Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Quality Time

(Warning: Long post. Very detailed. Several less-than-positive references to “the ex.”)

So I go to the airport to pick up B and his dad on Monday night. I’m excited to see B; it’s been 7 days since they’ve left for their Maui vacation. Big hugs, kisses and smiles for Mommy. Absence, particularly from your child, indeed makes the heart grow warmer.

It’s nearly 10pm when the bags are collected and we’re all settled into the car. B’s hungry. He wants a parfait from McDonald’s. I’m a bit concerned with bedtime. Tomorrow is a big school day, with a field trip to the pumpkin patch. “Don’t worry,“ B’s dad says. “B slept on the plane.“

The first McDonald’s is closed; the second McDonald’s is out of parfaits. After some negotiating, B settles on a cheeseburger and the McDonald’s fruit plate. If we were in my car, I’d let B eat in his car seat, to buy some more minutes for the bedtime routine. But we’re in K’s (Ben’s dad) car and eating in the backseat is not allowed. The cheeseburger and the fruit plate remain in their respective bags.

K leaves immediately when we arrive at my house. Mahalo for leaving me with the tired and hungry child. It’s now 10:30pm and did I mention that it is a school night? B’s missed a day of school to go on the trip. K planned the vacation around B’s Fall Break but, in typical “K style”, hasn’t thought much about the late return or how it might impact B’s transition back to “normal” life.

Cheeseburger down, fruit plate down. “Still hungry Mom,” B announces. 11pm now. I throw a Zone Bar at him and quickly get over my fantasy of lingering in his bed, reading a new book I bought for him the day prior.

No time for books, back scratches, or, truth be told, any meaningful time with oral hygiene. Into pajamas, quick swirl of the toothbrush, fast hug and kiss, and I’m outta there at 11:30pm. Did I mention that it’s a school night? So much for a quality bed time experience.

6:30am. “Mommy, can I get up now?” It’s 3:30am in Maui. I walk into his room. He’s squinting at me, rubbing his eyes. “I’m SO tired,” he tells me. “That’s called jet lag,” I answer. “Can I watch a movie before school?” “Sure,” I say, thinking to myself, “We’ll catch up on quality time later.”

B literally goes completely horizontal on the couch, with two blankets and two pillows, telling me again how tired he is. The whole scene looks like a Saturday morning, only it’s Tuesday and he has a field trip and we need to leave the house extra early because I’ve scheduled 8:30am clients for the next three weeks.

I let him quietly ease into his morning, although I suspect that he’s dozing on the couch. Sure enough, checking in after my quick shower, I discover that his eyes are half-mast. He’s way too comfortable in the warm cocoon of the couch. I yank away the blankets, throw the pillows on the floor, and place a yogurt in his hands. I’m tempted to toss a cup of sugar into my coffee, along with several ice cubes and a straw and let him sip that for breakfast.

We are pushing 8:00am by the time I get him dressed. Let me mention here that mornings are a curse for all parents, and particularly for parents flying solo. The days of daily hair washing, blow drying, and lotion lathering are long gone. I’m lucky that my hair stays the same for three days and can be somewhat presentable with a flat iron and some hair spray. Brush on foundation (thank God for that invention!), forget the eye shadow - no time for that -and a quick sweep of mascara (on a good day), and it’s out the door.

B decides to be cute and hides in the car while I collect the necessary gear (lunch and backpack for him; Luna bar and another cup of coffee for me). It IS cute until he won’t come out of the trunk and the time now is getting dangerously close to my client’s appointment. “GET IN THE CAR SEAT RIGHT NOW OR YOU’RE GETTING A TIME OUT!” Who really has the time for a time out this morning? B must know this because he just stares at me from the trunk. I pick up a Hot Wheels car, make a threatening motion to throw it in the trash, and B dissolves into tears. “I’m SO tired,” he cries. There goes any chance at quality time on the drive to school.

We are in the school parking lot. B prefers (actually, he demands) to be walked into the classroom each morning because of a bad experience in the drop-off loop with his dad earlier in the school year. Normally, I’m more than happy to oblige. Today, however, would be a great day to use the loop. I know better, though. I’m not even going there.

Since it’s a field trip day, I explain to B that he will be riding to the pumpkin patch with another mommy and that I will meet him at the patch once I’m finished with my client. I leave him at the kindergarten room, seemingly happy. I did get a sweet kiss and hug which, I will acknowledge as a quality send-off for Mom.

A mad dash to the gym and I’m walking in one minute before my client. One hour later, it’s off to the pumpkin patch to meet the class. I arrive there and B’s teacher looks at me. “What are you doing here?” she asks. “We have plenty of parent volunteers.” I look her directly in the eye and reply, “B’s been in Maui for a week with his dad. This is the first chance I’ve had to spend with him.” Her face softens and she says, “Oh, that must have been a really hard week for you.” “I’m just looking for quality time with my kid,” I tell her. “Any way I can get it.”

My good friend "S" has driven B in her car along with three other kids. “Gosh, he seems so tired,” she remarks.

I don’t even think B notices that I’m at the field trip. He dashes through the corn maze, delights in the huge slide, runs with his classmates through the pumpkins in search of “the perfect one.” At lunch time he looks frantically for me. “MOMMY!” he yells when he makes eye contact with me. “Yes, sweetie?” “Here,” he says, and hands me his lunch trash. At least, I enjoyed quality time in watching him have so much fun.

It’s back to work for me after lunch. My mom (the saint for today) has gone off to pick B up from school. I have great visions of the two of us (Ben and myself) reading books and coloring together during my two hour work break. Instead, he walks in from school, makes a bee line for the couch, and exclaims, “I’m so tired!” Right.

What is there to do for an exhausted and jet-lagged 5-year-old that does not involve the television? He’s too tired to stay awake for books and too cranky to engage in a game. So it’s back to a movie. More quality time.

The school B goes to has a mandatory meeting tonight. I call to see if I can re-schedule. No luck, it’s the last meeting of the year. Really? But it’s only October. I call again to confirm the time and place. 6:30pm. Two hours. Downtown campus. It’s official: my mom will have the quality bed time experience tonight with B.

I’m back to work for an hour, then home for 30 minutes to give B a final good-night hug and kiss. His Grandma has successfully managed to move him away from the television, off the couch, and into the backyard where they are sharing quality time, moving sand and rocks.

It’s off to the meeting and I’m feeling like 50% custody is a complete farce. It’s more like 10% in my world. I work completely around my ex’s schedule so that he doesn’t have to work at all when he has B. I even drive an extra morning during my rotation because my ex does not get off of work in time to take B to school. This doesn’t go un-noticed by my friends and family. It does, however, spark much debate between the ex and myself and anytime I mention the word “re-negotiation”, I get the same answer: “Are you threatening me?!” Sometimes it’s easier to keep the peace by choosing your battles. And, by being grateful to your mother for providing quality time in your absence.

At the meeting, the presenter for the school rambles on and on and on and on and on. At 8:30pm (the designated end time for the meeting), people start to glance at the clock. A few brave souls stand up and leave. At 8:38pm, I become one of the brave souls, quickly packing up my things and walking out. Not that 8 minutes will make a difference in my ability to kiss B goodnight; he’s long since been asleep but I’m seriously miffed at the presenter for keeping us past the designated two hour time block. I do not think that she is being respectful of the few quality moments I have remaining in this day.

On the drive home, I decide that the biggest daily challenge to single parents is finding shared times with your child, that are high in quality. I had about thirty minutes of quality time with B today; definitely not enough in my book.

Tomorrow is a new day and he will be more rested, less jag-lagged. I’ll still have the same client demands and an even heavier work schedule in the evening but I know that after today, I need some good one-on-one time with my little boy. If I log off now, I can hit the shower and make lunches, perhaps freeing up some quality time in the morning to do something other than television.

And the upside? It’s only Day 3 of my hair. I have at least one more day until I get to spend some less-than-quality time with my blow dryer again!

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