You all may remember that before my transition over to the ‘dark side,’ (term used in reference to the same-sex relationship I am currently in) I was married to an extremely difficult man. Mr. His-Way-Or-The-Highway, also known as my ‘wasband,’ was always, ALWAYS stubborn as a mule, on top of being quite adept in the powers of intimidation. No one wanted to deal with his wrath, people would feel as if they were teetering on eggshells around him. He knew that, and of course, still knows that. It is safe to say we are ONLY friends because we share children in common; most of the time, I don’t want to be around him either. The only reason I spend holidays with him is because he INSISTS upon the children being with him on every major holiday and they’re not yet given any choice in the matter. Plus, despite his shortcomings, the wasband is a VERY good cook. It eliminates my need to cook or clean on holidays, small price to pay in my opinion. The alternative is to spend the holiday with the Oompa Loompa and that’s an entirely different headache. At times, she’ll come to the wasband’s as well, and usually a good time is had without my sister’s and brother-in-law’s guaranteed drama being present.
Anyway, my daughter has been telling me lately that she hates being at her father’s house, that he's harsh on them and makes them get up early and clean. Of course, she's 11, she exaggerates, so I take that with a grain of salt. Now, a huge part of her not wanting to go is that she’s forever locking horns with her father's wife. Another contributing factor is that she is, in many ways, just like the wasband - stubborn, always has to have the last word, and doesn’t do well with being told what to do. She doesn’t see her stepmother as an authority figure, so end result, she will fight with her Dad’s wife and giggle gleefully to herself when her Dad takes her side. Yes, she IS a spoiled brat at times, but I do appreciate that he will keep his wife in check when he sees fit. This is not to say that both he and I don’t put her in her place when she needs it. However lately, he’s been cracking down on both of their attitudes (they don’t give it to me as much as they give it to his wife, and they certainly don’t do it in front of their father) and my guess is, he’s gotten to the point where he’s tired of hearing his wife complain about our kids. Plus, he went from being able to walk to work to now having to commute 2 hours by car each way, leaving at 5am and getting home close to 7-8pm every night has turned him into even more of an unbearable pain in the ass. His wife is the one dealing with all the housework, cooking, cleaning, laundry, kids, etc…so I can certainly understand the stress she puts up with.
Please don’t misunderstand - I do not envy her or sympathize with her. When he asked me for a divorce back in 2008, it only took him a couple of weeks to “find someone online that he’d like to take on a date,” leading me to believe he’d been talking to her long before calling it quits with me. If I were to ask him today, he’d deny it up and down and insist that his meeting her was one of those right time, right place kind of situations. I’m a lot of things - stupid is not one of those things. I shrugged it off back then and really didn’t see the point in caring too much about our inevitable split. Part of me didn’t want to reconcile, anyway. NOT if it meant being forever miserable.
But, ya know…if anything, his wife did me a favor. She took him off my hands. He is now HER problem. And I’m in a MUCH healthier, happier relationship now. She made her bed, now she has to live with her decision.
So…back to my daughter for a bit of a side story...
Last night, my younger brat wanted to have two of her friends spend the night at my house. She begged me from the moment she walked in from school…until I told her that there were a few things she needed to do for me before I’d allow it. Her room had to be made spotless. She had to sweep the stairs and hallway downstairs. She had to clean the cat box. She had to clear her desk of all slime-making supplies and then vacuum the carpet in her room. She had to put her clothes away, properly, folded neatly and in the correct drawers.
What do you know...she did it all! She did need a nudge here and there but she did it. Damn it. I’d been hoping she would falter on her assigned chores and I’d have a reason NOT to allow her friends to spend the night…but when she sets her mind to something, she’ll do whatever it takes. On a positive note, I guess this means she’ll not be able to make any silly excuses later on when she's asked to do these things again.
So anyway, two friends met up with her at the bowling alley. When I was done with my league play, I’d bring the girls home. We get home and one of them says she didn’t eat lunch or dinner before coming to the bowling alley to meet up with my daughter. Did I have any food for her?
Okay. The kid’s hungry. So I nuke corn dogs for them. Not exactly my food of choice but at 11pm, that’s all that I had the energy to make. They inhaled those corn dogs and then disappeared downstairs. By now, the late night headache was setting in and I retreated to my room. I woke up with the same headache at 7am, took three Excedrin (because sometimes two does absolutely nothing) and went back to sleep. I got up a couple hours later and went downstairs to check on the girls. They were all awake. I asked if they’d like breakfast. The Corn Dog girl says yes. So I go make them pancakes and scrambled eggs. Then I ask them both to check in with their mothers and make sure they find out from their Moms what time they need to be ready to be picked up. Because usually, a kid’s mother wants them back eventually, right?
No, I guess not, maybe their mothers don’t like them too much, either or they were perfectly fine with my keeping their kids for as long as their kid would like to stay at my house. One girl’s mother wasn’t going to be getting home from work until after three. The other one’s mother just said for her to be home whenever I could bring her home.
Let it be known that neither mother offered to come get their kid from my house. I do know both mothers are drivers and are capable of saying, “Hey, you’re feeding and taking care of my kid overnight, maybe I’ll make your life a little easier and come pick her up in the morning…” No such thing was ever said.
So, we’re eating breakfast now…Corn Dog girl eats her eggs and my daughter’s eggs too. My two go to their Dad’s on Saturdays, mid-day. So I told both my daughter’s friends to tell their mothers that I would be driving them both home at 4pm because my daughter's father would be coming at 4:30 to get her. Now, MY daughter pipes in and says, “Why do I have to go back to Dad’s? I hate going there.”
I shrug and tell her that it’s how it always is, they’re with me Wednesday afternoons after school through Saturday evenings and with him Sat nights until they leave for school Wed morning. It’s a split down the middle and my house and the wasband’s are literally seven minutes’ drive apart. It works out nicely. Of course, until recently, BOTH kids have come home and said they hate being at his house because it’s nothing short of chaotic.
“Did Dad ever abuse you?” My daughter asks me. In front of her friends. Six wide eyes staring at me at the same time, now.
“No.” I tell her.
While it’s not the first time I have lied to my daughter, I feel that her idea of abuse is not the same as mine. At 11 years old, she probably thinks being abusive is limited to being violent/physical. The wasband was not that way with me, but he was certainly mentally and emotionally abusive. He made me feel about two inches tall for most of our marriage, to the point where divorce was a blessing. My 17-year-old certainly can make that connection and recognize his father’s words and actions as being abusive in nature but his sister cannot. She sees him as angry and to her, anger equals violence equals spankings. I just told her (and her nosy friends) that her Dad and I just couldn’t get along and that was why we divorced. He’s absolutely not an easy man to live with, but he’s still her father and he still provides for her.
One day, I’ll tell her that there are so many different forms of abuse, and she’ll understand more in depth how her father is. I’m still not sure how I’m going to touch the SA topic with her, but thankfully, the wasband is not in any way involved in any of my memories of SA - this is never a mental picture she will associate with her father, and for that, I’m grateful. I do think it’s important for her to recognize any and all kinds of abusive behavior, but it just wasn’t the right time to have a heart-to-heart with two sixth graders at my kitchen table.
Luckily, she accepted that answer, and we went about our day. She and her friends played outside while I showered and got ready. I then went to Wal-Mart to pick up another string of lights for the bedroom window and then told her friends that I would now be driving them home. Of course, all three girls tell me they’re hungry, would I hit up the Burger King drive-thru on my way?
Sure. Why not? I told them to pick value menu stuff to have as a snack. They’d had their pancakes and eggs at 11:30am, so how damn hungry could these kids be? Especially Corn Dog girl, this kid is a string bean and the amount of food she’d eaten at my house was insane, I wasn’t sure where she was putting all of it.
The other girl lived furthest away, so she was the first drop-off. I’d met her mother at the bowling alley a couple weeks ago. Her mother was also at home at the time we arrived. I didn’t know where to park, so I pulled up to the front of the house and while I left the engine running, my daughter and Corn Dog girl both walked their friend to the door. They disappeared into the house. I waited, half-expecting the mother to come outside and thank me for getting her child home in one piece. Or wave through a window. Or come to the door in her robe and curlers and pretend she’d been busy instead of sitting on her ass all day long while someone else took care of their child.
No such appearance made by this girl’s mother. My daughter and Corn Dog girl came back out, got back into the car. Off we went to Corn Dog girl’s house next.
She mumbled a quick ‘thanks’ when she got out of the car…a brief expression of gratitude that I didn’t even hear until my daughter told me later on that she did indeed thank me for allowing her to spend the night at our home. The first girl didn’t even get that far. No mother in the bathrobe at Corn Dog girl’s house, either. I asked my daughter if her parents had been home.
“Yeah, they were both home.”
“I see.” I shifted the car into drive and headed home. I then proceeded in telling my daughter that her two friends, as nice and as lovely as they both were, need a little bit of a lesson in MANNERS and so did their mothers! I don’t expect much from 11 year olds, but I’ve always taught MY children to be grateful to anyone who shows them kindness, anyone who feeds them, lets them come to their homes. You not only say thank-you once, you say it many times! My daughter may be a brat, but she’s respectful. I also told her that the next sleep-over would take place at one of THEIR houses. Maybe my child can teach their parents a thing or two about courtesy?
I got home around 4pm, which was pretty much on schedule, since usually the wasband comes for kids around 4:30. I come to find out that he had called our son while I was out being my daughter’s friends’ taxi and asked that I drop the kids off to his house rather than him come get them. Since he and his wife were not at home at the time this request was made, I said I’d do it if he’d set a place for me at dinner - J was working a double shift, my headache had intensified and I didn’t feel like cooking for just myself. He agreed.
I waited a little while, strung up the lights I’d bought at Wal-Mart and then got the kids into the car and off we went to the wasband’s house.
We get there and let me tell you, I cannot be more grateful for what I have now as opposed to the chaos that ensues the millisecond you walk into his house. Not only is it usually in disarray, it’s akin to walking into a zoo and all the cages, pens and enclosures are left open.
To start with, he has four dogs that bark and jump simultaneously as soon as they realize that there is company present, three cats that don’t make much noise but will scatter in every which direction the dogs are NOT headed in, and when our two are with him, SIX kids running around TRYING to look busy. Then there’s of course, him and his wife. He can usually be seen barking out orders and everyone following directions without question - because that’s how they’re all used to it being over there. The son usually compares his father to Hitler, and I hate to say he’s certainly onto something. When the wasband speaks, everyone listens. When he says, ‘jump,’ we ask ‘how high?’ There is no middle road, no negotiating. My children have had that indoctrinated in them since they were born. I’m the gentle, more compassionate parent and he is, and always will be, the hard-assed slave-driver.
Anyway, aside from the dogs barking, cats running away and messy house (and I mean MESSY) there was existing drama when we arrived. I walked into the wasband’s house and the wasband was chasing the smallest dog around the house - apparently while he and his wife were at the supermarket, the dogs had some kind of a canine pow-wow in the living room and left piss and shit and a trail of Christmas lights, garlands and decorations strewn all over the floor. Once he managed to catch the dog and rubbed his nose into its mess, he grumbled something about how he hoped I wasn’t in a hurry because dinner would be delayed for about an hour. I told him that was fine and I sat in the den with my daughter while he and his wife prepped dinner.
A little while later, I hear hollering coming from the kitchen. I look at my daughter, inquiring what happened. Apparently wasband’s wife’s son had been given the task of checking the pork chops that wasband had breaded and placed onto the smoker to further crisp-ize. Instead of just checking that nothing was burning, his wife’s son decided to pick up a pair of tongs and turn them, subsequently causing the crispy coating to fall off. It likely wasn’t even his fault entirely; the smoker perhaps hadn’t been sprayed with the anti-stick stuff so the coating on the pork chops had stuck to the grill. Anyway, the wasband lost his shit. He went ballistic on his stepson, then turned to my son and ordered him to go and do some damage control.
My son apparently made a wise-assed comment back to his father, alluding that entrusting his stepbrother with the task of checking pork chops was not a good idea, what did he expect? The wasband yelled at him, too, basically threatened the well-being of our son if he didn’t learn to control what came out of his mouth. Then he loomed over him and dared him to keep talking. My son said nothing, instead he bit his tongue until it bled and focused on the gravy he was now preparing. He refused to speak to his father, or even to look at him, despite the wasband’s face being inches from his, and his urging him to speak, trying to bully him into saying the wrong thing. Still, my son maintained his composure and continued to say nothing.
He reminded me so much of myself right then, I have to say. There HAD been times, although granted, not that severe, when the wasband had dared ME to speak, to go ahead and disagree with what he was saying, and I’d freeze. I’d say nothing because, well, there WAS absolutely nothing I could ever say that was acceptable to him. He was right, I was wrong. Just like right now, he IS right, my son was one hundred percent wrong because he’d talked back. And even if a small part of me secretly applauded my son for speaking up to his father, I fear for him at times. He probably WILL catch a fist from his father one of these days, and seeing as our son is just six months shy of adulthood, if it were ever to come to blows, he’d likely end up at my house permanently because he’d not have to follow orders anymore.
I don’t want this for my children at all. I want them to have a relationship with their father. A HEALTHY, loving relationship with the man I chose to be their Dad. I want them to know their father as a kind man, but even I don’t remember him being compassionate or kind or loving toward his family whenever we weren’t around strangers or he wasn’t trying to make an impression on someone or actually mislead people into thinking he were a stand-up guy. He’s forever complaining about the kids, about how they’ve got mouths on them (gee, I wonder why?) and how I, as their mother, need to keep them in check.
I don’t think they’re the problem. I know that ninety percent of the time, the wasband is the problem. He is a product of a broken home, himself. His mother was a drug addict, his father was physically and emotionally abusive. His parents divorced when he was a young child and he spent quite some time in foster care before he ran away from home at fifteen. He moved in with a relative on the east coast and eventually joined the military right out of high school. The military mindset was quickly adopted and that, as well as what he’d been taught about home life as a child, has contributed to the molding of the person he is today - you can see why he became the difficult man he remains to be now, even though he is retired from the army and his parents are not in his life. The wasband has such denial about it all, too. He doesn’t see these problems. Instead, he points fingers. The children all see it. They make little comments to me, in private, and all I can really do about it is listen to them and in my own way, compensate for how they’re treated by the wasband by treating them with the love and respect they deserve when they’re with me. He says I coddle them, but if you ask me, I have to, in order to preserve whatever shred of sanity they may still have in them.
Sadly, I’ve concluded that in the long run, he’s going to lose their affections entirely. That’s truly unfortunate, because my kids are good people (they didn’t learn the good behavior from him…if they had turned out to be like him personality-wise, I probably would have let him have full custody!) and I’m proud to say that I’ve taught them to always be respectful to others. Sure, they have their moments but you know, kids are kids. They’re going to have moments when they mouth off. No kid is completely devoid of smart-assedness but if you ask me, this is healthy. A kid should be able to exercise sarcasm within respectful margins, of course. There are, however, times they slip and that’s when you, as a parent, step in and using love and logic, teach them with words, examples and explanations, how to handle the day-to-day situations as they unfold in front of them. I’ll never teach them anger, never teach them rage, and never, EVER will they be of the impression that any form of bullying is okay. Because this is what their father is - one big, fat bully.
Not only do I have to teach them how to handle things in stride, I’ve got to teach my son how to be a good man. I don’t know the first thing about being a man, obviously, but I do know that I don’t want him to be like the wasband, who is on his third wife, who tonight I think, was in tears because it had been her son who had messed up the pork chops. She saw him lose his shit, interrogate the poor kid, rip into him for trying to be helpful (when really, that was all he’d been trying to do, help by flipping the pork chops…) Because he was standing there screaming at and belittling her son, she eventually took his side and hollered at him, too. I felt horrible for him, so I made sure to let him know before I left that the pork chops tasted just fine, even if the coating had fallen off.
Looking at her cry, though, I see that she’s trapped, like I had once felt I was, being married to him. It also tells me that I have to teach my daughter something that I never would have learned for myself had he not initiated the divorce, and that is how to take a stand and how NOT to allow herself to be treated by anyone, be it a man, woman or a classmate. There is NO excuse for the way her father behaves at times, but that’s just so damn tricky to explain right now, especially to an 11 year old. I have to search for ‘loopholes’ and explain things to her in a manner where I’m not openly bashing her father, but at the same time, teaching her the difference between good and bad parenting. And while I teach her, I have to remember that despite her reluctance to go spend time at his house, she does love him.
As for the wasband, there’s absolutely no hope for him as far as change goes. He is who he is because of the poor values instilled in him as a child; all we can truly hope for is that the children I share with him have learned to be more like me than they have him. If occasional stubbornness is all they inherit from him, then I can certainly live with that. I just hope it doesn't get to the point where their relationship becomes irreparable, because that will truly be the point of no return. If that were to happen, then he'd have no one to blame but himself. The only problem? He's never to blame!
Listen...if you’re a parent…tell your kids you love them, every day. Even if it is done in a one-line text or a little note in their lunch bag. Hug them, as often as you can. Because these hugs, even if they squirm and complain about them, are still secretly loved. Trust me on this. Tell them they’re amazing. Because they are. Even if sometimes, they’re spoiled brats. They’re still your children and they’re going to be just like you. And you’re amazing too, aren’t you? ;)
In all seriousness, it has become so much more evident that children are more likely to mimic favorable behaviors if they witness it often enough. I know I am doing my part. It saddens me that people like my wasband, and my daughter's friends' mothers are teaching their children to be angry, bullies and just plain rude and ungrateful.
Sadly, we can only control the behavior we choose to show our children and others around us. And of course, we can also control who we invite to spend an overnight at our homes, while we're at it.
Until next time.