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divorced parenting

Being that this weekend is Father’s Day, I’ve had some shopping to do.  Like every woman in my situation, I struggle with what to do for Father’s Day  – and I have three of them in my life. 

Ezra’s dad and I are divorced but we have managed (with lots of soul-searching and knock-down-drag-out text fights over about a year) to come to terms with the fact that he and I, along with Jay, are raising this child together and we all love Ezra and have his best interests at heart.  We get along very well now, especially for people in our situation.  I am grateful for that.

In that spirit, he very nicely got me a Mother’s Day gift that he let Ezra pick out. So last night it was my turn.

Ezra and I went to dinner and then went to a collegiate sports store to get his dad’s gift. 

Another thing you have to understand about me and my family and our Southerness is that we are an Auburn family. 

Big time. 

My dad went there, Jay graduated from there, Jay’s little brother is there now.

I was raised to be an Auburn fan from birth.  And I will do the same for my children. 

This is a BIG deal down here in the South.  The SEC rules the roost.  The other day, my brother posted a simple, “100 Days!” on his Facebook page and I immediately knew that it was exactly that long till the first Game Day of the 2012 season (it is down to the 80s by now! Yay! I cannot wait!)

Ezra’s dad, on the other hand, is a graduate of the Corps of Cadets at Texas A&M. Yes, the very Texas A&M who left the Big whatever conference and are coming to the SEC this year.  And playing one of their initial SEC games against Auburn in Auburn. And being that the Corps is the oldest military student organization in the country and Ezra’s dad was in the Corps band, which never missed a game his entire college career, he is a bit of an A&M fan in his own right. 

Never during the years I was married to Ezra’s dad did this become a real issue. I will watch any college football and as Auburn and A&M were in different conferences they never met up on the field. 

Until this year.  So this is gonna be fun. 

I have already done my best to inoculate Ezra from his father’s A&M influence.  He has a myriad of Auburn paraphernalia from the pennant hanging in his room to pom-poms, jackets, hats and other such items. 

More importantly he watches the games with us.  Mostly because he has no choice, but we also try to explain it to him and play football with him.  You know, make it fun and teach him.  It will be a whole family deal. Sawyer already has Auburn gear to grow into (he wore his first AU shirt in the hospital when he was born – you get the idea?). 

It is a full indoctrination program we have going. And Ezra’s dad has both noted and commented on this on several occasions. 

Despite that, and with full recognition of the fact that I am such a big person spirit of thanks and Father’s Day, I bought Ezra’s dad an A&M flag he could fly outside his home with pride for A&M’s first season in the SEC.  He will come to understand why the SEC is the most respected conference in the country and he will, eventually – provided A&M can hang – enjoy that same pride. 

But a part of me was a bit concerned about purchasing something that could be used to undermine the Auburn training Ezra has had up till this point.  So when Ezra asked very sweetly if he could get a little plastic Auburn helmet for two bucks at the register, I smiled and bought it for him.

And this morning when I dropped him off at school, he wanted to take the little helmet in for an additional show-and-tell. Hm, imagine that. 

“Can I take the Auburn helmet to my Daddy’s house, Mommy?” he asked innocently as he got out of the car.

“You sure can, love. I got it just for you to keep at Daddy’s house, ok?  War Eagle!!”

“War Eagle, Mommy!”

We high-fived.

That’s right Ezra.

Exactly.

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Poor Ezra has been having a rough few days. Last Thursday Jay’s mother, sister and twin nephews came up and spent the night. He had a blast. It was basically a surprise sleep-over for him. They were even allowed to watch part of a movie after lights out. It was a glorious suspension of rigid bedtime rules. He was thrilled.

That started the downfall.

Ezra’s father continued it by (over) filling his weekend with, in addition to t-ball, hiking, visiting friends, playground (which included a nasty – literally, he fell into the mud – fall off a merry-go-round). He was playing to his heart’s content. He was happy and active…
He got to bed late 4 out of 6 nights.

This is a recipe for disaster for Ezra. And it is taking its toll.

He is in a really bad mood. Sometimes. Other times he is breathtakingly adorable, oozing a sweetness and loving nature that shows how kind he truly is.

But those deep emotions run the gamut for Ezra and he has quite a temper. Teaching him to control it is going to be a challenge.

The problem for me is that Ezra is struggling with emotions, concepts and communication. And these are a big deal. Not to mention that his efforts to deal with these big things can be comical and interesting in an absolutely adorable way.

But he can be a defiant little shit child when he is struggling with these things and that is not funny at all. It is maddening.

His latest thing is to tell me, “I not talking to you anymore!”

The vehemence with which he tells me this removes any doubt whether (i) he means what he says and (ii)  is he fully aware of how mean it sounds – he kinda means it that way. He also tells me over and over – talking to me by announcing that he is most certainly NOT talking to me.

I am trying to remove the stressors that contribute to his meltdowns – get him to bed earlier, allow him time to rest and heal up from all his bumps and bruises, feed him well so he is not hungry or on a sugar high in addition to all the other challenges and (try) to deal with him calmly and rationally.

Especially when he isn’t.

Therein lies the problem.

It requires me to stop and think like him. To get inside that little head and find a way to talk to him and explain the situation to him. And get him to understand the appropriate and acceptable way of dealing with the situation. In a way he can not only understand, but also in a way he will accept and try to implement.

There is a lot of bargaining. I try and make sure it is not done by compromising my expectations, but instead by showing him how acting appropriately is beneficial to him, both practically and emotionally.
[Do what you NEED to do first, then you can do what you WANT to do.  If you walk to the car and get on your seatbelt first, it will be easier for you to figure out how to turn your Bumblebee transformer back into a car rather than try and do it WHILE you are walking to the car. If you wait until you get to the car to do it, you will walk faster (which will make Mommy happier) and you will have an easier time putting Bumblebee together when you can focus on what you are doing. But, not doing that and getting too frustrated does NOT mean it is ok to lose your temper and throw Bumblebee across the car.]

So I find myself saying, “Calm down and pay attention.”

Over and over and over again for an hour and a half every morning.

But you know the even more frustrating thing about all this?

It means I have to watch myself. I have to “Calm down and pay attention.” Because if I cannot do it, then exactly how am I going to be able to teach a four-year-old little boy with a lot of conflicting emotions how to do it? Yeah, that is the sucky flip-side of parenting – the responsibility part.

The living example part. Even on the small thngs. 

Just another way in which I have to grow up so I can raise good kids. Not my favorite part of parenting, but it is a requirement – at least for me, anyway.

Some of you may be all grown up already. But I don’t think that would be near as much fun. 

Ezra is going through something right now. 

Yesterday his dad called me and told me that he had a hard drop off at daycare (we have been told to call it “school” not “daycare”) and that he was worried about Ezra.  He also said Ezra has been waking up in the night crying saying he is scared and having nightmares.  Ezra’s dad prickled a bit when I suggested that was probably part and parcel to his recent move and it would just take a bit of time for Ezra to get used to the new digs. [I mean, it’s probably the truth and I wasn’t holding it against you, but a kid may take a month or so to settle in. Feel guilty if you must, but I was only stating the obvious.  He will be fine eventually.]

This morning I was the one who had the rough drop off.  It was awful and sad.  I walked out of the school to Ezra’s screams of, “Mooooommmmmyyyyy!! I don’t want to go to school! I want to go home with you! Mommy! Mommy!! Moooooommmmmmyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!!!!!” at an ever increasing pitch. 

Talk about a guilt trip!  Even knowing it was coming and knowing it would surely be over within 5 minutes of me getting to my car did not make it easy.  He has been going to this school for over a year. And while he is rarely chomping at the bit to get in the door, it is even more rare that he throws a wall-eyed fit at drop off.  But lately it’s become more common.  Yay, me.

So I am left to wonder what is going on in that little head of his.  What can I help him understand or how can I change my approach to get a better outcome? Or is this just a stage that nothing I can do can mitigate and we just have to live through it? 

He has become much more inclined to be defiant lately (which I think is an age-related stage). 

He has become more rowdy, rambunctious and attention-seeking (which I think is a direct result of recently becoming a big brother).

He has started acting like I am trying to give him over to people who are going to boil him alive at school (and I have no idea what that is about – although my best guess is a combination of the above).

I have talked to his teachers and they say that, even though he is generally good, he has had some rough days where he was not listening and being rough with his classmates (aka ‘friends’), to include hitting.  I have even heard the phrase “worst day we’ve ever had with him” mentioned at least twice in as many weeks. So I am not sure what is up with my older son. 

Ezra is not a patient child, even less so than most children, maybe.  He is also fiercely independent and quite a bit defiant.  So I am struggling to find my own patience and figure out exactly how to parent him through this apparent rough patch.  He has had a full year with trips to El Paso to visit his dad’s family, the birth of a new brother, turning 4, his dad’s move and his schedule has been up in the air with the holidays throwing a loop into what is normally a pretty consistent back and forth between his dad’s house and ours. 

But I suppose what I have got to figure out how to start teaching him is that you have to “roll with it, baby.” Life is not consistent.  Just when you think you have it all figured out and you have things just the way you want them is just about the time life hits you with a loop and takes all that consistency, throws it out the window and laughs in your face. 

So the consistency has to come from inside, not outside.  That is one thing I never was able to learn or even give voice to until now.  Consistent is not something that is given to you, it is something you are

We raise kids with routine and expectations.  And I am not saying that is a bad thing.  As a matter of fact, at our house bath time is 8:30 and bedtime is 9:00, forever and ever, AMEN. Ezra may not know how to read the numbers on the clock, but he knows those two things are pretty immutable at our house (he also knows there is no TV or lights on or sleeping in Mommy’s bed –well, until cuddle time when the sun comes up anyway – but then that is just how our house runs).

At the same time, the only thing I have found to be consistent about life in my short 40 years has been the inconsistency of it.  I have struggled to roll with the punches.  I have had a hard time being a consistent person in an ever-changing world.  I think that is one thing I am better at recognizing being an older parent. 

The question then becomes how do I teach it to my children?

I suppose the first thing to do is master that consistency myself.  I say ‘master’ with a rueful laugh.  Ask my daughter about how consistent I have been.  I suppose she could say I’ve been consistently inconsistent.  Not about certain things with her, mind you. I don’t think Greta could say that she has not known what I expected of her or in most cases what to expect of me (whether good or bad).  But there are a lot of ways I have led an inconsistent life.  I have not always handled difficulties with grace and aplomb (to say the least, which is why I admire that so much in Jay, I suppose).  As a matter of fact, if I were to look back on my life, it would be easy to just throw my hands up in frustration at my lack of consistency.  In fact, the only things I have been really consistent about are things I shouldn’t have been.  Imagine that. 

So I made a decision a couple of weeks ago.  I am going to mentally box up my 20s and 30s and, except for the very least amount possible, I am not going to think about them for the next decade. 

I have spent too much time reliving the difficulties and inconsistencies of the past and I no longer need that millstone around my neck.  I have learned a lot during those 2 decades and the time has come to put that knowledge into practice and not beat myself up about how I came by it.  Sure, it was not pretty.  It was nasty and ugly and unpleasant.  But it was gotten nonetheless.  And not applying it now would be to make all that hassle and heartache worthless.  And something good has to come of it. 

So as I look ahead to the challenges and try to do my best to face them with the grace and aplomb I so admire, I have to figure out the small things. 

And today’s small thing is what to say to a 4 year old boy who doesn’t want to go to school and who is acting out.  Wow.  Why couldn’t it be something simpler like the figuring the square root of 8,136?

I just read about a blogger who is going through a divorce.  Her husband decided he did not want to be married anymore and left her and her one year old son.  It brought back the memory of my own separation and divorce.  I wrote this piece shortly after getting my own life back from a failed marriage.  It took almost a year for me to do it and, while it was gut-wrenchingly hard, it was the second best thing I have ever done.
 
One Sentence.
 
It was that one sentence that stuck with her. Just one sentence and she did not know if she would ever forget or get over the sting. It wasn’t even the worst thing he had said about her. Not by far. He had said some pretty horrible things, but that one sentence struck to the heart of her and changed her perspective. She supposed she should be grateful for it, but the sting was still there. Read More

Yesterday I came in from work and took a nap.  I try not to do this, but Ezra was at his dad’s last night and so I could and I did.  It was a three hour nap.  You can either judge me for being lazy or just be jealous.  I really don’t care.  I was tired.  Jay was really sweet and lay down with me for a few minutes and then he came in later once he finished working and woke me so I did not miss Ezra’s call.

Every night Ezra calls the parent he is not spending the night with at 9p.  It is really nice.  I enjoy talking to him and hearing his little voice even when he is obviously not in the mood to talk….which is most nights.  He would rather turn the phone into an imaginary spaceship and fly it over his head.  But it is a good habit to instill and I can usually get a few words in and questions answered.  If it is obvious to me that he is simply not going to talk, I end the conversation.  On those nights he is just waiting for you to say bye so he can “hit the red button.”  I am not offended.  He is 3. Read More