I’m stuck in bumper-to-bumper bridge traffic late on Sunday afternoon, my windshield wipers feebly half-parting the sluicing waves of rain over my Jeep when my Blackberry vibrates.
“I know!” I answer immediately, seeing his number on the call display “I’m late, we’re headed over there now. I got lost trying to find your rugby game today and Nolan’s cranky…”
“I’m not cranky!” bellowed an indignant, trembly voice from the backseat. He had blueberry yogurt dribbled on his chin and clutched a crusty Spiderman action figure.
“He’s not cranky,”I sighed,”We’ll be there in twenty minutes.”
“OK, “said my ex,”Tell him I rented him the new Batman movie.”
“The new Batman movie?” I blinked, glanced at our son in the rearview mirror,”Not the Dark Knight?”
“Yeah, that one.”
“He can’t watch that movie!” I hate that my voice just moved up four octaves, and I take a deep breath,”Man, wait. Have you seen that movie? It’s rated R and I had nightmares about blue-mouthed evil clowns for weeks after watching that and he’s 3.”
“He’s gotta grow up sometime.”
I have the feeling he’s pressing my buttons and I fight the urge to press them right back.
“He’ll have nightmares, R, please.”
“I’m not going out again. If you want him to watch a different movie, stop and get one yourself.”
I hang up the phone, glance in the mirror and my son is looking intently at the back of my head. We go to the video store and pick up a copy of Finding Nemo.
I don’t think any parents of a child make the decision to split up with lightness. For my ex and I, there were a multitude of reasons. There were the “standard” things: money, unresolvable fighting, a diminishing lack of respect for the views of one another. One of the things that came up time and again was guns: I am staunchly anti-violence and anti-gun and my ex is very much at the opposite end of the spectrum. If I had my way, our son would never play with toy guns, would never watch a violent movie - would not be exposed to the reality that human beings kill each other, fairly regularly - until much, much later in life.
If my son’s Father and I still lived in the same household, this would be easier to assure but as it is, of course, we’re leading completely separate lives. Our one shared life thread is our son, but we have heavily differing views on what is right and appropriate for a 3 year old. So - right now, there’s an uneasy balance: I guide Nolan according to my principles at my house, and his Father does the same thing at his house.
It’s far from ideal. I wonder about the future implications of the mixed message for our son, and wonder what I can do to help come to some kind of happy medium.
Among the things I’ve pondered:
- Writing a list, asking my ex to abide to the top 5 things that are very important to me (no violent movies, teeth brushing every night, no sugary food right before bed, etc.) I would then encourage him to write a list too, and promise to abide by what he considers important (assuming they are not in direct disagreement with my list.)
- Asking him to attend a co-parenting class. We’ve done this before, as a mandatory part of our Separation Agreement process, but it might make sense to do it together. I’m not sure he’d be interested, though.
- Giving up any illusions of control whatsoever and realizing: he’ll do what he does, I’ll do what I do, and hopefully our son will turn out OK despite of us.