Posts tagged ‘co-parenting’

big, little, and the deep valley between

On Memorial Day we headed down to our favorite cafe and it was closed. But…. since Nathan has worked there on and off for ten years, and since we are about as regular as they come, we peered through the glass door, beckoned to the few figures moving about inside and were graciously allowed in to the haven of coffee and bagels. The lights were kept dim, to ward off would-be customers, and the mood among the five or so folks was subdued, and sleepy.

We nestled in to a back booth with lattes, markers, and a huge sheet of paper. Heaven. It was as though time did not exist, like we were a floating misty bubble of existence, untouchable by the outside world. The hazy, quiet environment, and trance-like state of drawing, encouraged unusual conversation and I found myself asking bold and simple questions of a woman I have known for years, but had never known much about, and she, to her own surprise answered them frankly.

When did you last see your parents? 1996

Do they disapprove of you? No, I don’t think so.

Are they mad? My mom is.

Are you sad about it? At times, very.

And your Dad? Is he afraid of your mom and does whatever she wants? Kind of. But I think he defends me to her and she doesn’t like that.

Does your mom know you? In the big picture, yes. In the small picture, no.

The Big Picture and the Little Picture. It kept coming up in our conversation. The idea of the Big Picture was soothing to my friend, because in that world her mother loves her, knows her as a pure spirit. In the Big Picture my friend is happy, content with the “work” she is doing in the Universe. But in the Little Picture, she misses her mom, wants to call her on Mother’s Day and isn’t welcome to do so. The Little Picture is sad.

A couple of days ago there were some developments in our lives with relationship to the custody of one of the girls, one that was not welcome and it sent me into a spiral of discontent and woe. I have had dark feelings of despair and frustration, wanting to throw in the towel, wanting radical change, and suffering from clinging to ideas of what I thought was going to happen instead. And then I noticed that when I checked back in with my feelings later I found they had changed. At one point I was giddy, simply because Echo and I had changed the hamster’s cage around and were giggling while she scurried about trying to figure out where to stash the food.  At another point my feelings surged with hope, not about custody issues, but about the little Robin’s egg we found unhatched and unharmed in the middle of the street. Little things were making me happy. My Little Picture isn’t sad, but then my Big Picture isn’t either. I realize I have more than a “Big Picture” and a “Little Picture”. There is something in between, and that is where I find pain.

The Little Picture contains this moment, the hamster cage, my deliciously cute little girl squealing with delight, the morning light coming through the window, a warm jar of tea. The Little Picture is do-able, it’s increments are small and fleeting. And if the moments within the Little Picture aren’t enjoyable, they quickly change and become something else. In the Little Picture I am just fine.

The Big Picture is Mother Earth, evolution, heaven/death/reincarnation, glacial speed, and light speed. The Big Picture is comforting in its vastness. There are no minutiae, no quarrels, no room to take issue with what’s happening, no reason to. In the Big Picture everything is perfect and just how it should be. In the Big Picture I am also just fine.

But the Middle Picture gives me trouble. The Middle Picture is where custody issues and co-parent disagreements live. Bills live here too. My hopes and dreams live here, the things I want for myself and for my daughter live here. All the things that don’t fit into the tiny view of the milli-moment of the Little Picture, or get lost in the grand view of the Big Picture, settle in this murky, and sometimes grim, zone.

It helps to jump into the Little Picture, or seek refuge in the Big Picture, but the Middle Picture doesn’t go away.

Maybe I’m wrong. I’m sure a spiritual advisor would tell me everything is Little, or Big. “Don’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s all small stuff”, kind of thing. But it doesn’t feel that way. At times the worries and concerns of the Middle Picture occupy every corner of my mind, filling me simultaneously with rabid hunger and almost drug-like fatigue.


June 3, 2010 at 6:34 am Leave a comment

a doozy

Oh man. The modern family.

On the one hand, I am glad for it, my life is made rich by Xi and Bella, and I wouldn’t be able to parent them as I do if it weren’t for the evolution of marriage, divorce, and co-parenting. It was only a few decades ago when if your girlfriend got pregnant, and you didn’t want to suffer the scorn of the community, you got married, quick. Now it’s different. Now there are baby-daddies, baby-mamas, half sisters, step sisters, stepmom’s stepmoms, other-dads, and bio-dads. And because we aren’t the first generation to separate and remarry, modern kids also have lots and lots of grandparents.

On the other hand, in our modern family where one kid’s “other house” is three hours away, a simple ballet recital or school performance becomes an epic adventure. Bella had been working for months on two performances and inviting every living soul she comes into contact with, Can you come to my performance??? It’s Mat 21st. Can you come?? Do you think you can come???, making it exceedingly obvious to us that it was important to her. The only problem was that the performances are in Bozeman, and we live in Missoula, so it wasn’t a matter of remembering and heading across town at the appointed hour, it was a matter of highway travel, lodging, and planning. But as my dad and step-mom were visiting at the same time we decided to make a go of it. On Friday we packed food, crammed backpacks, and squeezed six of us into the trusty family van to drive three hundred miles, so that Bella’s Papa, her two half sisters, her step mom, her step-mom’s mom (Grandma) and her step-mom’s dad (Grandpa) were smiling back at her in the elementary school auditorium.

Now if that isn’t modern family, I don’t know what is.

We watched Bella’s head bobbing around in the back row of awkwardly singing and jiving eight and nine-year olds, our eyes pinned to the only child we knew in that entire school. The next day we watched a two-hour ballet recital in which Bella appeared for a total of (maybe) three minutes.

Being there for Bella made the trip worthwhile but what we did in between performances made it even better. My step-mom found cabins for us to stay in, including one that was perched high up among the cottonwoods and aspen. Owls hooted, deer crept past, robins gathered worms, Canada geese with goslings scurried about, a hot tub warmed us in the mornings, intricate guest lodging decorations were just right for teeny fairy figurines to hide among, a king size bed made one still-nursing-mama really happy, and a rushing stream lulled us to sleep. We definitely made the best of it.

And then, in the whirlwind that shared custody weekends are, on Sunday we returned Bella to her mom and found ourselves re-trekking those three hundred miles. Back through the still-green valleys, back through the mountain pass, back along the Clark Fork river, and back to Missoula, only to return Xi to her mom. If it wasn’t my regular life I’d be confused and overwhelmed by all the back and forths, highway travel, drop off coordination, and pick up arrangements. It probably wouldn’t be my preference to live this way, but if I didn’t live this way I’d sure miss a lot. If my dad had upheld the til-death-do-us-part oath, I wouldn’t have a step-mom that researches and acquires awesome cabin retreats. If Nathan had stayed in his first marriage we wouldn’t have Xi. If Nathan had left his first marriage but shotgun married Xi’s mom, he and I wouldn’t have found each other. If we hadn’t found each other we wouldn’t have Echo.

So even if my head spins on occasion, even if we travel across one of the biggest states in the country to attend a ballet recital, and even though there is no simple way to describe the makeup of my family, it also means I get these fantastic girls, and epic weekend adventures, and surprise delights. I think I’ll take it.

May 23, 2010 at 4:59 pm 2 comments


Today I found myself incredibly, and surprisingly, crabby. It was curious because I don’t have any demons riding on my shoulder these days, the sky is blue, the sun is out, the birds are chirping, but come five o’clock this evening my face was all scrunched, my lips were pursed, everything about me was prickly, and then I realized: TRANSITION. I don’t like it.

Wednesdays are the days that Xi comes back to us from her other house. In the space of a couple minutes the family dynamic gets shoved around and reshuffled, and even though it happens every week, I’m never prepared. From Saturday until today we have been a three person family, which, even just because it is a lower number of people, is pretty easy. One kid, with just one set of interests, and one bedtime, and only one finicky belly to feed.

On Wednesdays we pick up Xi and smother her in love. Echo sits in her lap and suddenly has a readily available playmate. A sister has returned. It’s beautiful. But after that moment things are a bit herky jerky for me. Until we transition to being a four person family, I fight against making two separate kid meals in addition to the main meal, and refereeing disputes. I fight against plain everyday parenting things just because it is different from how we were doing it yesterday.

Once I’ve made the transition, having Xi here feels normal, feels right. But the in between time, the transitional afternoon, is tough. And, just when I have adjusted, Bella will arrive on a Friday and leave on Sunday, which means two more transitions to round out the week. It’s enough to make my head spin.

This is not what people think about when they are contemplating leaving the mother or father of their children, or, for that matter, when they are considering having sex with someone who they would never want as a parent to their future children. They do not imagine sixteen plus years of chopped up weeks. If they could possibly imagine what that might be like, maybe they wouldn’t be as interested in splitting up, or would never have gotten involved in the first place. Of course there are many, many worthwhile reasons to break up, but at this point I know I’d rather chain myself to Nathan’s leg than leave him. I’d rather participate in twenty-five years of couple’s counseling than watch Echo go back and forth, or negotiate holidays, birthdays, and well, virtually everything.

I know from experience just how tricky it can be. Not only from loving these girls and transitioning back and forth each week, but also from being a grown child of separated parents. The back and forth doesn’t end when the kids grow up. I am still negotiating how my time is spent with my family. Holidays are carefully divided, thought is pored into each visit, and still there are tears. Every time.

Luckily I am in love with Nathan and don’t even toy with the idea of being apart. In fact I feel insanely fortunate in that regard. And there is nothing to be done about having to share these fantastic girls. That is the way it is. I feel grateful for the time we have with them, and hopefully, I keep my own displeasure with transition to myself enough to help them with their transition. To be fair, I at least get to stay in the same house while I struggle with uncertainty and change. I’m sure if it didn’t mean choosing between one parent and another, the girls would rather stay in one home as well.

I would wager that transition is hard for everyone, no matter what the cause. In our world transition means we get to welcome back two phenomenal human beings into the fold, but I still struggle. Actually if I’m going to be honest, after reading this over again, I realize that I struggle on the other end as well. When the girls go to their other homes, and Echo is left an only child with only mama and papa to interact with, I wrestle with that transition as well. Seems no matter what I am transitioning from or toward my default mode is crabby.

Perhaps this means I have “work” to do in this area. To go with the flow more. To “be here now” more. Or some other such thing like that, and I’m sure I’ll give it some thought, but for now, tonight,  I think I will simply be crabby and see what follows from there.

March 24, 2010 at 8:36 pm 1 comment

oh perspective… you tricky beast

Xi and I sat on either side of a table today looking at the cell phone I use. It was facing toward me.

Xi said: Nallie, that looks wrong! It’s upside down.

I said, to demonstrate the concept: No, it’s right.

Then we spun it around and she said: Now it’s right.

I said: If I see wrong and you see right, is there really any plain old right or wrong?

She said: Nope. Only right for me, or right for you. Or wrong for me, or wrong for you. It just depends on who’s looking at it.

Aaah. Perspective.

Well now I’ll leap to the topic currently on my mind: co-parenting. I’m not talking about the kind of parenting that two parents do under the same roof. I’m talking about when two parents split up, and continue to parent “together”, while living under two different roofs.

Our family, as I’ve mentioned before, is a modern one. There is one papa, three girls, three mothers, and three different homes. So let’s just illustrate this more clearly, that is at least four distinct perspectives. If you add in our best friends, parents, or boyfriends, the number of perspectives concerning these girls can feel overwhelming.

The tricky thing about parenting everybody, for me, is that my own opinion feels right no matter how much intellectual distance I manage to achieve. I do an exercise demonstrating perspective with Xi in the morning, but by the evening lose track of that very concept, and find myself shaking my head wondering why the other parent is making the completely wrong choice.

Okay, no one is right or wrong. Perhaps the other parent is making the choices that feel absolutely right for them. I very stubbornly make room for this to be true. But I still have feelings about it.

This is how I currently feel about recent moves by a co-parent:

frustrated, annoyed, mad, irritated, sad, appalled, unsettled, displeased, tired, guarded, and troubled.

This is how I feel about these beautiful girls:

open hearted, tender, sympathetic, enchanted, amazed, thankful, tickled, pleased, trusting, and loving.

With these feelings on one hand and the other feelings on the other hand, it sure is tempting to turn on the fierceness of a mama tiger and just….. just do what? That’s the kicker.

I guess I will continue to revisit perspective exercises and use them not just on cell phones, but on my own life. I’ll use them even when all the data stacks up on my side, and even when my emotions are yanking me toward a sense of righteousness.

Oh, and empathy of course. For me, for them, for Nathan, and for the girls.

November 19, 2009 at 5:00 am 2 comments

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