Archive for the ‘divorce’ Category



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, Henry?”

“Hi Lucy, did you call?”

“Oh. You are asleep.”

“No, the alarm went off a while ago.”


You hung up on me. I called back.


“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.”



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.



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One afternoon before collecting the children from school, I met my friend Yael for lunch.

Yael and I work in the same field, and we have known each other for over a decade. We’ve collaborated on more projects than I can count. We are charter members of our mutual admiration society.

In many respects, we have enjoyed parallel careers, but different lives. I am newly divorced with children. She has recently married for the first time, finally making an honest man of her longtime live-in boyfriend. They have no interest in becoming parents.

“Look how gray you are!” I kissed her cheek when we met.

“Isn’t it awful?” she said, hugging me. “And you are too thin.”

“Nah. Live fast and die young, right?”

“I think you are pushing the clock on that aspiration.”

We crammed into a tiny table at Le Pain Quotidien. I let her order for us.

We gossiped over lunch. She is incredibly well connected, which offers a very nice counterpoint to my current state of mind, more concerned with parenting and dating than with networking. I ate up her gossip, glad to be in the loop on the latest.

She enjoys news on the ongoing soap opera of my new life. I spare the most salacious details but I give her enough to get her going.

We were asked if we wanted coffee or dessert. I agreed to coffee. “Would you object to sharing a cookie?” Yael asked. “They really are good here.” I allowed that I would take a nibble. We were served a chocolate chip cookie the size of saucer. She tore off bits as we talk. I took my requisite nibble.

She claimed the check when it arrived. “We talked about work,” she said, opening her wallet. “I can expense it.”

“Tell me in advance next time,” I teased, “So I can order without looking at the right side of the menu.”

As we pulled on our coats, I saw that there was still half a cookie left. I wrapped it in a paper napkin. “Can’t waste a cookie when there are kids to feed.”

“Oh God, yes! Should we get another to go?”

“No, this is just a bonus. No need for more.”

She was heading west, and I was heading east. We hugged at the door. “I’m glad things are going well with you and the husband,” I said, kissing her cheek.

“Yeah, and good luck with dating,” she replied. “Just remember my advice: it is just as easy to fall for someone wealthy as it is to fall for someone poor.” I laughed. “I mean it!” She held up a finger. “Don’t let me hear that you have fallen for a willowy starving artist.”

“I promise. No starving artists for me.”

“Good. Be well, Henry.”

I smiled as she walked off. Yael and I always inspire optimism in one another. I tucked the cookie in my pocket, feeling pretty good about life.

I found Lillie in the schoolyard, huddled against a wall. Her hair was in her face. She looked cross. “What’s up, Lillie? Are you sad?”

“Mmmrph!” Lillie whined. This signals that she does not want to talk about it.

“Well, maybe you will tell me later. Here,” I reached into my pocket. “You want half this cookie?”

Lillie looked up. “What is it?”

“Chocolate chip.” I broke the cookie in two. “You want?”

She nodded and examined the two halves. One was slightly larger. She took it. She scrunched back against the wall, crumbs falling on her coat.

“Hey Dad.” Collie tossed his backpack at my feet. “Hey, where did she get that cookie?”

“Same place you got this one,” I said, holding out the napkin.

“Oh yeah, chocolate chip!” Collie grabbed the cookie and took a bite. “So Lillie had an accident in school today.”


“Is that true, Lillie?” I realized she was sitting so that no one could see the seat of her pants.

She had been having “accidents” lately, at school and in bed. She refuses to go to the bathroom until the very last moment, which is too often one moment too late.

“Mmmrph!” She was clearly embarrassed.

“Don’t worry,” I said, lifting the hair from her eyes. “You can put on dry clothes at home.”


“That’s all I’m saying.”

Collie watched, chewing his cookie.

Lucy was also at school, as she had plans with Collie afterward. She found us by the wall. “Hi Collie, hi Lillie!” she said, ignoring my presence. “How was school? What’s wrong with you, Lillie?”

“She had an accident at school,” Collie said.


“Oh, did you?” Lucy said, her face darkening. “And where did you get that cookie?”

“Dad gave it to her,” Collie said.

“Oh, he did?” Lucy leaned forward and snatched the cookie from Lillie’s hand, just as she was taking a bite.

“Hey!” Lillie said.

“No cookie for you,” Lucy said, crushing it into crumbs. “You don’t get rewards for having accidents.” Lucy shot me a look, “you moron” written on her face. She brushed the crumbs from her hands as if washing her hands of me.

Collie took another bite of his cookie.

“C’mon Collie, we need to go.” Lucy took Collie’s hand and picked up his backpack. She walked away without looking back.

She didn’t see Lillie crying. “C’mon Lillie,” I whispered. “Let’s go home.” Lillie stood and put her hand in mine. She kept her eyes on her shoes as we walked.

Lucy says she has a “no tolerance” policy for Lillie’s accidents. She insists that Lillie go to the bathroom at bedtime, and at certain times of the day, whether she needs to go or not. Lillie can pee or not pee, but she will sit on the toilet at those times. Lucy enlists Lillie’s brothers to help enforce the rule. If she has an accident, the boys are to report it and to tell Lillie she did a bad thing.

I don’t play along.

I have told the boys they are not to humiliate their sister while they are with me.

Not that it comes up, really. She doesn’t have accidents at my place. It’s pretty clear to me that this is really a pissing match between mother and daughter. At issue: control.

Lucy is determined to make Lillie control her bladder according to her mother’s demands. Lillie is determined to prove that she is in control of her own bathroom schedule. She won’t bend, even at the cost of wetting herself.

It’s the wrong battle for each of them. Lillie knows that her mother is in control of most things, but she has found one thing that she can control—her body—and she is not budging.

If Lucy listened to me, I would tell her what I tell the boys: if you make a big deal about this, it will become a big deal. If you can treat the symptom—getting to the bathroom on time—without challenging Lillie’s sense of self-control, you will get better results from her.

But Lucy does not listen to me. Lucy continues to confront her daughter, and so Lucy continues to wash sheets every day.

Later that week, Jason celebrated his twelfth birthday. His mother and I planned a birthday party with his friends on the following weekend, when the kids would be with Lucy. I would join them for football in the snow.

The actual birthday fell on a school day, when the kids were with me. The day before, Jason came to me holding his cell phone near his ear. “Dad, are we doing anything special for dinner tomorrow night?”

“Well, I am making burritos, as you requested. Why do you ask?”

“One minute,” Jason said. He spoke into the phone. “Uh yeah, so Dad is making burritos. Okay . . . okay.” He looked back at me. “Can Mom come over tomorrow night?”

“Is that your mother on the phone?”


“Sure, your mother can come to dinner tomorrow night.”

“Okay. Mom? He says you can come. Okay . . . I’ll ask. Dad, she says she’ll bring cupcakes and be here at six.”

“That’s fine, though we will eat closer to seven thirty.”

“Okay. Mom? He says dinner will be ready at seven thirty. Okay . . . okay . . . Dad, she says she’ll be here at seven.”

“That’s fine, Jason.”

“Mom? He says that’s fine. You need me for anything else, Dad?”

“No, you can finish your conversation with your mother.”

“Thanks.” Jason went off to answer his mother’s questions about the homework he and I had already completed.

Ever since she gave Jason his new cell phone, Lucy has seen no reason to call me about the children. She can get all the information she needs from Jason, and use him as an intermediary when she requires anything specific from me.

She’s got it under control.

The next evening, Lucy arrived with cupcakes and presents. I gave her a beer left from her previous meal with us as she settled in with the kids. I went back to the kitchen to cook. “Jason, do you want to open your presents now?” Lucy asked.

“Sure!” he said.

“I want to help!” Collie said.

“Me too!” Lillie said.

“Just a second,” I called, pouring rice into boiling chicken stock. “I can be out in a moment.”

“Hurry, don’t make us wait.” Lucy called.

I covered the rice, lowered the heat and wiped my hands. “On my way.”

When Lillie saw me, she grabbed a package and began to tear into it. “No, Lillie,” Lucy said, taking the package. “You need to wait! These are Jason’s presents. Control yourself.”

“But I want to . . . “ Lillie began.

“I don’t care what you want, you need to wait.” Lillie crossed her arms and frowned. “You can be as mad as you want, but you need to control yourself,” Lucy said.

Lillie stuck out her tongue. Lucy stuck out her tongue.

Lillie looked around. She began to cry.

She ran to her bedroom. “Hang on, guys,” I said, and followed.

Lillie was curled on a pillow, sucking her thumb and holding a blanket. She sobbed as tears ran down her cheeks.

I sat next to her. “I’m sorry that made you sad,” I said, petting her hair. “You know Jason will let you open presents. We just need to take turns.”

“Mom is so mean,” she sobbed. “I hate her.”

“I know you are sad about that. Why don’t you take a moment to recover? We will wait until you join us to open presents. Okay?” She sniffed and nodded. I returned to the living room.

“Should I talk to her, or will that make it worse?” Lucy asked.

“Let’s give her a minute. Do you mind waiting, Jason?”

Jason shrugged, not looking up.

“Well, I think I should talk to her,” Lucy said, standing. She went to the bedroom. A few minutes later, she came out, holding Lillie’s hand. Lillie held her blanket, her thumb in her mouth.

Jason offered his sister a present to open. She took it and slowly tore away the paper.

Lucy was very talkative at dinner. She’s usually loquacious, all the more so when she is nervous. I watched as she spoke with the kids. Her rapid speech had the kids rushing to keep up. They were like other children in their interactions with her.

Lucy prodded Jason for details about his tardy return home that evening. “There’s no story there, Mom,” he replied, sullen.

“That makes me think there must be a story!” Lucy laughed sardonically.

“Mom, I am telling you: there is no story. None.”

“Okay, now you have to tell me the story.” Collie’s head moved back and forth as he followed their volleys.

“Mom, read my lips.” Jason was agitated. His voice rose. “There. Is. No. Story!”

“So why were you late?”

“I. Missed. The. Bus. I. Took. Another. Bus. The. End.”

“Why didn’t you just say that, then?”

“Urgh!” Jason threw up his hands, rolling his eyes.

Before dinner was over, Lucy had Collie in tears over something having to do with a turtle. Lillie tried to interrupt, but was told to wait her turn. Her turn never came.

I cleared the table.

We served cupcakes, with candles for all the children.

Shortly after, Lucy left. “Thanks for dinner, Henry,” she said at the door.

“Sure,” I said.

I closed the door, locking it for the night.

The next day, Lucy called MCI and cut off my phone service.

When my phone died recently, Lucy overreacted by emailing her parents and mine to complain of my “irresponsibility” and inaccessibility. I had learned of Lucy’s panic only after replacing the broken phone.

Our families wrote off Lucy’s behavior as one of those things.

As she fretted about her lack of control over my telephone, she realized that my phone bill was in both of our names. This was a hangover of our days with a shared bank account. I had never switched the service over to my new bank account; it simply never occurred to me to do so.

Lucy insisted that the service be put in my name exclusively. Fair enough.

MCI required that we both be on the phone to authorize the transfer. Fair enough.

It didn’t occur to us to make a three-way phone call. Instead, we decided to make the call one day when we were together, presumably when transferring the kids.

Unfortunately, she is barely speaking to me, and so our interactions are as succinct as possible. We are usually distracted when dropping off or picking up the kids, and so we neglected to take care of the phone.

Now and then, she would email terse reminders that this needed to be done. Each time, I agreed, saying we should remember then next time we were together.

We remembered one afternoon. Lucy made the call, but grew impatient with MCI’s automated process. “I don’t have time for this,” she complained, closing her cell phone. “We’ll do it next time.”

“Sounds good,” I said. “No rush.”

We forgot once again on the night she invited herself to dinner for Jason’s birthday. Apparently, it was not a huge priority. But somehow, it became a priority for Lucy the next day. With no further notice to me, she cancelled the service.

One month, she panics because my phone is temporarily out of service. The next, she discontinues my service. As her father told me over the holidays: these things don’t make sense. This is just how they are.

I contacted MCI to continue the service. I was told this would not be a problem, so long as Lucy and I were on the line to authorize the change in her order to cancel the service.

We had three days to do so, or I would lose my telephone number.

I sent Lucy an email. I reminded her that my number is an emergency contact for the children, and said we now had the exact same situation—we had to make this call—but now we had a deadline.

She agreed to stop at my place after work.

Six o’clock passed. Seven o’clock. I called her. She was home.

She had forgotten.

Okay, I said. I will come to your office tomorrow. She agreed.

The next afternoon, I left my work to travel across town. We called MCI. She cancelled her order to discontinue service. I authorized service to continue in my name. It took half an hour of passing a cell phone back and forth, but it was settled.

A month later, I was at my desk when my friend Meg sent an instant message.

Dude, your phone is disconnected.

I picked up my phone. It was dead. I contacted MCI. They had no record of our call to cancel Lucy’s order. The service had been discontinued, per her original instruction.

The phone could be back in service, I was told, in about two weeks. But the number was lost.

I contacted Verizon and was told that a new number could be had in a few days. MCI lost a customer.

A few days later, my new phone number was up and running. That same day, I lost my DSL. That account had been linked to the original number. When that number vanished, the DSL went with it. I contacted Verizon, the DSL provider, and learned that a new contract would be necessary, as my new phone number represented a new account.

Service could resume in about one week.

I contacted schools, friends, family and colleagues with my new number. I waited for my DSL to return. I was furious at Lucy for being so unnecessarily vindictive and impulsive.

But my fury passed. I looked on the bright side: Now, my phone is one more thing no longer in Lucy’s control.

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The shower was running, as it had for nearly forty minutes.

From my surrendered bedroom came the sound of a hair dryer. The girls had each packed one, just as they had each packed individual assortments of identical toiletries, just as they had each packed two changes of clothes for each of the three days they were to be in the city. Their oversized suitcases sat side by side under the window in my bedroom.

I took my coffee to my desk, answering email as the girls went through their morning routines.

As they drank their coffee in bed before showering, we had gone over their plans for the day. They had many things they wanted to do in the city, and so little time. I helped them to organize an itinerary, taking into account the proximate location of each destination. They needed a little guidance to realize they could only get to so many things. We had to prioritize.

I also dropped an enticing tidbit. I had set aside the day to be their tour guide. Of course, I was happy to do it, and I truly enjoyed the time with my daughter and her best friend. But, I suggested, if they wanted to do a few things on their own . . .

I laid out a plan that would fill their morning with selected activities, all accessible without public transportation. “We are with your siblings this evening,” I reminded Rachel. “And tomorrow is your last day. I can take you around to do the remaining things tomorrow, of course.”

I could hear them discussing options in the next room as they dressed.

Rachel came out and dropped into a chair near mine. She looked out then window, then down at the floor. “Okay, so, Dad, we think we are cool with being on our own today.”

“Are you sure? I’m happy to join you if you prefer.” I knew they were itching to strike out on their own, but I had to offer.

“No, we’re cool. I mean, it will just be boring for you, girls shopping and all.”

“Well, if you are sure . . .”

“Yeah, it’s cool. We’ll be fine.”

“I know you will. Let me give you a few directions, okay? And call me if you get turned around.”

I gave Rachel a guide books and directions to the “glass mall.” I planned to meet them there after lunch, walk them to Wollman Rink in Central Park, and leave them to skate as I picked up the kids. We’d meet back at my place around four, just before dark.

Rachel took in this plan, clearly happy with this turn of events. She conveyed the plan back to Stevie with calm reserve, as if it was no big deal for her to stroll around New York City on her own.

I watched from the window as the girls walked arm and arm up the street, wearing gloves, hats and scarves on an unseasonably warm morning.

My baby girl! We didn’t make a big deal about it, but this was her first solo venture into the city. Jason is six years her junior and already able to get to and from school, the store and a few friends’ homes. I don’t bite my nails about that anymore; no use, as they were stubs anyway.

But Rachel is the country mouse among my litter. I remember her as a little girl visiting us in the city. She would gleefully push all the buttons in elevators, just to see if the numbers would really light up.

I remember calling her name as she ran to the curb, knowing she had no experience with traffic signals. I remember the way she covered her ears as the subway trains approached the station.

“You so country, sugar,” I would say.

Now here she was, days from turning eighteen and walking a few blocks along the safest streets in the world. Still—my baby girl!

I watched until they were out of view. I sat back with my coffee and worked, killing time until I could meet the girls after lunch.

“You having fun?” I asked when we met. I kissed them each on the cheek.

“We sure are,” Stevie beamed. “I could only afford one thing at that mall, though. Check it out—a CNN coffee mug!”

“That’s pretty cool,” I admired, guiding our way across Columbus Circle. “And so now you are off to skate.”

“I am so going to bust ass,” Stevie fretted, returning her mug to its bag. “I’ve never ice skated.” Rachel laughed.

“Yeah, you’ll bust ass,” I said. “And you’ll get up and bust ass again. Just don’t blow Rachel’s cool. She hates it when I do that.”

“Not a problem, Dad,” Rachel said. “I mean, yes, a problem with you, but, well . . . you know . . .” She let her zinger sink in.

“Are you insinuating that I am uncool, young lady?”

“No, I mean . . . “ She shrugged. “Well, you said it, I didn’t.”

“Well, I never! I’ll have you know I am very ‘with it,’ as the kids say, very ‘hep’ to what you are ‘putting down.’ I can readily ‘get jiggy with it,’ because I know when it is ‘hammer time’ . . .”

Rachel stopped in her tracks. “Are you done yet?”

“No, I can go on and on, just ‘keeping it real,’ you know, just ‘laying down a back beat,’ you know, just ‘hands up’ on our ‘rap session’ . . .”

“We get it, Dad.” Rachel kept a straight face as Stevie laughed.

I shrugged. “All reet. Don’t blow a gasket, gidget.”

“Dad! Enough!”

“Just saying.”

“Fine, fine. You are cool. All right?”

“If you say so, jive turkey.” We bantered our way into the park. We faced down the line at the ice skating rink. Winter trees and the city skyline were etched against a clear blue sky. The girls got their tickets and skates. I took their parcels so they would not worry about them in rented lockers. I kissed cheeks and left them to be best friends. I walked north though the park.

Lillie ran up to me in the schoolyard.

“Daddy, Daddy!” I crouched as if to catch her in my arms. When she was steps from me, I turned and ran away, hell hounds on my trail.

“Dad!” Lillie ran after.

“No, no, make it stop!” I shouted back. I lifted my knees high, running like a Keystone Kop.


“What?” I stopped and turned, standing stock still, not a care in the world.

Lillie jumped in my arms. “Pick me up, old man!” she laughed.

“I picked you up, stinky girl.”

Lillie looked over my shoulder. “Where’s Rachel?”

“Rachel is meeting us at home. She is ice skating with her friend.”

Lillie pulled back in my arms. “I don’t want to go ice skating.”

“We won’t, it’s just Rachel and her friend. Where’s Collie?”

“I don’t know where he is,” she replied, looking around. I put her down and took her hand.

“Let’s find him,” I said. She led me to her brother. He was playing ball, as he always was after school.

“Hey Collie!” I waved.

“Hey Dad.” He ran over. “Mom said she would be over later for dinner.”

“Oh, is your mom coming for dinner?”

“Yeah, she wants to see Rachel.”

“Okay, great!” I assumed Lucy would want to see her. Rachel had mentioned that Lucy was planning to take her out for dinner. This was the most I had heard about a plan.

Naturally, these days Lucy makes plans with the children without consulting me.

Now I had two conflicting reports. Was Lucy talking Rachel and Stevie to dinner, or was she joining us for dinner at my place? Common courtesy suggests I should be in the loop on this decision. Barring courtesy, I needed to know if I was preparing dinner for four or seven. I contacted Lucy.

“Hey Lucy. Rachel is looking forward to seeing you. So what’s the deal? Are you taking her and her friend out, or are you coming over for dinner?”

“Can I just come over? I’m too tired to do a whole night out with them. I’m sorry.”

“No, it’s fine, no big deal. I have wine. If you want beer, can you bring it?”

“I can bring beer, sure. Is seven good?”

“Seven is fine. See you then.”

“Okay.” Click.

We waited for Jason to join us and then headed to the bus.

The sun was setting as the girls called. They were late, but blocks away. They arrived with the happy news that neither had fallen, not even once. “You didn’t bust ass your first time on ice?” I asked Stevie.


“Call the Ice Follies, sister, because you have a God-given talent.”

The kids had finished their homework. They were eager to soak up Rachel’s attention. I poured a glass of cabernet and washed basil.

The pesto was ready when Lucy arrived. She said hello and handed me a bag of beer. I took the bag to the kitchen and opened a beer, bringing it to her as she settled in with Rachel and Stevie. “You girls want some wine?” I asked as Lucy took her bottle.

“Sure, that sounds nice,” Stevie began.

“Henry, no, no!” Lucy admonished. “They can’t have wine! They are underage—Henry!”

“Oh, right. Sorry about that girls. Water?”

“No, we’re cool,” Rachel motioned.

I boiled pasta and grated cheese. I prepared a salad. I softened butter for a baquette, which I cut at an angle to present larger slices.

We were too large a group to eat at the table, so we camped around the coffee table in the living room. “I’ve never had this,” Stevie said, twirling another fork full. “I’ve just had pesto in mayonnaise. It’s so good.”

“Thanks,” I smiled.

We spoke softly under the noise surrounding us. The kids were excited to see Rachel, and happy with the novelty of having Mom at Dad’s apartment.

Lucy was trying to draw out Rachel over bites full of food. She was curious about school and life at home, never mind the recent controversy that drove her from her first apartment. Lucy and I were both hungry for the details on that, but this was neither the time nor place.

Lillie slathered butter on bread slice after bread slice, devouring them in hungry bites. For once, the grown ups were too preoccupied to chaperone her infatuation with butter.

Lucy’s conversation with Rachel was punctuated with interruptions. Eventually, she gave in, frustrated that she could not have a private conversation at so public a table. It was, after all, a family reunion.

After dinner, I collected the dishes. Stevie nibbled the remains of the salad with her fingers. “This is the best salad I’ve ever had,” she said, eying the bowl.

“Take another plate, if you want,” I said.

“No, I’m cool,” she said, stuffing another leaf in her mouth. “What is this dressing?”

“It’s store bought—Newman’s Own Olive Oil and Vinegar.”

“Cool,” she chewed, reaching for a tomato. “Newsmansome rocks.”

“Oh, it’s ‘Newman’s Own,’ you know, like Paul Newman.”

“Whatever, he rocks.”

I left the salad bowl to Stevie and stacked the dishes in the kitchen.

After dinner, the kids treated everyone to the floor show. Jason pulled “Lazy Sunday,” which his mother hadn’t seen. He rapped along, laughing. I was in the kitchen, so I skipped playing Chris Parnell to my shaggy son’s Andy Samberg.

Collie followed up with his presentation of the Hustle. I was surprised Lucy had not seen this. For two years, our middle child has done a spot-on choreography of the Hustle. He performs this in sunglasses and a velour purple paisley jacket I bought as a joke to wear on New Year’s Eve, nineteen-eighty-nevermind.

Jason was the DJ to his brother’s disco fever. Lillie laughed and danced along, flubbing every clap and kick.

This played through twice before Lucy was ready to call it a night. It was late, already nine thirty on a school night. “Okay kids, I need to go. Come say good night.” Lucy made the rounds. Rachel was kissed and wished good luck. Stevie was told it was nice to meet her. The kids were kissed in turn.

Collie cried as his mom waved from the door.

The kids looked at me as the door closed. Mom was gone.

“Dad, can I check the score?” Jason knows his mom doesn’t allow media on a school night at her home. But it was playoffs and this was Dad’s home.

“Yes, fifteen minutes.”

“And can we . . . ?” Stevie asked.

“Bottle’s in the kitchen.”

“Will you carry me?” Lillie asked.

“Absolutely not,” I said, picking her up.

Half an hour later, the kids were in bed. I had bourbon in hand, watching Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind with the girls. Stevie had brought her favorite movie. The three of us were in pajamas.

“So, is that about typical with Lucy?” Rachel asked.

“No. Actually, that was very nice,” I said.

Rachel watched Jim Carrey erase Kate Winslett from his memory.


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“Oh, yesssss. Yes, Henn-rrrryyy! Bite me! Ooh-wn me-ee-ee!”

Bridget was at full volume as I chewed my way across her ribs.

She’s an alto. Her voice, at full volume, could peel the paint off the ceiling of the Metropolitan Opera.

I long ago found a tender area—just under her breasts, just above her belly—and I was working it, intent on giving her a deep, memorable bite for each orgasm she had given up so far. Trouble was, I kind of lost count. Who can keep track of so much shouting?

So instead, I decided to approximate by chewing one row across in an odd number—I estimated seven—and then a second row back in an even number—estimating six—all in a nice symmetrical pattern.

But that symmetry would be lost if she kept shouting as I bit her. I would have to add more bites, which might in turn add more orgasms. A never-ending spiral.

Not that it was such a big deal. I just happen to like symmetry. It was my own fault for losing count, really, as I was a little distracted. In the back of my mind, I was fantasizing about something new I wanted to try with Bridget.

As my teeth sank slowly deeper into her flesh, as her screams and shouts filled my ears, I allowed my mind to wander to my new fantasy. I lifted my mouth on lucky number thirteen, and surveyed my traces. Bridget panted. I smiled. These would be nice souvenirs.

“Please,” she panted, desperate. “More . . .”

“Yes, of course.” I gave up on biting and symmetry, moving on to other activities until my ears could take no more blistering. We fell apart, panting, She was soon asleep, snoring and sprawled on my bed. I lay awake, pondering my fantasy.

The next time she asked me out, I sprang it on her. “You want to get some dinner, and boink?” she asked. “Boink, boink, boink!”

“Dinner sounds good,” I replied, gulping. “But can we forgo the boinking? I want . . .”


“May I bring the kids?”

I’m sure she hit the floor. Bridget knows I have a very firm rule. I keep my life as a parent far removed from my dating life. I do not want my kids to meet my lovers. I do not want them confused about who is and who isn’t “Dad’s girlfriend” and, in their minds, potentially a new Mom.

So far as the kids are concerned, Dad is just . . . Dad. Dad presumably goes back into a box when they are gone, waiting to reactivate upon their return. But Bridget has me thinking.

She asks me about the kids pretty much every day. She remembers details about them that even I can’t recall. She tells me about her godchild’s every landmark. Through her updates, I have come to feel that I know this child I’ve never met. She respects my rule, and she cares about my children.

I’ve also been pondering the future of my life after divorce.

I’m not at all interested in finding the Next Big Thing in a relationship. I don’t want a wife, or a new mother for my children, or anything like that. I’m a great parent, I tell myself. I can do this without muddying the waters with another adult in the mix.

Even so, it is hard work. I am grateful for every bit of help I get from friends, wishing my family lived closer. I regret that the kids have to grow up that much faster to compensate for the absent parent.

I’m smart enough to know that this is a unique time in my life, and in the lives of my children. And that makes me wonder: who, among the people I have met since my marriage ended, would I want in my life ten years from now? Who among those people would I want to integrate into my life with the children? Once I thought it over, I decided that Bridget made the cut.

I have no idea what our relationship will be in ten years. I have no way of knowing. But I do think we’ll remain constants, in some way or other.

It helps that we have a fake past.

We realized early on that during our college years, by chance, we had danced in the same club in the same town. We might have met back then. We might have been friends ever since.

We decided to adopt that false history as our cover story. If anyone asks, we met all those years ago. We’ve been friends forever. It’s a better fit than the real story: we actually picked up one another on Craig’s List. We met at a bar that same day. We went Dutch. She came over to get laid. I gave her two hours and then kicked her out. Who knew it would stick?

My fantasy took root one afternoon when she stopped by to drop off some things from a Costco shopping spree. “Just a few things,” she said, “to get you through the weekend with the kids.”

That afternoon, the kids were zoned out to Cartoon Network. Bridget called from the lobby. “Hey guys, I’m going downstairs to get a package,” I said.

“I’m coming!” Collie replied, jumping up.

“Me too!” Lillie said.

“No, please,” I stammered. “It’s just a few things . . .”

“I’ll get my shoes,” Collie replied.

“Me too,” Lillie said.

“Okay, fine,” I said, resigned to the inevitable. “A friend of mine is dropping off some stuff.”

“What friend?” Lillie asked, pulling on her socks. “You have a lot of friends, Dad. You need to use a name.”

“It’s Bridget,” I said, gathering her shoes. “She has some groceries and stuff.”

“Is she a weenie?” Lillie asked. “Weenie” is her term for anyone who might be considered Dad’s girlfriend.

“Be nice. Don’t say ‘weenie.’”

“Okay,” she giggled as I tied her shoes.

“Lillie . . .”

“I won’t!”


Bridget was surprised to see me as I arrived with a cart and two children. “Well, hello! Let me guess, you are Collie, and you are Lillie?”

Collie grinned. “Yes.”

“Yes,” Lillie echoed, “And you are a weenie!”

“Yes, I am a weenie,” Bridget smiled. “And you are a poopy head.”

“No!” Lillie laughed. “You are a weenie and a poopy head!”

“No, I’m a weenie and you are a poopy head. I’m Buttercup, and you are Blossom. See, I have black hair, and you have red hair. Weenie and poopy head, Buttercup and Blossom.”

Lillie was struck silent. Lillie! Silent!

“Here, help me unpack,” Bridget said to Collie. “Take this.” She handed over a tub of Cheese Balls. It was nearly the boy’s size.

“Whoa, this is huge!” he exclaimed. “Look, I’m holding it over my head!”

“Well, it weighs about two pounds, dear. It’s all air.”

“It’s huge!” He looked at the tub of Cheese Balls as though it were his first Emmy.

“It is huge, but if you don’t put it down, you can’t help me with the Fruit Loops.”

Lillie looked at Collie. “Fruit Loops?” they shouted.

“Hope their mom doesn’t mind,” she said to me, pulling out an enormous box.

“Ooh, she’ll hate that,” I smiled.

“Gee, you think?”

Lillie held the box aloft. “Wow!” she managed.

The kids helped me to bring up a cart full of stuff, but there was more to come. Bridget waited downstairs.

“Jason! Jason!” Collie shouted. “Look at these Cheese Balls!”

“And the Fruit Loops!” Lillie followed.

“Whoa, where did this come from?” Jason asked.

“Dad’s friend!” Lillie said.

“Bridget!” Collie added. “You want to meet her?”

“Uh, sure, where is she?”

“Downstairs!” Collie called, running to the door. “Get your shoes!”

“Oh, okay,” Jason replied. “Wait up!”

Collie helped me to push the cart we had just emptied. Jason stuffed his hands in his pockets as he approached Bridget’s car.

“Oh hi, you must be Jason.”

“Yeah . . .”

“I’m Bridget. How are you?”


“Were you playing Madden?”

He smiled. “Yes . . .”

“Are you playing the team or the owner?” she asked, handing him a carton of Ramen noodles.

“Team.” Jason looked at me. How did she know this stuff?

“That’s a good game. You know ‘X-Men Legends?”

“No . . .”

“It’s awesome. You saw the movie?”

“No . . .”

Bridget punched me. “What kind of father are you?” Lillie laughed.

“I just . . . hey, I try,” I protested. I looked at Jason. “You see, the X-Men are a group of mutants who try to be good, though everyone thinks they are bad . . .”

Jason shook his head. “Dad, come on.”

“Don’t worry,” Bridget said to Jason. “You’ll see it.”

Jason shrugged. “Cool.”

I realized something that day. Raising kids can take a village. When I find good villagers, I need to let them help. Three children are a lot for one man. And so it was that Bridget crossed over my boundary, at my bidding.

Bridget came into my innermost circle. The kids.

I kept a close eye on things.

We took the kids to see Corpse Bride; for dinner, she suggested the kids compare Subway to Blimpies. Lillie preferred Subway, Jason preferred Blimpies, and Collie pretended that Corpse Bride was too babyish.

We took the kids bowling. We all scored high. It helped that we used bumpers on the lane.

We had a birthday dinner at a local sushi restaurant. Bridget’s birthday is the day before Jason’s. We combined the party and kept the waiter busy.

For her birthday, I gave Bridget a photograph of myself in college. “Here’s the evidence,” I said. “We’ve known each other a long time.”

At Christmas, I allowed gifts from Bridget under Bucky’s tree. Lillie opened a bag full of Hello Kitties from Bridget. “Wow,” she laughed, opening the fifth wrapped Kitty, with many more to go. “Bridget must really love me!”

“Who’s Bridget?” Richard asked me.

“A friend of ours,” I said. “Mine and the kids.” My ex wife noted that Bridget gave nice presents.

The other night, Bridget came over for dinner. Afterward, we played Clue with the kids. Game after game. Lillie stuck to Miss Scarlet, as always. Jason was indelibly Colonel Mustard. Collie switched Professor Plum for Mister Green, then switched to Mrs White. He tried every trick to work the angles.

Bridget watched the children’s faces and made careful notes in her detective’s handbook. She knew the murderer first, but held her deductions close to avoid guessing the children’s secrets.

After the kids were in bed, I discovered a split of champagne in the refrigerator. “You brought this?” I asked.

“Uh huh.”

“You ready?”

“Uh huh.”

I opened the split and poured two flutes. We clinked glasses.

“Happy anniversary,” I said.

“Happy anniversary,” she smiled.

Two years ago that night, we met for the first time. Legend has it we danced to New Order long before.

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I awoke before the children, roused by murmurs in the sun room. It was a little before eight. The day after Christmas.

Bernard and Bucky were talking in low voices—or at least, as low as Bucky’s voice gets—as they had coffee and traded sections of the Times.

It was a quiet adult moment between them. They had no doubt been up since sunrise.

I lay in bed, listening as I had as a child, when my parents took us camping. My brothers and I were tucked in as the grown-ups stayed up to talk around the campfire. I would be frustrated that as the eldest, I had the same bedtime as the babies. I quietly played with toys, making them talk about whatever it was that made the grown-ups laugh.

On this morning after Christmas, I had to pee. I knew that once I left my bed, I would be summoned to the sun room to join the grown ups. I did not want to disturb them, but my bladder got the better of my discretion.

“Is that you, Henry?” Bucky called as I flushed.

“Yes, it’s me,” I said, washing my hands.

“We have the paper,” Bernard responded. “Coffee is on the stove.”

“Thanks. Y’all sleep well?” The jig was up. I was awake for good. I poured my coffee and made my way to an empty chair between them. They talked to me about the day’s news even as I first read the headlines.

The kids came downstairs as a group. They slept in the same room, so they woke as one.

We put out breakfast.

The uncles and aunt arrived. We made more coffee. We toasted more bagels and put out more lox. It was around ten as everyone settled into the morning.

Lucy remained in her room. She was sleeping in. Except I knew: she was not asleep. The children knew this. We all knew this.

Lucy hasn’t slept later than seven thirty in all the years I’ve known her. Lately, she complains of even less sleep. She awakes before dawn and can’t relax.

During our relationship, if she woke too early, she would wake me and talk. She needed someone to listen. My drowsy responses of “uh huh” and “hmmm” lulled her away from loneliness.

I complained that I was not a morning person. She woke me anyway. I offered my sleepy lullaby.

Lucy knew there were plenty of adults to watch after the kids, including their father. She was not required to make an appearance. She could hide in her room, avoiding us all.

Around ten thirty, she was in the kitchen, fully dressed. She had put her bag by the door, fully packed. “Henry, some of the gifts you gave the children are piled in the center of their room. You will need to pack them for your apartment.”

“Good morning,” I said. “You want some coffee?”

“I’ll make my own, thank you.”

“The kids are fed.”

“I’m aware of that.”

“Okay.” I took my third cup of coffee to read the Metro section.

Lucy had her coffee as she packed gifts.

“Mom, are we leaving soon?” Collie asked.

“Yes, very soon.”

“Good. This place is creepy.”

“We’ll be home soon,” she said.

“Mom, I packed my Hello Kitties,” Lillie said. She held a Hello Kitty shoebox filled with stuffed animals. She looked down and began to list their new names. “Here is Fashion Kitty, Mommy Kitty, Birthday Kitty, Cheetah Kitty and her twin Tiger Kitty . . .”

“Lillie, those all go to your dad’s apartment. He got them for you.”

“He didn’t give me all of them. Some came from Santa, and some . . .”

“Please put that box by the door for your dad to pack.”

“But Mom . . .”

“Lillie, I need you to do that, and then help me pack your other gifts.”

“Okay . . .” Lillie put the box of toys on the floor and followed her mother.

I put down the paper, and swallowed the last of my coffee. “I’d better help here,” I said to Richard.

“You’re excused,” he said, eyes on the Op-Ed pages.

Lucy soon had the children dressed and ready to go. “Lillie,” she said. “Go put on your new purple sneakers so we can leave.”

“I want to wear the Hello Kitty sneakers Dad got for me.” Mother and father each knew their daughter needed sneakers. But since mother and father aren’t speaking, each didn’t know that the other had taken care of the need.

“Lillie, please put on the purple sneakers.”

“Dad, can I wear the Hello Kitty shoes?”

I wasn’t getting between them. “You need to do as your mother says. The purple sneakers are cool.” Lucy packed another gift. “Fine, wear the shoes you want.” She mouthed me the words: I want to go.

Lillie was pleased. She won a battle. I laced the shoes on her feet, en route to her mother’s house. Lillie won the battle, but lost the war. I’d probably never see those shoes again.

Lucy packed the car. The children were dressed. The children were packed into the car. The rest of us gathered on the front porch. Lucy drove off as we waved.

She had to come back when her sister called to say she had forgotten Collie’s coat and gloves. Lucy’s sister called again later, when we found she had forgotten Jason’s trumpet and a bag of gifts. She was well on her way. We made other arrangements.

She burned rubber to get the holiday fast into her rearview mirror.

“Well, it sure is quiet now,” Bucky commented, as I packed the rest of the children’s gifts.

“We will have you back to normal in no time,” I said.

Lucy may have forgotten a few details, but she was focused on one thing. Each of the gifts associated with me was assiduously edited from those she took home. It didn’t matter what the children wanted to play with in the moment. If it came from her family, it was packed. If it came from me, it was abandoned.

I put Lillie’s box of carefully packed Hello Kitties into a bag.

Bernard and I loaded his rental car. We were driving back alone. About an hour after Lucy hauled ass, we said our goodbyes.

Bernard was especially tender with Bucky. I followed suite.

When we were well underway, talking about the weather and the road, I scratched the scab. “We were lucky this year,” I said, adjusting the rental car’s satellite radio. “We missed the traditional Christmas day fight between Lucy and Bucky.”

“Well, that was predicted,” Bernard said as he drove. “So it could be avoided.”

“What do you mean? They do it every year, like clockwork.”

“Yes. So I told them that when they think they are going to fight, they should each leave the room.”

“Very wise. I noticed Lucy left the room on me a lot, too.”

“Yes, she did. But last night she didn’t, and you two got into it.” Bernard was in the next room as Lucy and I had our fireside chat on Christmas. He could hear every word.

“Were we so loud? I really tried not to argue . . .”

“It’s not you, Henry. It’s not even her. You two are going to disagree for a while.”

That’s pathetic, I thought, watching the cars. “I think she is crazy when it comes to me in ways I don’t understand.”

Bernard kept his eyes on the road. “I don’t recall her mother ever being so distasteful when we broke up. Maybe that is true, and maybe it’s my selective memory.”

I groaned. “I want a selective memory too.”

Bernard chuckled. “It’s a blessing and a curse. But the thing is, you have to remember, she is really trying and she is in a lot of pain.”

“I know that, Bernard. You know, she wanted this divorce . . .”

“I know.”

“And I fought it . . .”

“I know.”

“And she got what she wanted.”

“I know. But all that doesn’t matter. She’s really unhappy.”

“She’s miserable.”

“Yes, she’s miserable. And she only has you to blame.”

I watched the vineyards pass. “I get that. It makes no sense, but I get it.”

“It doesn’t have to make sense. It’s the way it is.”

I had set the radio to classic rock of the Sixties. Eric Burden sang. “I’d much rather it made sense.”

“It would be better. But this is how it is. The good news is, you don’t have to deal with her again for a year.”

“What do you mean? I deal with her almost every day.”

“I mean, you don’t have to be in the same house, under the same roof, until next Christmas.”

We passed a tree farm. “I don’t think that is such a good thing, Bernard. If she dealt with me, we would come to some understanding. So long as she refuses to talk to me, she can go right ahead creating some monster version of me, separate from reality.”

“Yes, but . . .”

“So long as we aren’t talking, her anxieties are her guiding influence. I’m not the living, breathing father of her children. I join her mother as one of history’s great war criminals.” Bernard laughed sardonically. “You know, I have offered to go into therapy with her, if it helps. This is just unwarranted bullshit for the kids.”

“Look, we survived this Christmas,” Bernard said. “See how it goes next year.”

We passed a Veterans of Foreign Wars post. There was a tank parked outside, resting on a concrete platform. Holes had rusted into the bottom of the tank.

“Hey, Simon and Garfunkel,” Bernard said. “Haven’t heard that song in a while.”

“Me neither,” I said, turning up the volume.

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Holiday Rush

After dinner on Christmas Eve, I was sent to the living room to enjoy my bourbon, my belly full of burritos, my ears full of accolades. Family tradition: the chef is not allowed to clear dishes.

Bernard and his daughter Julia commandeered that task. He was stationed at the sink as she shuttled dishes from the table. Meanwhile, Lucy commandeered Julia’s husband Aaron and headed to the attic.

The kids were told to stay downstairs for a while. As long as a few pipe hits, at least.

I was soon joined by “the boys,” Richard and Paul. Jason sat with his uncle Richard, who dropped an arm on the boy’s shoulder. Bucky pulled up chairs for herself and her girlfriend Linda, who had joined us for dinner. Linda is a sweet lady, and an artist. Bucky tended the fire as we talked.

Everyone knew to gravitate to the living room for the next traditions of Christmas Eve.

Ever since Jason was a toddler, we’ve gathered to sing “Twelve Nights of Christmas” and to read “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.”

Richard took the lead in establishing this tradition, singing loudly and reading Clement Clarke Moore until Jason was old enough to take over that duty.

Every year, we make some of the same jokes. For example, we sing “Twelve Nights” from an illustrated book. Richard always points out that one of the Eight Maids a-Milkin’ bears a resemblance to Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

He always embellishes his extension of Five Gold Rings.

We enjoy these corny touches.

The dishes rinsed and in the dishwasher, Bernard pulled up a chair. Julia headed upstairs to join her husband and sister for a “break.”

It was about nine thirty.

Collie sat between his brother and uncle Paul. “Do we have to sing this year?” Collie groused, crossing his arms in mock complaint.

“Yes sir, we do,” I said. “And you have to sing loud and like it.”

“No way, not me.”

“It’s a tradition, and you better love it, mister.”

Paul tickled his shoulder. Collie giggled.

“Dad?” Lillie whispered. “Where’s Mom?”

Bucky overheard. “Yes, where is she? Are we waiting for her?”

“She’s upstairs, Mother,” Richard said, with an air of admonishment. “She’ll be down.”

“Oh, upstairs, huh.” Bucky knows the score. “Well, we don’t want to wait all night. We have”—she dropped her voice to a loud whisper—“things to do.”

Jason smiled.

“We know. Mother. So Linda, what are you working on?”

We talked. Paul put another log on the fire. Ten o’clock came and went. Lillie counted her gifts again. Collie’s eyes drooped.

“Now, where is Lucy?” Bucky said, interrupting conversation. “Should I go get her?”

Not a good idea. Lucy would not respond well to entreaties from her mother or ex husband. I appointed a messenger. “Lillie, would you go to the steps of the attic and tell your mom that everyone is waiting on them?” She ran off. I heard her laugh upstairs. She came back to the banister.

“Mom said ‘get a grip,” she laughed.

Julia came down to join us.“What are they doing?” Bucky asked. “Can’t you make your sister and husband come downstairs?”

“I can only control my husband,” Julia said, looking at the fire. “He’s on his way.”

Collie looked up. “If Mom skips the singing, can I skip it?”

I took a breath. “I don’t think she will skip it.”

“Well, this is boring, just waiting,” Jason sighed.

Aaron came downstairs. “Any word from Lucy?” Richard asked.

“She says we should get started without her. She’s putting on lipstick.”

Bucky looked at her watch. “God, it’s almost eleven.”

“Well, we’re not waiting any longer,” Richard said, flipping through “Twelve Days.” “Look,” he said, holding up the book. “It’s Sandra Day O’Connor.”

Bernard and I laughed on cue.

I was annoyed; I guess we all were.

“Mom’s not here, so I don’t have to stay.” Collie leapt up and went to the study.

“Me too!” Lillie followed.

“Kids, where are you going?” Paul called. “We’re getting started.”

“Let’s just go ahead.” I said, handing Jason his copy of Clement Clarke Moore. “Do us proud, son.”

He began to read. Lucy came downstairs as Jason threw open the sash to see what was the matter. She sat, avoiding eye contact with everyone. She crossed her legs, tucking her hands between her thighs, extending her arms so that her shoulders nearly covered her ears. Her freshly painted lips were pursed into a tense smile as her son read.

“ . . . But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,

‘Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night.’” We applauded his rendition. I heard Collie and Lillie giggle at the door behind me. They were spying.

We sang our way through twelve nights of gift giving.

Afterward, I explained the Epiphany to Julia, who never understood why there were twelve days. Richard noted that adding up all the gifts given during the course of the song numbers three hundred and sixty four.

“That’s a year, minus one day.” Jason added.

“Right?” Richard said. “Coincidence? Or conspiracy?”

Lucy stood. “Okay kids, time for bed.” The kids kissed us all good night, and followed their mother upstairs.

Traditionally, the adults remain together for a while, until the kids are asleep. There is the traditional passing of the peace pipe, as Lucy’s family gets stoned together. This is always fun to watch, as some are practiced stoners, and others smoke only on this occasion.

Last year, stoned, they sat speculating on the physics of shortwave radio.

Then Santa arrives. I am usually coached through the assembly of Hot Wheels and train sets. This year would be different.

“Well, I’m exhausted.” Bucky stood. “I’m going to bed.” Linda stood to leave. Bernard and the boys stood to follow.

“Not staying for Santa?” I asked.

“There’s not much to do,” Bucky said. “You can handle it, right?”

“Sure . . .” The truth is, I had no idea what Santa was bringing. In years past, Bucky would contact me in October, pressing for a list of the kids’ Christmas preferences. She knew to bypass Lucy, who hated being asked about Christmas before Halloween. We would put together a list, run it past Lucy, and Bucky would order everything, having it sent to her house to await the big night.

This year, Lucy took care of it.

Julia and Aaron helped her to bring up the loot as I tended the fire.

They made one trip.

“Need help with the rest?” I asked.

“No, that’s it,” Aaron said.

I looked at the assembled loot.

One football jersey each for Collie and Jason. A Batgirl action figure for Lillie. An alarm clock for Collie.

“That’s it?” I was, frankly, incredulous. “That is just lame! You can’t come downstairs Christmas morning and find an alarm clock waiting.”

“Is it bad?” Lucy looked worried. Oh, now she speaks.

“We can fix it,” I said, rummaging under the tree. “Just, please, go wrap the alarm clock.” She took the box and left. Julia followed. “Aaron, let’s move these piles to the center of the room,” I said.

“Okay, what, one pile for each kid?”

“Yes.” I unwrapped gifts that had been marked “From Dad.”

I had a secret weapon this Christmas. Bridget had taken me shopping.

For weeks in advance of our combined outing, she had shopped on her own. She was armed with the children’s sizes and quizzed me about favorite movies and books. Bridget can shop for bargains like no one I know. Without spending too much, she had delivered a carload of presents before the holidays.

That night, Bridget and I had wrapped for a couple of hours before deciding to have sex, leaving the rest for me to finish.

With Aaron’s help, I arranged the gifts. No professional window dresser could have done better. “Nice,” Aaron admired.


We stood looking at the bounty when Lucy and Julia returned with the wrapped clock.

“Wow,” Julia said.

“You want ‘wow,’” I smiled. “It’s Christmas!”

Lucy nodded, smiling. We turned out the lights. Aaron and Julia drove to their hotel. Lucy went upstairs.

I poured a bourbon and turned the tree back on. I sat among the gifts, watching the embers burn.

The next morning, I woke in the study to hear the kids whispering about the presents.

It was six thirty.

Lucy came down the stairs. “Look at all those gifts!” she said.

I pulled on a t-shirt adorned by the assembled Peanuts gang from “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” and joined them.

(Bridget had thrown the shirt at me as we shopped at a Target in New Jersey. “Nine ninety nine. You are wearing this on Christmas morning.”

I tossed it back. “I don’t wear logo t-shirts.”

She gave me a look and threw it in the cart. “Don’t think, just do what I tell you.”)

The kids shook boxes. The boys put on their jerseys. Lillie played with Batgirl.

Lucy made coffee.

We had to wait to open presents. Family tradition: we open gifts only when everyone is assembled.

The uncles and aunts were due at nine.

When Bucky came down, she put out a spread of bagels, cream cheese, capers and lox. The kids ate. They were very patient.

I made more coffee.

Aaron and Julia arrived. Finally, Richard and Paul joined us, just before nine. They joined the adults in the kitchen, preparing mugs and plates in advance of the imminent orgy of wrapping paper.

Lucy joined the kids in the living room. Lillie ran into the kitchen. “Dad, can we open presents now?”

“In a minute, baby, as soon as the grown ups are ready.”


“We’re almost ready now, Lillie,” Richard said, stirring his tea.

“Oh, you can get started,” Lucy called from the living room. “You’ve waited long enough. Come on!” Lillie ran to the living room, already awash in the sounds of tearing paper.

Bernard looked at me, quizzical. “Can you wait one minute, please?” I called. “It’s just a moment!”

“No, they don’t have to wait,” Lucy called. “You rushed me last night, so I can rush you this morning.”

Richard shook his head, his jaw dropped. He looked at me. “Did she really just say that?” he asked.

“Cool!” Collie shouted. “A new game! Thanks, Uncle Richard!”

“Uh, you’re welcome . . . ” Richard called back.

Collie didn’t hear.

He was already tearing into a new box.

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Dinner Plans

By tradition, I cook dinner on Christmas Eve.

This tradition dates back to before the kids were born.

When I first began to Christmas with Lucy’s family, just after college, we were six: Lucy’s mother Bucky, her father Bernard, her brother Richard, his boyfriend Paul, Lucy and me. If Bucky had a girlfriend at the time, another chair could always be found.

Lucy’s stepsister Julia was then in her teens and still preferred to spend Hanukkah with her mother, Bernard’s second ex wife. Bernard’s third and current wife Christmased in Paris with her son.

At the time, the traditional dinner was lobster. Once she got the water boiling, Bucky would call me into the kitchen. “I don’t mind dropping in the lobsters,” she explained. “But I need you here to talk with so I don’t think about their demise.”

So she and I would chat as the lobsters met their fates, our voices drowning out their death rattles. I’d stay to melt the butter.

As our numbers grew, it became expensive and impractical to serve lobster. So one year, I offered to make burritos and margaritas. The menu worked and the tradition took hold.

Bucky keeps the original shopping list I prepared that first Mexican Christmas Eve in the back of a cookbook. Each year, I arrive to see that everything has been purchased in advance—right down to the precise amount of raw chicken, not an ounce more or less.

Around six, Richard and Lucy built a fire.

“Collie?” I whispered.

“What?” he whispered back.

“Can you help me cook dinner?”

“Yes,” he smiled. He thought a moment. “But that means Jason can’t help, right?”

“Right, just you and me.” He nodded happily. “C’mon, then let’s get to work.” I took his hand.

“Now wait a minute,” Bucky said, standing. She took up her vodka. “What do you need me to do?”

“I think we’re all set, Bucky,” I said, as she followed us to the kitchen. I’ve been cooking in this kitchen for most of my adult life.

“Well, look, I want to show you where everything is. The vegetables are by the chopping block, the rice is by the stove, the beans are over here . . .” She opened the refrigerator. “And here are the cheese, the chicken, the sour cream . . . and the salsa is over here by the chips . . .”

I closed the refrigerator door behind her. “Okay, great,” I said. “We can take it from here.”

“Well, which knife do you want to use?”

“Do you recommend one?”

She opened a drawer. “I just sharpened this one, it’s the best, but you may want this smaller one.”

I looked in the drawer.

“Collie, you want to take the big sharp one and I’ll use the small sharp one?” Collie looked at me, deadpan.

Bucky removed her glasses. “Well, my dear, he can’t use that knife; he is a mere child!”

“He’s kidding. Right, Dad?” Collie said.

“Yes, I’m kidding.” I scruffed his hair. “I’ve got your knife right here.” I handed him a butter knife from the silverware drawer. “This will be fine for chopping mushrooms.”

Collie took the knife as though it were his father’s light sabre.

“Now, what do you need me to do?” Bucky asked.

“I think we’re fine, thanks. It’s very simple.”

She looked around. “Well, I’ll make margaritas, then.”

“That’s a fine offer—I didn’t think of that. Collie, let me show you how to cut these.”

I put out a chopping block and piled the mushrooms. I showed him how to cut the stems, flip the heads and slice them.

“Got it?”


“Show me.” Collie cut into a mushroom. “That’s perfect, but for one thing. Always cut away from yourself, like this . . .”

“Oh shit!” Bucky exclaimed.

I looked to see her holding the blender carafe, confused.

“What happened?”

“Oh, well, I stupidly poured in the tequila without checking the bottom . . . and it wasn’t screwed on . . .” Tequila streamed onto the counter.

I grabbed two sponges. “Here, let’s clean it up. No big deal.”

“It’s just a stupid waste,” she said, wiping the counter.

Collie stopped cutting to watch. I squeezed a sponge in the sink, and returned to help.

“Oh, I’ve got this, I’m fine,” she said. “You’re cooking, I can make drinks.”

“Okay, you seem to have the situation under control.”

“Yes,” she laughed. “Now that I know to screw the goddamn blender in place.”

Collie looked at me. “Let’s see you chop some more, son. Remember to cut away from yourself.”

“Like this?”

“Perfect.” I chopped peppers, then onions. The chicken poached as broth bubbled for the rice. There was a crash behind me.

“Oh, damn it!”

Ice was scattered on the floor. “You okay?” I asked.

“Yes, now I’ve dropped an ice tray. What is with me?”

“Need a hand?”

“No, I can manage this.” She snorted. “You’d think I never made a drink before.”

The crash brought Paul in from the living room. “Look at you, Collie. Nice work. Anything I can do to help? Oh, there’s ice on the floor?”

“Yes,” Bucky said, stooping to pick up a cube. “I’ve dropped the ice.”

“Oh here, I can get those,” Paul said, bending to one knee.

“Thanks. I’ll get another tray and make the margaritas.”

“Are these mushrooms good, Dad?”

“They are great, son, thanks.”

Bucky finished the margaritas as Paul took down the glasses. Bucky poured them and added lime wedges. “One for the chef,” she said, setting a glass by my side.

“Thanks, honey.” I lifted the glass. “Cheers.”

“Well, I don’t have a glass yet, but cheers.” She laughed and put a hand on my shoulder.

Paul and Bucky distributed drinks in the living room, where the fire was settling nicely.

I moved Collie to his next task, grating cheese. Uncle Aaron offered to help. I stirred the peppers and onions. I added Collie’s mushrooms.

She’s changed, I thought. Hasn’t she?

Bucky is scared to death of Alzheimer’s. Her mother had it. Her grandmother had it. Bucky has always been eccentric, and she’s always been a lush. When things go awry, she has those excuses. Maybe she was just missing part of the conversation, she could say to herself. Maybe she was a bit in her cups, she could say.

But she knows: after decades of joking about her drinking, she is now using it to cover other things. It’s different.

We’ve all dreaded the possibility of Bucky with Alzheimer’s. She is so physically strong, and so accustomed to being in control. It will be so hard for her and for us.

I stirred.

Well, not us, I mean. For them. When Lucy dumped me, she took away one set of my parents. Lucy rarely consults me about our kids. I doubt she will consult with me about her mother’s health. I certainly have no legal authority to deal with Bucky’s health care. That will be left to her children—her son Richard and the daughter who hates her. Even as she hates me.

I stirred.

I sipped my margarita. “Five minutes to dinner!” I called.

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