Coffee With An Ex

31581048030_dc0a4e0f4e***Check me out over at The Washington Post. I wrote an essay about a day when I was a super grown-up.***

I was once told that I was the reason that stepmothers get such a bad rap in Disney movies. My crime? I’d written an essay about my complicated relationship with a divorced father of three, and in it I’d admitted to the occasional bout of jealousy in the beginning of our relationship. I wrote that sometimes, I couldn’t help but feel a little left out of the things I wasn’t allowed to participate in yet: vacations, the kids’ sports games, birthday dinners.

In the comments section, one reader said that if jealousy was a problem for me, then I was responsible for all the bad PR stepmothers get. Then she used some very colorful language to tell me to grow up.

I was just trying to be honest: As someone in her mid-30s who never planned on having kids, being the girlfriend of an older man with three teenagers is a challenging place to be. And in the beginning, it could be a lonely place.

Then last month — three years into our relationship — my boyfriend Kevin received a text from his ex-wife: I’d like to have coffee with Dani.

Oh what I wouldn’t give for the days when I felt left out.

Click here to find out what happens at coffee.

photo credit: CJS*64 7am via photopin (license)

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10 Things to Know About Dating a Divorced Dad

A photo by Danielle MacInnes. unsplash.com/photos/1DkWWN1dr-s

*This was originally published on Scary Mommy.

My relationship with a divorced father of three has been one of the most grueling, maddening, fulfilling, self-revealing things I’ve ever done, and it has taken me a ton of wrong moves and bad fights to find my way. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way:

  • It’s not personal. Despite wanting to smack someone whenever this is said to me, the fact is that it’s true. His kids dislike you only as a concept, not as a person — they’re just looking for that same safety and stability we all are, and you just happen to be the embodiment of all that threatens that.
  • It’s not personal except when it is. While it’s true that his kids wouldn’t like anyone with their father, it isn’t anyone — it’s you. You’re the one who’s there, feeling resented, in the way, and often pushed to the margins of his life. You’re entitled to your feelings about that, and you get some space to make it about you too. Because some of it is.

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Babies, Birthdays, & Bravery

*Ray Carver once said that a big part of being a writer is just “being at your station,” regardless of whether or not the muse is upon you. He’s right. And since I have not been at my station lately, I’ve refurbished and updated an old post of mine. Happens to be one of my favorites. Please to enjoy. 24204550771_7c213183b4

The true mystery of life was not that we are all going to die, but that we were all born, that we were all once little babies like this, unknowing and slowly reeling in the world, gathering it loop by loop like a ball of string. The true terror was that we once didn’t exist, and then, through no fault of our own, we had to.

-Dan Chaon, You Remind Me of Me

A few things have recently conspired to get me thinking about beginnings:

  1. Yesterday marked 35 years on the planet for me. Happy birthday me.
  2. Two people who are very special to me had a baby a few months ago, and the new little nugget has been melting my badass right off me. That newborn-head smell. Those tiny frogger legs. Eyes that speak of equal parts confusion, intrigue, and suspicion. meandlily
  3. I’ve also been struggling with a piece I’m writing about my relationship with my mother, specifically how decisions that were made long before I was born came to shape the person I became. How my parents’ expectations about who I’d be—about what they needed me to be—affected the person I actually became.

At a certain point we all try to re-write our past by re-writing our future. We change jobs, we move, we end relationships—and sometimes the new narrative comes in the form of a baby. I was not able to do X, parents sometimes say, so I want my child to. My parents didn’t do Y for me, so I will do Y in outrageous measures for my child. If only they’d done it the way I will do it, things would have been better for me. 

I will watch my child be what I might have been. 
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It’s Not Only Women-Men Do It Too

Here are 2 comments on a recent Huffington Post article of mine, Don’t Pity Me Because I Don’t Have Kidsin which I wrote about how people have a hard time understanding my “childfree” life:

woman comment
-a woman

and

man comment abt not having kids
-a man

And while I can proudly report that I told both those people (very nicely) that I thought they were wrong–that it wasn’t just women who judged people without kids–I also have a confession. The piece in question was originally a blog post of mine called Why You Should Stop Feeling Sorry For Meand that blog post of mine was originally called Why WOMEN Should Stop Feeling Sorry For Me. 

So yeah, until recently, I also bought into the idea that it’s really just women who have problems with childless people. I wrote the piece in October, and before I published it I read it to my best friend for feedback (read: for her to tell me that I’m a literary genius and the piece was perfect). But she couldn’t get past the sentence: “And women have a hard time understanding that.” We talked for a while and she made some good points, namely that women are probably only more likely to voice their opinion on the matter, not necessarily more likely to have it in the first place.268149208_d51dec08deI changed the title of my post but wasn’t entirely convinced until a few months later, when something else happened.

I posted a hilarious meme that said “The best part of kids is that I am not responsible for any of them.” I know, right? Told you it was hilarious. Also happens to be true–despite the fact that I love (some) kids, I don’t have any myself because I’m not ready to give up the freedom that one loses upon procreation. And someone said this:

Such a sad, sad commentary by someone who has never experienced the pure joy and love a child brings to the heart and soul of one who IS responsible for them.

I’d only been on Facebook for a short while at the time, and wasn’t able to let trolls’ comments slide off my back with the same ease that I am now. (Ha.) It made me so angry that I took to Facebook to write the one and only rant that I’ve ever posted. And let me tell you, it was a pretty good one. I said that it most certainly was not a sad commentary, that a woman doesn’t need kids to be fulfilled, that blah blah blah, insert feminist rant here. And I could totally feel both men and women near and far giving me a feminist salute as they liked and commented and shared my post. I was basically saving civilization in general, and feminism in particular.

But here’s what was interesting. Everyone assumed that the comment was made by a woman. It wasn’t.

I wasn’t trying to trick anyone, it just never occurred to me to mention that it was actually a closed-minded man who said what he did about my “sad” commentary. (Unsurprisingly, he had a lot of hunting pictures up on his page–a lot of standing triumphantly over enormous dead animals, his eyes glistening with pride that he was able to outsmart an animal and then turn a weapon on it.)

So my question is–why? Why are we (myself included) so quick to assume that it’s only women who care about the status of women’s wombs? The idea of a happy marriage with 2.5 happy children is the great American Dream, is it not? Isn’t it a societal standard that both men and women designate as the arbiter of what’s important and what isn’t?

I don’t have any definitive answers, but I do know that these questions merit some serious thought. As women, I think we’re especially hard on other women. Both of those comments portray women as catty and competitive, but there’s something much more aggressive–almost vitriolic–about the woman’s comment. There was a resentment there–that I was part of a group of people who were consciously trying to perpetuate a notion that I knew to be false. That I was afraid to tell the ugly truth about who women really are.

A friend told me that he did think women care more than men about who has kids, and when I asked him why, he couldn’t cite any specific examples. Just a general feeling. We have been trained to think certain things about each gender, and then to attribute those differences to “nature.” And if we really want things to change, we need to start examining those ideas and questioning where they have actually come from.

Guys Like Us

I’ve been working on this one for 25 years, and finally I was able to find the words for it. Here’s the first part of it, make sure to click the link at the bottom to read the whole thing. photo-1437943085269-6da5dd4295bf

My father has never made it easy to love him, mostly because it was never easy for him to love the life he fell into. Marriage, children, a medical career—all things he was told to want, and so he tried to believe that he did. And you could almost see the weight of all that responsibility bearing down on him, pressing him into shapes that were so unnatural to him that even when he wasn’t fighting against them, you could see how much effort it took for him to stay in them.

Whether the soft spot that he had for me was a cause or an effect of the love we shared for the New York Knicks, I can’t really say. What I can say is that my relationship with my Dad was never more right than when we were watching or discussing Pat Riley’s rugged Knicks of the mid-90s. Those were the teams I grew up on. Ewing, Starks, Oakley, Mason—those were my heroes, the first great sports loves of mine. And those assholes were constantly toying with me.

They were always dangling a championship in front of my face like meat in front of a cub, dragging it closer and closer until it was inches from my face and I was in a trance, watching its juices drip to the ground, absolutely certain that the next drop was mine. And then Reggie Miller would happen, or John Starks, or a missed finger roll, or a playoff brawl, or a head-butt, or Michael Jordan or any of the thousand other things that snatched that meat right back. I grew accustomed to starving.

This, some people say, was deserved. The wider world saw those Knicks as a pack of thugs muddying up a beautiful sport, either of their own volition or Riley’s. Maybe they were.     Truth is, my father and I wouldn’t have loved them as much as we did if everyone else hadn’t hated them so much–how else would they have shown us what not giving a shit looked like? He rooted for them because they did what he never could; they became something other than what they were told to be. Rooting for Starks and Oakley and Mason was, for my father, a chance to fight back against the inevitability of the life he was living. It was a strange search for redemption by proxy, but because it was also his way of reaching for me, it brought him even closer to the life he was trying to escape.

Sometimes, the only way out is back in.

****

To read the rest and find out how the Knicks taught me to love my father, check out the full piece at The Classical.

New Parenthood: Where Baby Meets Badass

24204550771_7c213183b4

The true mystery of life was not that we are all going to die, but that we were all born, that we were all once little babies like this, unknowing and slowly reeling in the world, gathering it loop by loop like a ball of string. The true terror was that we once didn’t exist, and then, through no fault of our own, we had to.

-Dan Chaon, You Remind Me of Me

A few things have recently conspired to get me thinking about beginnings:

  1. Two people who are very special to me had a baby last week, and while they did not deliver on my request for a dramatic, blog-worthy water-break when we went out to dinner a few weeks ago, it hasn’t been a complete waste. I’ve been hanging with the new little nugget quite a bit and she’s melting my badass right off me. I’m smitten. That newborn-head smell. Those tiny frogger legs. Her wobbly little head, and eyes that speak of equal parts confusion, intrigue, and suspicion. So this is all pretty interesting, but please tell me that soon I’m headed back to that dark, warm place I used to live in—hey c’mon!—put that blanket back on me!…wait, where are you going with that boob?…oh you’re not really about to dunk me in any water, are you? That’s the vibe I get from her.
  2. I’ve also been struggling with a piece I’m writing about my relationship with my mother, specifically how decisions that were made long before I was born came to shape the person I became. How my parents’ expectations about who I’d be—about what they needed me to be—affected the person I actually became.

At a certain point we all try to re-write our past by re-writing our future. We change jobs, we move, we end relationships— and sometimes the new narrative comes in the form of a baby. I was not able to do X, parents sometimes say, so I want my child to. My parents didn’t do Y for me, so I will do Y in outrageous measures for my child. If only they’d done it the way I will do it, things would have been better for me.

I will watch my child be what I might have been.
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why you should stop feeling sorry for me

a moment i saw once in nyc.
the true terror was that WE once didn’t exist, and then, through no fault of our own, we had to. -dan chaon, you remind me of me

i’m the first one to admit it—my maternal instinct was installed with faulty wiring.  i was never one of those girls who imagined the day she’d become a mother, and i suppose i haven’t yet become one.  over the years i’ve vacillated about having kids—it’s been like a really fucked up game of hopscotch.  jump with two feet: no way, no kids.  one foot down: maybe, but i feel off-balance and a little bit like i might throw up.

recently, i’ve hit a good long stretch of two feet firmly down, and people have a hard time understanding that.  here are some questions that people have asked me about friends who don’t have kids (and i can only assume have been asked about me):

  • what’s wrong with her?
  • is she barrren?
  • is she a lesbian?

to my face, what i get is mostly pity followed by reassurance—reasons why i should hold off on blowing my spinster-brains out.  one time, when an extraordinarily pregnant woman found out that i was without mate and without child, pity began to ooze out of her like honey.  she cocked her head to the side, raised her eyebrows and made this terribly sad scrunchy face.  “don’t worry,” she consoled,  “a few years ago i hadn’t even met my husband yet, and now look at me!” ok take it easy there preggo.

did i assume that you backed your way into your life by getting knocked up accidentally?  did i project all of my deepest fears onto you and tell you not to worry because in 18 years you’ll be free?  no, i did not.  so please extend me the same courtesy.  don’t assume that my unmarried status and empty womb are causes for concern—colossal fuck-ups and/or fate’s cruel hand at work.  they’re not.  they’re conscious choices.

so what is it that’s informed those choices?  i’m glad you asked.

i love kids.  as a nanny, i get to see some really cool shit.  i get to watch as these kids see things for the first time and then help them as they grapple with complex issues from inside their mini-brains.  kids teach me about resilience and curiosity and staying present in each day.  there is no better feeling in the world than when my 2 year-old charge comes running across the ballet studio and jumps into my arms, absolutely giddy with glee to show me the dinosaur stamps that her teacher just gave her.  kids make me feel loved and needed and fulfilled.

IMG_8515

but they are also perfect tyrants—little ids running around with dripping noses who want every need satisfied IMMEDIATELY and who have no idea how much work they are.  they don’t understand how lucky they are to take naps, they don’t repay you any of the money that they cost you, and the only time they want to do anything for themselves is when you’re running late.  (and on a personal note, kids of all ages and genders have always felt entitled to grab my boobs and fondle them at will.)  all of which is child’s play compared to the kind of psychological warfare that they engage in as they get older.  anyone who says that kids don’t take all the strength and patience you can muster to do an endless and thankless job—well either they’re lying or they have nannies around the clock.

and since we’re talking honestly here, let’s talk about sex (insert Salt-n-Pepa melody here).  as any good red-blooded american woman, i have some deep-seated issues about my worth as it relates to my body and my desirability.  the temptress-quotient i call it, the roots of which are complicated and often opaque, but suffice it to say it is a deeply embedded issue that’s about a lot more than just fitting into my skinny jeans. it’s about what i’ve seen happen to relationships and what i’ve witnessed people doing in pursuit of missing pleasure.  it’s about examples that have been set for me as well as experiences of my own.  it’s about how things change over time in ways you can’t even imagine, and about all the pieces of self that i’ve watched so many women put away after having kids.  it’s about the fears that are activated by the thought of what motherhood would do to my entire sense of personhood.  and, of course, it’s about fitting into my skinny jeans.

a moment i saw once in san francisco.
a moment i saw once in san francisco.

it comes down to a few simple questions: am i up for the job of being responsible for another human being?  have i become everything i need to be for myself in order to be a good parent?  am i capable of giving a child everything she deserves?

******

let me be clear about something—i’m not saying that my reasoning is necessarily sound.  i’m not saying that you can’t be a temptress once you become a mom (i know plenty of smokin-hot mothers), or that i won’t wake up ten years from now and regret not experiencing something as profound as motherhood.  maybe everyone’s right—maybe i’d feel differently if they were my own kids; maybe the joy of being a parent would make all of the hard work and heartbreak worth it.  my reasons are probably selfish and vain and drenched in fear, but i’ve spent a great deal of time grappling with them. this hasn’t just happened to me.  nothing ever does.

so let’s make a deal preggo—let’s not exchange condolences on the lives that we’ve chosen for ourselves.  let’s assume that we’re both exactly where we want to be.