And so I "got the kids." Given all the possible choices and creative alternatives that parents come up with in the divorce-crazy times we live in, I never thought that Kolya and Zoe would live with me virtually full-time. In truth, I'm not sure I would have really enjoyed the unsettling week-on, week-off arrangement that so many couples have negotiated. Each time Zoe arranges a play date these days I ask, "Am I taking you to (fill in friend's name here) mom's or her dad's?" Scattered around the kitchen on scraps of paper, I have written various friends' vital information: mom's home phone, her cell phone, at her boyfriend's home, the dad's home phone, cell phone, and his second wife's work phone and cell phone as well. We, too, are members of the new American family, needing a dictionary of terms that extends beyond half-brother and stepsister to include, for example, the niece of my ex-wife's live-in girlfriend, or my girlfriend Tory's brother's male partner.
Rebecca and I first separated a little more than two years before this trip, in the spring of 1998. At first we traded off weeks staying at a friend's house while the kids remained in their own rooms in our family home. Then, for six months while we sorted out the divorce, Rebecca sublet a house two doors down from me. We conducted a week-on, week-off trade, with the kids free to roam back and forth between the two houses to pick up forgotten homework and favorite sweaters. We even managed, by the end, to be civil enough for me to visit her house and watch Monday Night Football with Kolya on the rental house's cable, since I didn't have television reception.
Then she moved to the West Coast.
Then I subscribed to cable.
The process of becoming a single parent became an odyssey, and it still is. During most of the marriage I had been the sole wage earner, and the Ward and June Cleaver overtones of our lives had amused us at times. Neither of us had ever imagined such a stereotypical existence when we married, a month before Rebecca's twenty-third birthday, when I was twenty-seven. After three years of Asian travels together, including a year's stint as English teachers in Japan, we arrived home, unemployed. I enrolled in a journalism master's program at Berkeley, dreaming of becoming a foreign correspondent, and Kolya was born during my first year of journalism boot camp. My postgraduate internship miraculously turned into a job in Washington, D.C., as a Newsweek correspondent in 1989. Suddenly, I felt like the Tom Hanks character in the movie Big, a kid masquerading as a grown-up, flying on Air Force One and scribbling furiously on a notepad when President Bush the First came back to chat up the captive reporters. For nearly six years I was based in D.C., wore a coat and tie, rode the train to work a block from the White House, and arrived home just in time for a late dinner.
During those years, just before and after Zoe was born and while Kolya was a toddler transforming into a kindergartner, Rebecca admirably discharged the dual duties of full-time mom and part-time student earning a master's degree in education. The division of labor generally adhered to traditional lines, although I tried to be a sensitive New Age dad. I happily played with Kolya when I came home from work, helped with dinner and dishes, and became the designated toilet cleaner. I would feel like a hero when I gave Rebecca a break and took Kolya to the park on Sunday afternoons, sitting on a bench reading the Washington Post while he played on the swings.
Rebecca held down the fort in every way. She researched the preschools, kept track of the doctors' appointments, the immunizations, the kids' friends' birthday party gifts, my family's birthdays and Christmas presents, and most of the sundry niceties and necessities of keeping a household of four together. Her work was especially grueling when I served the cruel master of weekly deadlines and wouldn't see the kids awake for two days at a stretch, or when I departed on open-ended assignments.
Kenn Nesbitt is new Children's Poet Laureate(Jun 12 2013) Kenn Nesbitt has been named the new Children's Poet Laureate: Consultant in Children's Poetry to the Poetry Foundation, which noted that the two-year position...