I had another one of my favorite lunches last week with one of my favorite people – the one who always encourages me in parenting, marriage-ing, people-ling and writing. Her wisdom is always strong and I am a smarter being because of her. This day, though, she was definitely off, having lost a close friend the previous weekend and having some other heavy stuff looming for the coming weekend. She just looked so not-herself – all I wanted to do was pack her in my car, take her to my house, drop her on the couch with a blanket, tea, a box of tissues, and a weepy Lifetime movie. Instead, I could hardly get a good hug to her as, on top of all that, she also just didn’t feel good. Life, no doubt, doing that trick of putting you on a break when you refuse to take one.
We were reviewing our weekends and the wanton ways of my man-child when I mentioned a return of the every-other-week hiccup turned argument we have in our house. This argument has been returning every other Sunday for five years – and on other days for special weeks. I mean, you’d think we’d have solved it by now, right? Yes, actually, as of eight days ago, we solved it. I just can’t believe it took us five years.
As mentioned before, the kids have no on-paper custody schedule with their bio-mother. Since we gained them full-time, we have kept a very loose every-other-weekend schedule with her – but since it is not written in custody agreement stone, there are no ‘times’ associated with it. There is no ‘Friday 5pm to Sunday 5pm’ guideline, so when I say loose – I mean we never really know when they are heading to her house or when they are coming home (yes, for five years). Which makes it very hard to plan anything on ‘her’ Friday evening or Sunday afternoon.
That did get easier with two events – first, the kids reaching the age of being able to come home to a temporarily empty house and, second, with Zoe driving. But in the first four years – we always sort of wandered around the house until it was go time and then sort of wandered around the town until we knew they were on their way home. It drove me absolutely bananas. And so, every other Sunday, I would start getting stressed because I didn’t know when they were coming back. In the beginning, that mattered very much to me, though for more reasons than now. When they were younger, kids often were a bit zany/angry/weird/quiet for a few hours upon their return (like most kids going from one home to another). About fifty percent of the time the clash of my anxiety with their anger led to some sort of house argument – players tbd. Not knowing exactly when that awkward transition and potential argument was happening gave me a high degree of angst which also clashed with Rich’s excitement to have them back under his eye. Looking back, if there had been a set time, I’d have probably planned a Target run at said time just to let them get in and settled before I swooped in to assume a role I was still creating.
Our switch-overs have improved over the years – I would say now they are just slightly awkward instead of full out. Like a newborn colt on his sixth hour of figuring out his legs, rather than the first. There is still a bit of a ‘oh, fun’s over’ on both sides of the family fence. Rich and I, because we’ve just had roughly 48 hours of adult time with zero parenting responsibilities. The kids, because they’ve just had roughly 48 hours with someone who also had zero parenting responsibilities. ‘Away’ weekends for the kids mean 24/7 internet, video games and junk food and does not include chores, homework or bedtimes. ‘Away’ weekends for us mean sleeping in until ten and playing the entire weekend by ear. Then it’s back to reality. The main improvement is that we are all far enough into it now to recognize the need to proceed with caring caution.
That hasn’t solved the ‘why can’t I just get an arrival time?!?!?‘ issue. And it is an issue. On a very basic level, I just like to know where the kids are, which includes when they will be home. On a mom level (the primary kitchen resident), I just like to know how many people I am cooking dinner for on a Sunday night. Which is where Rich finds my rigidity – and I find my intention.
Rich has answered the ‘am I or aren’t I?’ dinner question many ways –
‘Just don’t plan on them being here.’ Well, I can’t. Because if I make dinner for two and then there are two teens circling the kitchen looking for scraps to add to their bowl of stale Ramen, I’ll feel terrible. Also, if I plan on them not being here and they are – I’m going to feel a nurturing need to add water to the soup and shuffle a week’s worth of meal plans to make sure they get fed.
‘Make enough for four, and if they aren’t here, just save it.’ Okay, yes. That does seem like a logical flip of option one. Except I live in a house where three out of four people have an aversion to leftovers (no, I don’t know why, but I’m hoping to resolve it through some more extensive family counseling). Said leftovers will eventually be tossed. Unless the stubborn fourth person (that’s me – did you get that?) eats the same lunch for four days in a row. Which I’m also not that into. Maybe I’m becoming a leftover snob as well.
‘Why do you care? You know they are coming home eventually?’ Yes, true – they always come home eventually. And I don’t really care when…I just want to know when when is. I want to know when my weekend of bliss is over (not because the kids aren’t home, but because of those zero responsibilities – when does that end?). I want to know when I need to put my adulting costume back on. Or at least my pants. I want to know when I need to shift my brain from ‘hey, it’s a free for all!’ to ‘okay, let’s lay out the schedule for the next seven days.’
So, again, do I really care when that time is? Not at all. I just want to know what it is.
I am not rigid. I used to be rigid, I will admit to that. But a local poll among people in my house confirms that my level of flexibility has skyrocketed over the last year. More flexibility equals less rigidity. Intentional – I live with intention, do not confuse it with rigidity.
The difference may not seem like much, but it is everything to me (and probably many mothers). Rigid is full of negative connotation. Stiff. Unbending. Inability to adapt. Basically forcing everyone around you to follow your schedule/plan/goal with zero room for discussion or compromise. Intention is full of purpose – living deliberately – also with schedules and plans and goals, but with an ability to re-mold them as needed to keep a certain level of contentment within our bubble. It is my intention to make sure the kids are fed every other Sunday – whether it be at our house or at their mother’s house. But I am absolutely not demanding its location.
Are there things I am rigid about? Yes. Manners. I expect, pretty firmly, that our kids are well-received by the adults they encounter (and for the most part, their peers). Grades – especially with Zack – born directly from being too flexible with Zoe’s grades – we have zagged back to being rigid with his. Chores, exercise…less rigid than previously – both will be completed each week, but I now understand the potential of all seven days as candidates for said completion (and the likelihood that completion will be at one minute before bedtime on Sunday).
Maybe it’s the difference between men and women with regards to meal planning. For me (woman, also identifies as the house manager), the weekly meal planning starts on Saturday. I think about who will be where over the next seven days – ie, is Rich travelling, does anyone have clubs after school, has Rich’s mother put in her reservations to have dinner with the kids, has Zoe given us her work schedule (the answer is no…37 weeks in a row we’ve asked for it…we’re hoping she figures out that we need it eventually), do I have any girls’ nights out or board meetings at the club (yes, I was recently coronated), and, every other weekend…when are the kids returning from their mothers? By Sunday, I like to have the ‘this is how many meals you’ve got to organize and this is how many people will be eating here each night’ numbers nailed down so I can make a mental Options’ List based on what’s in the freezer. I then head to the store to pick up the rest and peruse the sale items for future use. I fill out our weekly dinner calendar for the fridge, announcing the upcoming menus – this allows for the 14-year-old to reach my desired level of panic if there’s something he doesn’t like. I mean, that’s not rigid, right? More deliberate. A pattern I like to run.
And here’s how Rich does it.
Just kidding. We’ve likely already left for Buffalo Wild Wings.
By now, you’ve realized that we are still figuring out the whole kids-to-one-house-or-another routine. And you’ve likely realized that we basically missed the easiest fix ever. We did discover it eight days ago after reliving the conversargument for the hundredth time.
Which was to say, ‘Hey, kids…when you’re at your mother’s for the weekend, be home by 6pm on Sunday.’
Which is to say, I still don’t know if I’m cooking for them.