When I was about 10 years old, my dad took a new job and my folks lived 1000 miles apart. It was a separation of necessity, mom stayed in Michigan to get the house in order and sold, and dad went to Missouri to take advantage of an excellent career opportunity. My folks sat my sister and I down and explained to us, matter-of-factly, what was going to happen: Daddy was moving, mom was going to stay here, eventually we would all be back together again. I don’t remember this being distressing in any way: we moved fairly frequently, and we had been without my dad for stretches before in similar circumstances. The thing that made this event memorable is that my parents presented me with a choice: I could go on ahead with dad or stay with my mom and sister. I was in 6th grade, on the cusp of adolescence. I was aware that Jr. High loomed in my future, and was always open to new adventures, so, after giving it some thought, I decided I would go with dad and try to make some friends in the “safe” elementary school environment before moving on to big, scary Jr. High school. It was not an agonizing decision for me to make, although in retrospect I wonder how my parents felt about it: was mom worried about dad and I being on our own? Was dad secretly annoyed to be burdened with a kid tagging along when he was starting a new job? If they had those feelings, they never let on to me. I went with my dad to Columbia and it was just me and dad for… weeks? months? Anyway, until mom sold the house, and mom and my sis joined us.
Lately I have been leaving the Sisters Lovely alone with Dearest here and there: while I go to a doctor’s appointment, or a meeting, or to run a quick errand. I will be the first to admit it: I can be a total control freak. I like routine, a rhythm and predictability to my day, and I have projected that on to my girls, convincing myself that THEY like a routine. Maybe they do. Does Dearest do everything exactly the way I do it? Surely not. Do I have to fight the urge to leave him a child care itinerary every time I go to take a shower for 20 minutes? Yes. Have I considered putting together a folder, like we keep in the classroom for substitute teachers, with a schedule, likes and dislikes, and alternate activities? Yup. But I won’t. First of all, Dearest doesn’t need it. He knows the girls so well, and is not only capable but excellent at seeing that their needs are met. Secondly, so what if he does something a little different from the way I do it? Is that really going to scar the kids? Just the opposite, I have to admit. It’s probably very good for them.
Did everything go perfectly during the time I lived with my dad? Certainly not. I spent time alone for really the first time in my life, was picked on and considered “weird” by the kids at my new elementary school (hmm… I was new, had no mom living in the house to be sure I brushed by hair and dressed nicely (I’m sure I didn’t), was picked up and dropped off by my dad’s secretary, occasionally came to school on crutches just because I felt like it, and lived in a retirement home. So… maybe they had a point.) But what an experience. If I had stayed behind, I would have missed out on so much bonding time with my dad during those months of bachelorhood: wading barefoot in the creek that ran though the grounds of the facility, staying up late enough to watch SNL for the first time, getting pet birds and letting them fly around our apartment without worrying too much about the mess, eating English Muffin pizzas pretty much every weekend. Was it how my mom would have done it? Almost certainly not. Did I turn out just fine? Well… I guess you could argue that one either way, but I doubt my oddities have too much to do with my time with dad.