The children have a particular phone that I keep for them – ‘the Nigerian phone,’ we call it. Their Dad bought it in Nigeria (along with a Nigerian SIM card) in order for him to be able to make cheap phone calls to them whenever he wants, or whenever they want to speak to him.
For the first few months after we got it, I just handed it over to them and told them what it was for. That didn’t work very well, though. No one could ever remember where it was. No one ever remembered to charge it, either. And so that would mean no phone calls.
Their Dad expressed frustration about this a few times. So I decided to keep the phone in my room. It’s usually on my bedroom mantel piece, somewhere behind my head when I’m in bed. I also took on the responsibility of keeping it charged this year, and of rushing to hand it over to one of the children when it rings, reminding them to pass it on to their sibling for some talking time, too, when they’re done.
Still, we haven’t gotten it down to a science. He still complains periodically that he’s been calling and can’t get through, and is convinced the phone has been off. I still insist it’s been on and no calls have come in. We conclude that maybe there are some network problems that we aren’t aware of.
Or, the last child that was on the phone forgets to bring it back to my room and it lays somewhere – maybe hidden under a couch cushion, until the battery dies and no one has any idea where it is.
Sometimes, he calls when I’m at work to point out that the phone isn’t on (like today). Again, I say the phone is on, as I charged it and turned it on myself. I point out that although the children are at home today, maybe they’re just not in my room and so can’t hear it ringing. I suggest that he keep trying. Other times, ask why he doesn’t simply call our son on his ‘real’ phone (his Kenyan phone), and ask him to charge or turn on the Nigerian phone so they can chat. Or that he send his son an email or FB message. He doesn’t seem to like these options, as I noticed he never tries them out.
These are some of the teeny incidents that are part of the divorced life when you have kids, and if you’re not opposed to having your ex involved in his children’s lives.
Sounds pretty simple and banal. But there are undercurrents of apprehension – at least in my situation/on my part. I feel like I did a lot of the ‘heavy lifting’ in the relationship when we were married, and this is a pattern that I do not want to repeat, particularly not now that we’re divorced. I know that marriage is ‘work,’ and I understand why this is the case; I mean, any relationship that you want to preserve is ‘work,’ really. But I don’t want my divorce to be characterized by the same kind of labor.
It’s a challenge, though, because my former husband and I, while not being ‘friends,’ are not ‘enemies,’ either. We’re more like casual acquaintances that don’t know each other too well, as a childhood friend of mine observed recently. After having an opportunity to watch us interact for a while, she marveled at this fact. She said something to the effect of: ‘If I were in your situation, I would either still be in love with the person, or really hate them. But you guys are just totally neutral. You’re just like acquaintances. I was looking for some sort of emotion between you guys – anything – and there was absolutely nothing!’
I laughed and remarked that maybe we were both just really good actors.
She was right, though, in sensing that there is neither romantic love between us, nor great anger or hatred. I mean, I do get angry when certain things occur or when certain memories come back to me. I just don’t get angry ‘enough,’ nor often enough for anger to make its mark as a major emotion. Maybe my emotions would be more volatile if we had more contact. We actually have very little interaction.
I’ve just remembered that an older, father-figure person I used to know in my 20s once asked me what the opposite of love was.
‘Hatred?’ I offered.
‘No,’ he replied. ‘The opposite of love is indifference.’
Whoa! I thought.
But I can’t honestly say that what I, personally, feel is indifference. I don’t know what to call it, really. All I know is that there is this underlying sense of apprehension on the rare occasion when we do have to interact; a constant feeling that I need to have my guard up, or watch my back. A feeling that I need to have all my senses in a heightened state and be prepared for anything. An ‘unsafe’ and unrelaxed sort of feeling (I don’t think ‘unrelaxed’ is a word, but …).
There are other minor things that I sometimes contend with. Well, maybe they’re not minor after all. I guess I’m just treating them as minor for now because I’m not sure how to classify them. Like, on the rare occasion when I take pictures of the children, I wonder if I should send their Dad some copies.
The last time I did so was a month before we appeared in divorce court. Our daughter’s school pictures had just come home and, without giving it a second thought, I packed copies for her father since I knew I’d be seeing him. I remember now that he was touched to receive them.
Since then, however, I have always stopped short of doing that again. I think it’s more because the only way to do that right now would be via email, and an email from me would be so unexpected that I fear it might be mistaken for a sign that I want to open up some sort of conversation. Of course, I could be totally wrong, but I’m not ready to take that chance yet.
Same thing goes for report cards. Do I offer to send the children’s report cards to him, or at least tell him about them, when he doesn’t ask? I ask myself that question sometimes, but have always concluded that there’s no point. I have no reason to withhold the information if he asks for it, but I also feel like I have no reason to provide the information if he doesn’t.
What would be the point? Except perhaps to encourage him to be as involved as he can, and to make him feel like they’re still his kids – because they are. But again, this is not a job that I want. I suppose I would feel obligated, though, if he contributed toward their schooling in some way. I mean, it would be really bad of me to overlook sharing this sort of info in that case, whether he asks for the report cards or not.
This internal struggle came up again when one of the children needed to have a procedure done. Fortunately, my children are pretty healthy. My son never seems to get sick. My daughter is really sensitive to weather changes, but never really gets anything more than periodic colds, coughs, and mild fevers, which are easily handled. But there was this one time when she had to have a procedure done. The procedure was investigative – nothing scary; but she had to go under a general anesthetic, and that unnerved me a bit. For some reason, I still wasn’t sure if I should let her father know. I eventually did, a couple of days before the procedure date.
I wasn’t terribly thrilled about the response I got. There was nothing ‘bad’ about it. I do believe he was concerned and that he loves his children. But I felt like there was a tinge (okay, more than a tinge) of smugness, and this made me recoil. A sort of you-see-I-told-you-you-can’t-do-without-me air in what he said initially and how he said it. I wanted to say out loud: ‘This isn’t about you and me right now. This is about our daughter.’
Fortunately, she hasn’t had to go through anything like that again since then.
Today, when he called to find out what was happening with ‘the Nigerian phone,’ he started out by asking how things were going. Specifically, he asked: ‘How is the house?’
I hesitated. “By ‘the house,’ what do you mean exactly?’
‘I mean, how is everything?’
‘Oh … well … everything is fine.’
In my mind, I was thinking: What if everything weren’t fine? What would you do about it?
And then I caught myself and chided myself for over-thinking a simple greeting. It’s not uncommon to ask people how they are in a bid to be polite, without really expecting/wanting to hear exactly how they are. So I decided not to sweat the small stuff in this case.
Now, I just need to keep practicing this.