When Greg and I got divorced I was thrilled. His departure from our day-to-day life meant a lot of things, the most important being that I could raise our children as I saw fit. This was a much bigger deal than you can imagine.
Our first disagreement regarding how to parent our children came before we were even married. Greg stated emphatically that if his child were to get bone cancer and amputating the child’s leg would save his or her life, he would not have the leg amputated. He felt that it would be better to allow his child to remain intact and live the amount of time that God had intended. In hindsight, this may have been God trying to tell me to run like hell, but in the moment I thought that Greg was most certainly drunk or otherwise temporarily impaired.
The second and third episodes of the reality television show Boy, Did I Make a Fucking Mistake came in the car after Greg and I had seen the movie Platoon. By this time our son Chris had been born and as a new mother the scenes of war-related violence in the movie disturbed me.
Wearily, I told Greg that I hoped that by the time that Chris was of age, society would have put the concept and action of war behind it. Greg, having had the opposite reaction to the movie, told me that he couldn’t wait for Chris to become a soldier.
I totally lost my composure. I mean, who the hell, no, what the hell did I marry? It is one thing to support a child if he or she wants to defend their country, but what kind of person can’t wait until their toddler becomes a soldier?
During our ensuing argument about this soldier business, Greg let it slip that he did not expect any of our children to go to college. He reasoned that he didn’t go to college and he had a good job, so why spend the money?
I most certainly knew that one could get a good job without a college degree, but to me, college wasn’t just about getting a job. It was about raising awareness of the world and elevating the intellect of young people so that human beings understood one another better and weren’t so quick to judge and create conflict.
Greg and I disagreed about college from the beginning of our marriage until the end of our marriage. With Greg out of the day-to-day picture, I felt that my influence regarding a college education for all three of our children would prevail. I was also certain that without Greg’s influence, none of them would adopt their dad’s habit of stopping in public, lifting one of his legs out to the side and farting.
I will take a moment here to thank God that when Greg wanted the divorce, his intention was not only to divorce me, but also to divorce his children. I guess kids seriously got in the way of the kind of women he intended to date.
As a result of Greg’s mid-life crisis, I got to become the only parent that my kids had… not as bad a deal as you might think considering what kind of father Greg was. For the first time in my life, I was The Don of our family. This meant that my word was the last word and I knew I was on the right track when one evening we passed several teenagers getting arrested. Abby watched through the window of our car and wondered aloud, “Can you imagine getting arrested?”
Elliott sputtered, “Can you imagine telling Mom that you were arrested?”
I continued driving, basking in the glow of this absolute truth. If one of my kids were ever to be arrested, the legal system would not be the first of their worries.
Yeah, I’m flawed. I expected and still expect my kids to behave properly in all areas of life. After my divorce, I dated a man with three grown children. His son, the middle child, seemed to have his life together—he was a decorated war veteran, a college graduate, he had a lovely fiancé, he owned his own home, had a great job and was working on his master’s degree in business. Dream kid.
The daughters were a different story. The oldest one didn’t know who the hell had fathered her child because after six paternity tests came back negative, they had run out of money and had stopped trying to find out. I do give them credit though for not appearing on Maury Povich.
In case you think I’m being a prude, I want you to think about this for a minute: This young woman had to have slept with at least seven or eight men in a two week time period in order for this situation to exist… and she wasn’t a prostitute (if she was, this number would indicate a strong work ethic, which I would have admired).
The youngest daughter had a problem with drugs and had two babies that were being raised by her boyfriend’s parents, primarily because the little boys interfered with her partying and she was in no shape to take care of them.
At first I tried to be supportive and sympathetic regarding the behavior of his daughters but this was extremely difficult because we had very different views on parenting. The last straw was when he told me that he couldn’t do anything because, well, you know, when they turn eighteen… you have no control over them.
This excuse is a load of horseshit. If you think the job of raising your child to be a responsible adult ends when the result of your long-ago orgasm turns eighteen, you’re just lazy and/or irresponsible. I stopped seeing him about ten minutes after he said this.
I passed into the exalted position of Don Garrett during the following crisis:
Abby was nineteen and living on campus at a university in Chicago. The university was not in a great neighborhood and even higher-crime neighborhoods surrounded it. When she chose this school I called one of the admissions counselors and asked about the crime statistics on campus and around campus. The woman hemmed and hawed and finally asked me if I had grown up in Chicago. I said that I had grown up in Brighton Park, a rather rough neighborhood along Archer Avenue on Chicago’s southwest side. She let her guard down and asked me if I had taught Abby any of the things I learned while being raised in Brighton Park. I had, and I told her so.
The counselor breathed a sigh of relief, “Then she’ll be fine here.”
I was not so sure. What I didn’t tell her is that Abby is like a big ol’ playful dog that will chase a ball into the street, mindless of the traffic, if she thinks that she might have a good time.
One Friday afternoon, about a month into her first semester, I got a call from Abby. She was excited because Kerrie, one of her friends from high school, was visiting her and they were going to go to a party later that evening.
Here’s what I learned about this party: It started at 10:00 p.m. but they wouldn’t leave for the party until about 11:00 p.m. because it wasn’t “cool” to get there right when the party started. It was in a very high-crime area. Her friend Kerrie did not know the hosts and had never been at the apartment before. Neither Kerrie nor Abby had a car so they would be taking the “L” (Chicago’s elevated train system) to the neighborhood where the party was. Once they arrived in this neighborhood they would have to walk a little over a mile from the “L” station to the party site. About half of the distance walked would be under an expressway overpass, where fairly large contingents of gang members were known to hang out.
Abby was beside herself with excitement and kept rambling on and on about how much fun they were going to have. I interrupted her, “You’re not going.”
She stopped talking and then, “What do you mean I’m not going?
I repeated myself. “You are not going.”
There was silence on both ends of the phone. We were waiting each other out. I had laid down the law. Would she break it?
Just then my superbly clueless ex-husband, who was at my home dropping off insurance papers for the kids and had not heard Abby’s end of the conversation, yelled over my shoulder, “For Christ’s sake, let her go, nothing’s gonna happen to her.”
I whirled around and glared at him. He grinned at me like he had just won The Promise Keepers Father of the Year Award and gestured for the phone. I wouldn’t give it to him but I did put it on speaker so we could argue as a group. Abby started pleading with her father to convince me to let her go to the party.
Smugly, staring me down, Greg told Abby that she didn’t need my permission because she was over eighteen and I couldn’t tell her what to do anymore.
Son of a bitch. I brought the phone to my lips and yelled at Abby that I was her mother and that the day that she no longer had to listen to me was the day after I died and today I was still alive so she could not go to the party. Period. End of discussion.
I waited for her response and it was brutal.
“Well Dad said I don’t have to listen to you anymore.” With that Abby hung up the phone. She had never hung up on me before. I was seething.
I called her back and she answered with a petulant “What?”
As emotionless as possible, I told Abby that I was on my way downtown and that I would follow her and Kerrie in my car from the “L” station to the party with polka music blaring from my windows. Now I hung up the phone.
Greg, satisfied that he had torn a fiber out of our mother-daughter relationship, went to get a bottle of water from my fridge and just like in any good horror movie, when he shut the refrigerator door, I was standing right there. Scared the shit out of him.
Pretending to be calm, and acting like he had a piece of fuzz on his head, I gently reached out and took a section of his hair and rubbed it between my fingers. In my most soothing and reasonable voice I leaned forward and whispered, “If one hair on her head is hurt tonight, I will cut your head off, mount it on a stick and display it in your brother’s front yard.” I let go of his hair, turned around and went back to making peanut butter cookies.
Greg sat at the kitchen table and watched me for a few moments. Shortly, he excused himself to go to the bathroom. I passed the bathroom door twice, on purpose, and heard him whispering on the phone. I didn’t have to guess who he was talking to.
I was right. About ten minutes later my phone rang. It was Abby. She was pissed off and screamed at me. “Are you happy? We’re not going to the party. I am going to stay here in my dorm room and eat myself to death! Do you hear me? I hope I die with a big fat piece of pizza stuck in my throat and it’ll be all your fault. I hope that this makes you very, very happy.” She hung up the phone.
Was I happy? Yes. Yes I was.
By any means necessary. The Don, or in my case, The Don-ski should always prevail.