not best friends, because I’m her best friend.”

“Right.”

“So then Constance and I made Sara come with us to see Christina and Sasha. We told them to be friends too, because Sara was sad because she had no friends.”

“But now, it seems she has a lot of friends, thanks to you.”

“Yes, now she has . . . well, one is me, two is Constance, three is Christina, four is Sasha. Four. Four friends. All girls who are friends.”

“No boys, huh?”

“No, boys hate Sara.”

“Why do you say that, Lillie?”

“Because you know how girls go up to boys and say ‘mwah, now we are married, you may kiss the bride?’”

“I guess I do.”

“Well, Sara does that so the boys all think she’s weird. Isn’t that so sad?”

“I can see why that might be sad. Maybe she should do less of that if it bothers people.”

“It just bothers the boys, the girls think its funny.”

“Do you think its funny?”

“Dad, hello? I’m a girl.”

“Gotcha.”

“Sara was also sad because she doesn’t have a dad, just a mom.”

“She told you this?”

“Yes. So I told her good news.”

“What’s the good news?”

“I told her that I have a mom and a dad, but my mom stopped loving my dad, and my dad is sad.”

“Oh, well, Lillie . . .”

“And I said my dad doesn’t have any friends, so he can be her mom’s friend. I said you should meet . . . meet . . . meet . . .”

“What, why are you putting your hands together like that when you say ‘meet?’”

“Do you know what I mean? Not ‘meat’ like you eat, but ‘meet,’ like this.”

“Like two hands pressed together.”

“Yeah, you should meet.”

“That’s nice, I’m sure it would be nice to meet Sara and her mom. But you know, Lillie, I do have lots of friends. I’m not so sad.”

“Dad, I mean a girlfriend? You can meet? You don’t have that.”

“Okay, well, let’s see about that. Thanks for thinking of me.”

“Yeah, it made Sara laugh.”

“That’s nice. You are a good friend to Sara. Now, do me a favor.”

“What?”

“When we get home, show me Sara in the class picture.”

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Poop

“Do you want bubbles, sweet?”

“Yes, please,” replied a voice inside Lillie’s shirt. Her face was stuck in the collar as she pulled the sleeves over her head.

“You okay in there?”

The shirt came off with a grin. “No, I can’t breath, I can’t breath!”

“You one silly girl, Miss Thing.”

I sat by the tub. I took a bottle shaped like Hello Kitty and twisted off the cap. I poured a stream into the running water, producing frothy pink suds. “Yeah! I have to get my Hello Kitties from their house!” Lillie opened the bathroom door and ran naked into the living room.

“Lillie, please,” Collie glanced from his book. “No one wants to see you naked.”

“I don’t care!” she laughed. She wiggled her hips. “Shake your booty! Shake your booty!”

Collie rolled his eyes. “Dad!”

“Lillie!” I called from the bathroom. “Get your kitties and come back to the bath. And just the plastic ones!”

“Okay!” Lillie stooped by a dollhouse and took up her charges, one by one. “Time for your bath, Fashion Kitty. You too, Teacher Kitty. And Mommy Kitty, and Flower Kitty, and . . .”

“Dad!” Collie shouted. “She’s bring naked on purpose just to annoy me.”

“Come on, Lillie, the bubbles are waiting!”

“I don’t care!” She picked up the remaining cats without listing their names, and stood. She began to run to the bathroom, then stopped and looked at her brother. “Shake your booty, shake your booty . . .”

“Dad!”

“Lillie, please, let’s get this going!”

“Coming!” she ran down the hall.

“Well, did you get all the kitties?” I asked.

“No, just the ones that needed a bath.” Lillie emptied her arms into the tub. The toys rained down, vanishing into the foam before clunking at the bottom.

“Okay, Lillie. Get in and I will wash your hair, then you can play.”

I doused her hair with water and then scrubbed in shampoo. I worked it to the ends, especially the parts she puts in her mouth.

I nodded to a plastic tray attached to the tile wall. “Do you see that?” I asked. “That’s a new toy. Bath tub crayons!”

“Bath tub crayons?” She looked around. “Is there bath tub paper?”

“No, you can use these to write on the walls, or even on yourself.” I shook the shampoo from my fingers and filled the cup. “They wash off with water.”

“Cool!”

“Yeah cool, right? I tried them myself. They are nifty. Now, look up while I rinse your hair.”

“Towel! Towel!”

“I didn’t even wet your face, you big baby!” I teased, gently patting her eyes with a dry washcloth.

She blinked open her eyes. She looked at the crayons. “Really? On the wall and on me?”

“Really—but just those crayons and just in the bath.” I stood. “Okay, I’m going to finish the dishes. Don’t drown when I’m gone.”

“Dad . . . don’t say that every time.”

“Have fun with the crayons. Knock yourself out.” I peeked around the door. “Oh, and Lillie?”

“Yeah, Dad?”

“Beware . . . “

“Dad . . .”

“Bee-waare . . .” My left hand appeared above my head, the fingers wiggling.

“Dad, that’s your hand!”

“What hand?” I looked up. My eyes bulged. “Oh no, not the . . .” The hand descended on my mouth. My cries were muffled as I was slowly lead away.

“Dad, I know that’s you.”

I popped my head back. “Thank you, thank you. Shows every hour on the hour.” She giggled.

After a few minutes of washing dishes, I came back to check on my daughter. I could hear her talking to herself as I opened the door. “Lillie . . .”

“Ah!” she jumped. “You scared me.”

I couldn’t believe my eyes. “Oh my goodness, Lillie!”

“You said I could write on the walls.”

“I know, it’s fine, but . . . my goodness!” Lillie had covered the tiles with drawings and words. Her limbs were decorated like Goldie Hawn in her “Laugh In” bikini.

On the walls, I detected a theme. A brown circle containing black dots was labeled “cookie.” A brown oval was labeled “poop.” Underneath was written, “See the diference.”

“That’s very handy,” I said, snapping my fingers. “Now people will know the difference between cookies and poop.”

“I know!” she laughed. “And did you read my beautiful, beautiful poem?” She held out an arm, indicating a stream of sentences written in brown. I read it out loud.

O Poop
By Lillie

O poop

O poop

How I love you poop

Poop is good for you

The poop

Love,
Lillie

“Well, it’s a splendid poem, honey. And it’s sure full of poop.”

She guffawed, then stopped. “Wait, you are.” She laughed again.

“All right, funny girl, let’s get you toweled off. It’s time for Collie’s shower.”

“Okay, but make him leave my poem.”

“Okay, up you go.” I held up a towel. Lillie stood and stepped from the tub into it. She chatted and chatted as I brushed her hair, listening and listening.

Collie was not amused by the poem, but he let it stay. It remained intact for a few days. Finally, it had to go. “Lillie, I have to clean the bathroom, so come say goodbye to ‘Poop.’”

“It’s ‘O Poop,’ not ‘Poop.’ Wait, I want to write it down.” Lillie took a paper and pencil from my desk. She hurried down the hall. She knelt on the bathroom floor. Using the side of the tub as her desk, she looked up and copied the poem onto paper.

Her tongue flicked at her teeth as she wrote. “Okay, I’m done,” she said. “Now I have to save it.” She rushed to her closet, and pulled down a box. Inside the box was a purple doll’s purse. She put everything on the bed. With great care, she folded the paper again and again, until it could fit in the purse. She placed the purse inside the box, and returned the box to her closet. She tucked it under her t-shirts.

“That looks safe, all right,” I said.

“I have to hide it,” she said. Her voice dropped to a whisper. “Mom doesn’t let me say ‘poop.’”

“Oh,” I whispered back. “I didn’t know.”

“Yeah,” she whispered.

“Okay,” I whispered.

“Dad?” she whispered.

“What?”

“Why are we whispering?” she laughed.

Tonight, after Lillie’s bath, I discovered two texts on my bathroom walls, mostly in lower case and with Lillie’s characteristic backwards “s.” Each word was limited to one tile. The words were in red and blue.

On one wall, she had written:

hi boys

and we love

kissing and unacorns and

pink we love girls

and cute stuf

On the adjacent wall, there was this:

we love Hello Kitty

and hate boy stuf

and in love with girls

and really hate boys

this is by Lillie

No mention of poop.

I thought I might leave it on the walls for a bit.

Collie thought otherwise. It did not survive his shower.

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Astonishing

Lucy,

This morning, a little after four thirty, Collie woke me to say he had vomited.

He felt warm. I made him a bed on the couch, stripped the bed sheets and cleaned up the mess.

This morning, a little after six forty-five, Jason called you to say he would be picking up something at your office on the way to school. He told you Collie was sick.

He handed me his cell phone.

“Hello?”

“Hello, Henry?”

“Hi Lucy, did you call?”

“Oh. You are asleep.”

“No, the alarm went off a while ago.”

Click.

You hung up on me. I called back.

“Hello?”

“Lucy, you hung up on me.”

“I know, why are you calling?”

“Lucy, you shouldn’t hang up on me. Collie is sick and won’t be going to school today.”

“I know. What about tomorrow?”

“Well, we’ll see how it goes today and talk about tomorrow.”

“Okay.”

Click.

You hung up on me. I called back. You did not answer. I left a message, saying you should not hang up on me, and saying I found your behavior astonishing.

I made lunches, got Lillie dressed, and took the kids to your office.

Collie stayed home.

We arrived at your office a half hour before school. You were out. We waited.

When you returned, you told me I did not need to stay—you would see the kids to school.

“Do you have anything you want to talk about?” I asked.

“No.” You said, smirking. “I’m working.”

“Your behavior is astonishing, and illegal. Our son is sick . . .”

“I know. I hope he throws up on you.”

Jason rolled his eyes. I left.

This is, to the best of my recollection, a verbatim transcript of our interaction on a morning Collie woke up vomiting. Prior to this, you and I had no altercation, or any interaction of note. True to your behavior since mid July, you have avoided conversation with me. This was not your response to a fight. This was how you responded to the situation of co-parenting a sick child on a school day.

I find your behavior astonishing.

Since Jason acquired his cell phone, you use him to gain information about the children while they are with me. You cut me out of the loop, and treat Jason as your co-parent.

A month after freaking out that my phone was broken, you cut off my phone service, apparently judging it a useless tool for communicating about our children.

Insofar as your behavior affects me, it becomes just another anecdote I can share with friends. Divorce sure makes people weird, I say. You are welcome to detest me all you wish. You don’t need much reason, just as you didn’t need much reason to end our fifteen-year relationship.

But if the thought of Collie sick at home can’t make you communicate better about the children—to at least inquire about him—then I am at a loss for what might.

When I said that your behavior was “illegal,” what I meant is this.

My lawyer—who is a very, very good lawyer—foresaw that you could be a difficult co-parent. Our divorce agreement stipulates that if either parent refuses to cooperate effectively, the other has recourse to legal action. The court can intervene to make both parents stop behaving like children and behave in the best interests of the children.

I have tried to be a calm, rational person throughout this process. I let the water slide off my back. I do not respond to goading. I long ago learned that I can’t win a fight with you. I can only survive one fight and wait for the next one.

You and I have a long history. I miss our friendship. I would dearly like to be friends again.

You don’t have to be my friend. If we didn’t have children, you would be free to refuse to speak with me.

However, we do have children. You have a moral responsibility to speak with me. What’s more, you have a legal obligation to do so.

For the next eleven and a half years, you are obliged to be the best co-parent you can be. After that, we can be friends or we can just be civil at weddings and funerals. That’s entirely up to you and how you chose to live life in your mid-fifties.

But now, in your early forties, you have to get past whatever revulsion you have towards me and do what is best for the children.

I have offered, many times, to go into therapy with you, or to do whatever it takes to get you to a place where you can deal with me as your continued parenting partner. If your behavior leads us to seek a court’s help, we will certainly be forced to accept the guidance of a family counselor.

I am writing to you now to say: please do the right thing for the children, and communicate.

Best,
Henry

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