Inconvenient truths

By Mir
September 7, 2007

A few of you have asked whatever happened in the Xtina saga, and the inconvenient truth is that there just isn’t much to tell. I’d love to tell you that she and Chickadee have become the best of friends or that my daughter is somehow helping her out and making her life easier, but the reality is that Chickadee is pretty much avoiding her and Xtina continues to get into trouble on a regular basis. None of the kids like her very much, from what I hear, and although I do remind Chickie that I expect her to be kind (or at the very least, not mean), the avoidance routine is working out pretty well. Her teacher counsels her to steer clear, even, so what else can we do? As much as I’d love it for my daughter to be the one to make this little girl’s life better, my first priority is MY kid. That’s the sad and selfish truth.

It would make a better story some other way, but what I’m learning is that when it comes to my children, excessive storytelling is starting to get on my last nerve.

There’s a lot I don’t talk about, when it comes to my kids, either out of concern for their privacy or because I fear their father will read and take something the wrong way. The inconvenient truth of being the custodial parent is that there are moments, yes, treasured moments of wonderful that make it all worth it, but they are tucked in amongst a daily drudgery of being The Mean One.

Most of the time I weather this reality pretty well, but yesterday was an exceptional day. I do not mean that in a “wow, this is exceptional like unicorns and rainbows” manner.

Although I realize I often talk about Monkey as if he is nothing but sweetness and light, the inconvenient truth about my son is that IN ADDITION to being a big ball of love personified, his various issues result in some “quirks” that DRIVE ME UP A FREAKING WALL. One of these charming little facets of his personality is that he is given to adopting an exaggerated version of reality in many ways. Now, it’s the sensory issues that cause him to cry out “SHE PUNCHED ME” when Chickadee merely brushes past him; after years of thinking he was just a drama queen, we did learn that maybe it really does feel that way to him. Fine. I do not think it’s his sensory issues, however, that cause him to play the victim in so many other ways.

Allow me to set the stage: Yesterday, Monkey had six reading comprehension questions to answer for homework. In a perfect world, that assignment should have taken… SIX MINUTES. In a Monkey world, okay, let’s give him twenty minutes. Heck—let’s give him an entire half an hour. That should’ve been plenty of time.

The inconvenient truth is that it took him TWO ENTIRE HOURS to finish it, and that was amidst continual nagging from me and schlepping around to various places we needed to go. By the time the homework was completed I was THIS CLOSE to gnawing his face off. Some days, and on some things, he can focus flawlessly. Some days (like yesterday) he cannot seem to stay on task and everything is a struggle. I accept this as best I can.

But when Monkey got on the phone with his father last night, Otto and I were standing in the kitchen while he ran into the living room and JUMPED UP ON and WALKED ACROSS the couch. It had just been that kind of day when he cannot seem to rein in his mind or body. I get that. But with the urge to GNAW HIS FACE OFF so fresh in my mind, I bellowed from where I stood “GET! OFF! THE! COUCH!”

And that was bad enough, really, but then as clear as day I heard Monkey tell his father, “I don’t know WHY Mama is yelling at me! I was just STANDING THERE next to the couch!”

The inconvenient truth is that my ex is prone to complain bitterly if he feels I am “eavesdropping” on his calls with the kids, but sometimes I hear things because we happen to be in the same house. I try to give them privacy for their calls, but such is life. So I heard this, and I wanted to smash my head into the nearest wall, because it’s not bad enough that I spent the entire afternoon shuttling the kids around and riding herd on homework and TRYING to be a calm and good and understanding mother, but here was my son with his moral outrage at having been hollered at over “nothing.” And sharing that with his father, who I hope would know better than to believe him, but who knows.

The other inconvenient truth is that THEN my daughter—who had mouthed off to me in front of her Tae Kwon Do teacher less than an hour earlier in such a way that I was certain I had reached a new height of mortification—got on the phone with her father to complain about the injustice of me being angry with her. Of course, she may have left out a few key details. Like what she did.

I know, I know; it’s a thankless job, some days, and that’s how it goes and I should suck it up. That is true of being a parent, period. But the inconvenient truth is that when my kids so blatantly act like they have it SO ROUGH here with me and then are sweetness and light for their dad on the phone, I take it personally even though I know I shouldn’t. And I start to doubt myself, even though I know I don’t need to do that, either.

On the other hand, somehow I managed not to turn my alarm on last night and we all overslept, and as I was racing around and barking at the children this morning the inconvenient truth is that I felt that anger bubbling up again even though I’d vowed, last night, to start over fresh this morning. And while I was packing lunches Chickadee needed her homework signed, and when I said “just a minute,” Otto offered to check it and sign it for her. And without hesitation she handed it over and let him pen his name in the “parent signature” spot and then thanked him.

So maybe the inconvenient truth is that everything is actually fine.


  1. Megan

    It is fine… and it isn’t – and that’s the really inconvenient truth because it’ll never be entirely totally sunshiney fine forever and ever (ahmen). It’s just that the fine bits are (usually – hopefully) big and bright enough to make the not-so-fine bits tolerable. I try to remember this when I come home every day and find that the Children have, once again left out dishes and forgotten to wipe the counters before leaving for school. And not closed cupboard doors – WHAT IS THAT??

  2. Amy-Go

    Um, fine? Maybe not. Totally normal? Oh yeah baby. My two year old just told me that the tv blew up when in fact the show he was enjoying had simply ended. Kiddie view of the world! Enough to make anyone gnaw off a face or two. ;)

  3. Karen

    One of the Absolute Worst Things for me is feeling like I have been mischaracterized. And being in a situation where I can do nothing about it, feeling powerless, makes it all the worse. Which pretty much sums up daily life in a joint custody situation. I am striving toward Not Caring, but it’s still a tiny, wee, far-off goal.

  4. chris

    mir, it’s still like that when you’re living with the guy at my house, but it cuts both ways. we take turns at being the mean one, and megan? dishes, counters, cupboard doors? add empty milk jugs in the fridge, dirty laundry on the floor, etc. etc. etc- and your house will be my house. (not that it’s anything to strive to attain!)

  5. Heather Cook

    Oh oh oh… that’s my life some days. I’m the custodial parent. And my six year old son is like the devil incarnate when he gets back from a day with his dad. Or with his aunt. He has no concept of “waiting to get something” and no feels that he has every right to be the complete center of attention for every second of the day. After all, it’s all about HIM. Add in the constant toy buying (which I’ve long since given up competing with) and some days I want to poke my eyes out with my ballpoint.

  6. prophet

    good one, Mir. Life is hard and can be unfair and glimmers of hope become noxious.

    And yet. . . . grin! That’s what we live for, eh? The ‘yet’. (btw, thanks for the Xtina follow-up ESPECIALLY since it’s not a happily-ever-after. Effort DOES count, though. )

  7. StephLove

    Last night for homework my first-grader had to draw his favorite part of a book he’d recently read. That was it, the whole assignment. Guess how long it took? An hour and a half! The first forty-five minutes were spent alternately perusing the book and whining BUT I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DRAW! I made occassional suggestions, all of which were rejected, in between trying to cook dinner and manage Cranky Toddler. Sometimes he had an idea and I’d say, THAT’S A GREAT IDEA, and he’d say, no I don’t want to do that. Finally I called partner at work. She suggested letting him make a collage using images he found on the computer, ’cause in his world everything is better if you can use a computer to do it. He liked the idea, we agreed he’d draw part of it himself and he spent the next forty-five minutes executing the project. What he came up with was suitable, but you’d never know from looking at it was a insane ammount of time he spent on it.

  8. saucygrrl

    As a child of a custodial parent, I have to admit the grass was always greener on the other side of the parental garden. You always wanted to be with the parent who didn’t have custody of you because, I don’t know, they were more fair. Fair for me was that dad would take my sister and me out to dinner and the movies and then he gave us both $20 at the end of the night. So who wouldn’t want that instead of mom telling us to eat our vegetables and do our homework and chores? And I’m sure that we told a good deal of tall tales to dad just to get sympathy although it wasn’t ever our intention to cause friction between the two of them. I guess it was just something we did as kids because we didn’t really know better.

  9. Ei.

    Mine complain bitterly to their father about how mean I am and then cry to me that they don’t want to go to his house when the time comes.

    I’m so glad you’ve got Otto, now. :)

  10. Stephanie

    those last couple sentences were the best!

  11. Genevieve

    I was always sweetness and light on the phone to my father. I’m sure my mom must’ve grumbled inside about that.

    Now that I’m grown, I see all my father’s flaws in ways I never did as a kid. And I’m so grateful for my mother. She’s the one I made sure to live near as an adult, she’s the one who gets lots of grandparent time (my father makes it out here twice a year, at my urging, to see his only grandchild, and I go out there once a year because unlike him, I’m not retired and don’t have tons of free time for traveling).

  12. All Adither

    Parenting is so hard as it is. I really feel for you for having to deal with an ex and all the dynamics that entails. It must be quite a feat. Sounds like you have a warm, loving home most of the time, yes?

    Keep up the good work!

  13. Wendy

    Perfect title and perfect picture of being a mom.

    It happens, too, when the parents are still married. I complained to my husband that my daughter, at 5 years old and in her 2nd week of kindergarten, had 51 math problems to do for homework this week. He just didn’t get how hard it is to get her to focus and not ramble on to why we do this and why we do that. I don’t really care why your name is on the top of the page, I just hear the sofa calling me to sit and stare off into space. I get the maybe you should calm down and have some patience. My answer, maybe he should come home from work early one day and do it with her.

    And I have overheard my daughter’s tragic stories of how horrible I was to her to her father. When my husband enters the room, I hold up my hand and ask if he wants a smack or an explanation. He has come to learn that not everything she says is the truth; it is her truth. He only learned this lesson when the tables got turned and he was the villian.

  14. Steff

    I understand completely. My boys exaggerate just as Monkey and Chickadee – and it started at a very early age!

  15. becky

    i wonder if it’s inherent in kids to try to play both sides? my (step)kiddo would threaten to move in w/her mom if things got too rough at our house (you know, like helping with chores and turning in her homework — stuff like that). and i’m fairly sure she presented it in the worst light to her mom, too. so maybe it is normal. no fun, frustrating, but normal.

  16. MomCat

    I feel like The Mean One pretty much 24/7.

    I’m sure it’s much worse when parents no longer live in the same household. I agree with Wendy — it’s still there, lurking. You’d think that married couples would have more of a tendency to assess the situation, but I’m guilty of leaping to conclusions. So we all sit down to discuss it and try to find truth.

  17. Stephanie

    It’s difficult to live in a “mixed” family, but you and Otto seem to be doing a GREAT job with it! I am so excited for you and the year of living “changerously”.


  18. liz

    um, you know that you’re my Role Model of the perfect mother of school-age children, don’t you? yes, you are. :)

  19. Shalee

    Even when the children are products of a happy, non-divorced family, it can still suck. I really try to remember to be the mature adult, but sometimes I feel the “you ungrateful little brats” outrage come bubbling close to the surface, which, in turn, makes me The Mean One more often than I would like to admit. If they could just learn that little things like complaints and disobedience make us want to give up or throttle them, then life would be so much merrier…

    I too have a focus-challenged boy who is in 2nd grade. It’s really hard to help him find ways to stay on task so I don’t have to be the task master with a whip. I’d rather that he actually have play time after school. I know, I know… I’m just weird like that.

    Kudos for Otto jumping in the parent role. That was a beautiful convenient truth for you to share.

  20. Tamatha

    My son has sensory issues, too. Sigh. I don’t know if it’s the sensory issues distracting him from the homework he has to do, but we have similar situations with time and getting things done. When he’s having a very distractable day I set a timer for him to accomplish what he needs to do, with very!very!very! positive things if he beats the time. It works for him. And is way better than the alternative of starting the cockatil hour as a coping mechanism as soon as homework starts.

  21. Sasha

    The lying drives me crazy. Last year my 8 year old went to school with a fever and throwing up. I had no clue at all that she was going through this. When I talked to her teacher she told me that she had asked my daughter why she hadn’t told me she was sick and my daughter replied:

    “Because she would have just sent me to school anyway.”

    Uh yeah…having repeatedly kept in contact with all the teachers, her teacher basically told her she was full it and knew for a fact that I would not send her to school sick.

    It’s still mortifying and frustrating.

  22. elswhere

    Lots of truths are inconvenient, when it comes to one’s kids. Many’s the time I have blogged about my girl and then had second thoughts. And even more are the times (especially as she gets older) that I’ve had those second thoughts first, and not posted at all about whatever exasperating thing she just did. It’s got to be even harder when it feels like there’s someone else with a parental interest who might be ready to jump on whatever you seem to be doing Wrong. I love reading about your kids, but I totally get that you can’t post everything.

    Thanks for the Xtina update; I’m not at all surprised that things are pretty much going on the same. That’s usually the way it goes, with people of any age. You’ve got to feel for the kid–even we, reading this through the screen, did–but if she’s bothering Chickie less, that’s pretty much the best that anyone can expect for all concerned.

    Mainly, I have to admit, I was desperately curious about whether she’d called again to say she was tired and was watching the Disney channel. Uncharitable, but true.

  23. Kristen

    We have primary custody of my stepsons and we go through this ALL THE TIME. On Tuesday I received a phone call from the teacher who has stepson #2. She informed me that he was trying to get out of doing his work by crying and that she was keeping him after school until it was done. I told her that if he was really fighting it she could tell him that he would lose afternoon television. She asked me to implement that to make a point to him. So when stepson #2 spoke with his mother, he told her that his teacher and I had taken television from him because he was crying. Oh the drama that then occurred. My husband’s ex stated that he is emotional and that he shouldn’t lose television for it. We replied that he didn’t lose television for crying, he lost television for trying to con the teacher out of doing his work by crying. Big difference with this kid. She’s still convinced that he needs to be coddled. Us, not so much. Stepson #2’s teacher, not so much. The principal, not so much.

    Ah…the joys of the two household family.

  24. Delton

    None of it is easy. I agree.

    I didn’t read the other comments, so I’m not sure if this was said already, but I have to point out one little thing that I thought at the end of your post. Just a few short months ago, you could have been having an equally rough morning and after putting off signing Chickadee’s homework, there wasn’t any Otto there to jump in to help. So, THAT is an awesome thing for you!

    But yeah, the whole kid raising thing? It’s a thankless, insanity creating job. Good luck surviving it!

  25. marie

    OMG Mir, I am so glad I am not the only parent who gets to the point of wanting to chew the faces off children. My husband has no idea why I am so frustrated at our son when it takes hours to do 15 minutes of homework. He simply will not focus.
    Hoping today is much better !

  26. Chrissie

    We’re the custodial family of my 11 yo step-son. After spending a month with his mother, he is just coming round to the fact that not 100% of everything is about him. Just last night my 4yo was in the tub and we were getting the 16m old jammied up and the 11yo came and said, “I’m ready for my shower now.”

    Yeah, great, Jump right in there with the 4yo and go to it. Or you know, wait because not everything is going to happen exactly when you want it to. He’s already had computer privileges revoked AND has been made to do chores. Oh, the humanity.

    On another note, in his younger days, Grade 2-3ish, I remember it literally taking him FIVE HOURS to do his homework. What should have taken 20-30m tops, he sat at the kitchen table for FIVE HOURS. From the time he got home til bedtime. It was so frustrating – for everyone! – but after days and days and DAYS of nagging, I’d just had it. If he wanted to sit there for 5 hours with no play time, he could just go right to it.

    We later had him diagnosed ADHD – after a couple years of trying everything besides medication, well, he’s on medication and it’s like night and day.

    My point? I can relate. :)

  27. cursingmama

    I do believe that it was Bill Cosby who warned me (not personally, it’s in his stand-up gig) that all children have brain damage. At the time I thought Bill was the one who was so very wrong (I was probably a teenager then) but now I know Bill is one of the wisest men on the planet.
    I hope that my children heal sooner than later because they are also in very real danger of having their faces gnawed off too.
    I believe yesterdays motto was “Captain Morgan in Diet Coke, its a Good Thing”

  28. Esme

    I relate… ye gods, how I can relate!

    Deep breaths and bourbon work for me…

  29. Lucinda

    Thank you. After a morning of yelling at my kids and being exhausted and guilty and frustrated and overwhelmed, your post was what I needed to read. I can’t really explain it. It’s just that you put perfectly into words the way we try to be something more than human and it isn’t possible. I don’t feel better about how this morning went, but I do feel like you helped me recognize those inconvenient truths in my life and that it’s ok. Thanks.

  30. Stephanie Chance

    Couldn’t compare to last weekend when driving home after a nice vacation together, my stepson turns all attitude, and things were said and gestures made which ended in me hollering, “Give me those chips!” and wrestling the bag out of his hands. And he had that lovely episode fresh in his memory to take home to mommy.

  31. Kate

    So, will casting your mind into the future, to a time when both of your kids are college, help out your present situation? Because my mom sounds like she was very much like you.

    There is only one thing I can remember her ever saying to me that still hurts my feelings years later and that I felt was unfair.

    And in the face of all the other things she has done for me, that’s so not worth anything at all. Especially since I am sure I have also hurt her feelings.

    Even when I was a kid, I can remember being in Rational Head and Kid Head, and knowing that even if the ‘rents were BEING SO MEAN, they probably were doing the right thing. And, like you, they were strict. I also knew, then, that when they did allow something that involved their trusting me or a risk, chances were it would be safe and come out okay.

    All these years later, I am so grateful for their consistency. To a kid, what consistency is, is trustworthiness.

    So. I am not a parent, but I am a daughter, and I think in twenty years, your kids will be aware and grateful. Assuming they haven’t been gnawed to death of course.

  32. Lynda

    Don’t feel bad…I homeschool an 11 year old that should be able to wiz through his work, just because he’s smart. If there is something that he wants to do, he’s all about it. If it’s just a matter of getting his work done, he will piddle along and do just what he wants to do when he wants to do until it makes his dad’s head explode. Then, you know, after the fun of watching said father’s head explode wears off, he gots the work done and everything is fine. Until that time threats, cajoling, and everything else doesn’t speed things up. So I know how you feel.

  33. ChristieNY

    Just wanted to stop by and give you a hug because you are awesome. And let you know that we all have days like that but DUDE look what you and your kids have been through the past few months alone!!! That said, you are all adjusting beautifully. I think it’s time to eat some ice cream and call it a day. :)

  34. Daisy

    That “sad and selfish truth” is the way motherhood is meant to be. Take care of your own; you can be as empathetic as you want, but you know yours need you (whether they admit it or not!).

  35. Cele

    I remember those moments where the hard spot was about as comfortable as the rock and the space inbetween was littered with poinky nails. But there are the good times when all the rest goes out the window and now I can’t remember the bad moments, because the good times are golden memories that I cherish.

  36. Woman with Kids

    Amen. It is so draining to always be the bad guy, and their father always be the fun one. Just once in a while, *I* want him to be the bad guy. Maybe on Mother’s day? Is that too much to ask?

  37. carolyn

    The one thing that makes me the craziest is when the father then believes the children’s version of events and complains to me. That REALLY gets me going… Like he doesn’t get it that kids revise events to get the advantage.

  38. Angela

    Ah…that’s so sweet that even if unconsciously she let him do that. It totally makes things pause for a second.

  39. Glennia

    Glad to know that I am not the only one with a kid who takes 2 hours to finish a 10 minute homework assignment. My husband and I are together, and still, I’m the bad guy. Always. At least according to my son and husband.

  40. Jenifer

    Awwwww…. you’re an awesome Mom!

    And I felt pretty honored the first time my step-son asked me to sign something for him too!

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