As we were driving to pick up the kids from my Ex’s house yesterday, Keoni commented that he always has a knot in his stomach at pick-up and drop-off times, wondering if the Ex (or his wife) will kick up a fuss of some sort. I get the same knot. And sure enough—yesterday we got another taste of pointless puerility.
We had reminded the kids to bring their sleeping bags because we’re planning a camping trip this week. They each have a nice down sleeping bag (I know this because I bought them, back when I was still married to their dad), and the arrangement is supposed to be that the kids can bring their own things back and forth between the households, regardless of which parent might have bought the items in question. The kids’ things are the KIDS’ things, and they’re supposed to be able to have their things with them.
However, instead of the down-filled sleeping bags, my Ex brought out a pair of old flannel bags that he and I had bought when we were college undergrads. They would be fine for a living-room slumber party, but in the Idaho mountains these weren’t warm enough when they were new—and that was almost twenty years ago. So I asked if the kids could please bring their warm sleeping bags, since we’re heading into the mountains.
“They’re in the trailer,” he answered evasively, clearly intending that retort to close the topic.
Can they please bring them?
“They’re in the trailer,” he repeated. (The tent-trailer in question was not ten feet from where I stood, and takes all of three minutes to open.)
Can they please bring them?
“They shouldn’t need—it’s July—they shouldn’t need them,” he blustered. (As if it hadn’t been a July-in-Idaho-mountains when HE got too cold in one of these same bags. They’ve served as picnic blankets ever since.)
In the mountains they might. Can they please bring their own sleeping bags?
(…reluctant pause…) “Okay… But I need to talk to you over here.” I followed him to the other side of the driveway, away from the kids, where he put on his most put-upon face and demanded to know: “How do I know they’re going to come back in any kind of decent condition?”
(Wait, what?? Seriously, where did that come from?)
What’s the productive thing to do at this point? He already said the kids can take their sleeping bags; but he wants me to have this “talk” with him first… If he truly had reason for concern, I don’t know what I could say that would reassure him. As it is, there’s no history or habit or past incident that would render this question applicable, or even explicable.
I learned a while back not to get diverted into pointless pissing matches with him, and I can’t imagine this “talk” fitting any other description. He still feels a need to take (or create) any opportunity to deprecate and disparage. Yes, I gave him a brand new High Horse to ride with my alcoholic relapse nineteen months ago, but he doesn’t seem to realize that his nag hasn’t had anything to feed on for a year and a half. (Maybe that’s why he’s grasping at straws? No, wait—horses eat hay.)
Bottom line? Never mind beating a dead horse—he’s still trying to ride it.
And I choose not to serve as his saddle any more. I chose not to engage in his inquisition about the imminent danger to the sleeping bags being released into my custody. If you’re not going to let the kids take their bags, say so and let me leave; if they can take their bags, let’s get them out so I can leave. I didn’t say that out loud, though; I just repeated myself… Can the kids please bring their sleeping bags?
Keoni stepped over to join us. The Ex told him to walk away. Keoni didn’t argue, but also didn’t move. I repeated my own question yet again.
How ridiculous does this get? Only one thing derailed the Ex from his desired discussion of the doubtlessly-doomed bags: namely, his stronger desire to deliver his diatribe to me alone. When Keoni declined to skedaddle, the Ex puffed up and tried again:
“Sir, you need to step away. This is between me and my wi— …me and my ex-wife.”
The almost-”wife” slip made me chuckle afterward (given that I’ve been Keoni’s wife for several years now, and that the Ex himself remarried just a few weeks ago), but at the time I just had one response: “I don’t have to talk to you alone.”
He did get the sleeping bags out of the trailer, for which I’m grateful—truly, I would have been worried about the kids keeping warm in those other bags. And I confess he did manage to strike a nerve as he grumbled while he got them out. He was complaining about Christian bringing his (expensive) ear protection for shooting, and both of them taking their (expensive) sleeping bags, and he said he’s “tired of buying all the expensive stuff because you won’t.” If he wanted to hit home with derision, that one did it—the difference between “won’t” versus “can’t” buy expensive things. As if I were blowing off the kids. And at the same time, frustration that he’d send them with inadequate equipment rather than focus on what’s best for them. And that he’d try to blame me for that (he’s worried I’d damage the sleeping bags? Oh please…) Why would he balk at letting the kids take their own (sufficiently warm) sleeping bags or their own ear protection?—it’s not as though I’M using his “expensive” stuff, so what’s the problem?
This is why I don’t talk to him alone. This is why I need a little time for prayer-assisted emotional recalibration after I do have to talk with him. His muddied view of our simple and joyful life can temporarily sully my own view of it until I manage to shake off his disagreeable influence. So here I am recalibrating, and looking forward to the camping all of us are excited about.
When Christian called earlier in the week with questions about his packing-list for camping, I told him we’ll be heading up to Silver City, a mining ghost-town that Keoni & I visited last summer when I wrote the cover-story for a travel magazine. On that trip we stayed in the 150-year-old hotel, but this time we’ll be pitching tents… And not in the established campground nearby, but somewhere along the river—REAL Idaho camping, for the first time in the kids’ memory. They’ve been out regularly with their dad and his wife, but the trailer (with its heater, stove, and running water) disqualifies those travels from the Camping-category, in my [snobbish-outdoorswoman] opinion.
They’ll have a lot of new experiences mixed in with some old-and-familiar ones. Setting up a campsite with tents, digging a latrine, panning for gold below the old mines, starting a fire with flint and steel, cooking in the campfire coals, target-shooting with the Desert Eagle handgun, exploring the ghost town and its cemetery, bait-fishing (and fish-cleaning, and fish-frying over a campfire), working on carving our walking sticks, some hiking-exploring, campfire sing-along, some reading aloud from my favorite Idaho-outdoors-author Patrick McManus… And I’ll be interested to see the photojournalism-perspective of each of the kids, now that they’re taking pictures.
There, see? I just needed to realign my mind. And no, I wouldn’t trade our joyful, rich-in-experience life for the Ex’s agitated, rich-in-trinkets existence.