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Ordinary

October 27, 2010

A perfectly average weekend–nothing exceptional that was good, nothing bad. Except my mood, which hovered between foul and despondent, with occasional dips into Full Swivet.

The children were with me, which was wonderful. Ever since the younger one was sick for so long a couple of weeks ago, he has been the apple of my eye.  I actually miss him when he’s at school, which makes me wonder whether I am coming a bit unhinged. (It may simply be that I’m looking for an easy excuse to avoid the horrid pile-up of obligations I’ve accumulated.) However, there is no denying that he’s at a rare, delightful stage right now.  Even his brother, the fourteen-year-old, has been mostly amusing and pleasant.  And the two of them together get along beautifully.  They always have.

Anyway, the little one needed glasses badly, it turned out, so he and I spent a morning at the eye doctor and then an hour or so picking out frames, one for sports and one for general wear. He was, apparently, virtually blind. I would feel terrible about this if so many people, including the optometrist’s very assistant, hadn’t assured me that the exact same thing had happened with their myopic kids. He could, um, only read the first two lines of the eye chart. (How in god’s name was he functioning?  “They compensate,” the assistant said, shrugging, and I guess she’s right.)  It was awfully touching to see his face light up when the doctor maneuvered the lenses into their correct alignment. “I never get tired of this,” the optometrist said, grinning at my grinning kid.  Driving home, I told him he was going to be blown away when his glasses arrived and he could wear them every day.  He was dubious, still insisting he could see the board at school just fine.

So when his prescription sports goggles (which, inexplicably, arrived first) came in on Friday, my consoling-windows friend and I picked them up, then hung around my house all afternoon, so we could both be there when he first put them on.  When he traipsed off the school bus, lugging his huge backpack, hair in his eyes, humming to himself and kicking the sidewalk until he saw us and broke into a run, we met him outside the front door and handed his new glasses over with appropriate ceremony.  Solemnly, he opened the case and put them on. “Oh, wow, oh, my goodness, I can see PERFECTLY, everything’s so CLEAR,” he said, over and over, spinning slowly and gazing up at the trees (which are indeed spectacular right now, all red and orange and yellow) and at the bright blue sky. He could not stop smiling. On his way into the house, he beamed and proclaimed us both a bit more wrinkly than usual. Then he fell over the landing. “Whoops,” he said, adjusting his new specs. “Hey! I can see the clock!”

The next morning, both kids played soccer, and then my younger son and I took a long, long walk across town and around the college campus, looking at things. I was on edge, lonely in advance of being lonely.  That night, both kids and my ex-husband were going to see a playoff game of the World Series–an awfully big deal, for which they were incredibly excited, and who could blame them?  I, too, love baseball.  Truth be told, I was sad to be left out.  I know perfectly well there is no “left out” after divorce; still. I wanted to go; I wanted them to be home with me.  I assumed, since they wouldn’t get home until after midnight, that my ex would just have them sleep at his house, which meant they’d probably not make their way back until halfway through Sunday; this made me sulky. I wanted the whole weekend with them.  But hey, playoff tickets trump all, and so the kids and I goofed around in the yard till their dad showed up to take them to the game.  “See you tomorrow,” I said cheerfully as they leapt into the car.  “Oh, I thought I’d bring them back tonight,” my ex-husband said.

This is one of those bizarre post-separation clusterfucks that no one who hasn’t been there can understand.  Remember the good news/bad news books?  No?  Never mind.  After divorce, one plays Assumption/Reaction.  Assumption:  Game ends late.  You’ll just have the kids spend the night with you, then.

Reaction:  (picture tennis, if you will.  A casual rally.  Someone, of course, will get the final slam right to the baseline.  But we’re not there yet.)  No, I’m bringing them back to YOU.

Counterreaction:  Fine.  Better than fine.  Though it does involve staying up late.  But never mind.

I was grumpy and peevish and lonely the whole time they were gone.  My boyfriend kept calling, and I kept not picking up the phone.  I didn’t want to be moody and distant, but I didn’t have it in me to be anything else.  I moped around the house, watching the game, wishing I were there.  The house pissed me off.  I didn’t like the television.  Consoling-windows friend was out, and I didn’t feel like doing much of anything.

Normally, I’d probably just have written the day off as a bad one, and retreated to bed with a book.  But the kids were coming back, so I stayed up.  I kept watching the game, trying to spot them in the crowd.  It got later.  I was tired.  Shit, I thought, I wish they WERE going to their dad’s.  Why didn’t I speak up?  But then the game ended, and the phone rang.  It was, of course, my ex-husband.

I’m going to take them to my house after all, he said.  A perfect return shot, right down the center of the court. Because it’s so late.

Defeated, I hung up, sat there gnawing my nails, then called back.  No, bring them anyway, I want them, I said.

(I never do this, by the way.  Generally I try to be all agreeable and flexible, then fume when I’m played for a sucker.  I think my ex-husband was caught off guard.  As well he should have been.  Game, set, and match, to me!)

So they came home and I carried my younger son, sports goggles askew, up to bed.  And then I woke up on Sunday still grumpy and morose.

The worst thing about living alone, I think, is the way a simple bad mood can come to seem absolutely dire and cataclysmic.  I was certainly no stranger to grouchiness in the good old days.  However, if you’re married and in a bad mood over the weekend, who the fuck cares.  Maybe it’s your stupid husband; maybe it’s hormones, maybe you’re bored or nursing a grudge or hung over.  Go on, be a bitch, ponder the many ways you’re vaguely dissatisfied with your life, consider your bratty children–you can afford to luxuriate in your own pissiness, knowing perfectly well this too will pass. Or, if you prefer, just keep your dissatisfaction to yourself, and go around feeling martyred and holy.  A good old emotional funk when you’re married hardly even troubles the water.  By Monday morning you’ll be back to dishing out oatmeal, hardly remembering whatever pissed you off on Saturday afternoon.

But when I’m by myself and I get to feeling low, I lose perspective completely, and so it was this weekend.  I finked on a party I was invited to, simply because I couldn’t fathom making an effort.  (I’m sure it would have cheered me up to go.)  I began mentally tallying my flaws, my mistakes, the egregious errors (the sins, if you will) that led me to my present state.  Because I felt so bad, I must BE bad, I reasoned.  “You need to be a Catholic, so you can go and atone and be forgiven, for crying out loud,” my brilliant editor friend told me (she, of course, is Catholic herself).  I told her I’d gladly confess and atone, because I desperately want to be forgiven and absolved.  I’d love nothing more.  Did she think a little matter like not believing in God might get in the way, however?  She laughed and laughed at me (she’s still high from being invited to visit Loretta Lynn in her BUS, I guess), but I couldn’t quite get her to commit to an answer.

By Monday morning, though, guess what?  I was back to dishing out oatmeal.  Perhaps everything is just a little more intense when experienced alone.  Perhaps marriage is like the mute on a trumpet–it tones everything down, muffles the sensation.  The kids went off to school, and I got to work cleaning house.  My friend who’s been in France since August was coming back with her son, to stay with us for ten days, and there wasn’t any time for soul searching or moping.  I rolled up my sleeves, cleaned a couple of bathrooms, and began the happy countdown till her arrival.

She got here last night, and consoling-windows friend came over and we drank champagne, and the kids were ecstatic, and god, it’s nice to have another grown-up around.  Makes you realize why two-parent households are so popular, after all.

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18 Comments leave one →
  1. October 27, 2010 1:52 pm

    “wrinkly”!!
    Ha ha! I like that child of yours already.

    How well I remember the constant brave rallying of spirits that’s such a basic part of being on your own. Blooming Nora, how exhausting. Not that being with someone is necessarily a cake walk either. (Can that be the expression? Cake? Walk?). The point being, other people take you out of yourself, it’s true.
    Tribe needed, as per usual.

  2. October 27, 2010 2:28 pm

    I still get a bit of that feeling very time I get a new prescription and suddenly I can see leaves on the trees in high def.

    I’m shit at being alone. I sometimes wonder if I should have tried harder at doing stuff alone as There are no guarantees that I won’t have to learn how to do it some day.

  3. NOT brilliant but at least an editor permalink
    October 27, 2010 2:33 pm

    I did so tell you you were forgiven. I’ve been telling you that for years, but you don’t believe me. One day you will. That’s another thing I have faith in.

  4. October 27, 2010 2:41 pm

    It might be easier to ride over malaisey moods in the company of people stuck with you no matter what (to a point, heh) but it must be a little nice to get to skip all those conversations that go like “What’s bothering you? Really, what’s wrong? Can’t you talk to me? What have I done?” when all you really want to do is stew for a while. But good good good for you for insisting the children return as planned. Points for bravery and reason.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      October 27, 2010 2:47 pm

      You’ll probably think I’m exaggerating, but I swear this is true: not once in the 18 years we were together did my ex husband ask me “What’s bothering you?” So I’d ALWAYS get to stew, unless I felt like making a fuss instead. I did wish someone might notice if I were being stoic, however.

      “What’s bothering you?” was always MY line.

  5. Anne permalink
    October 27, 2010 3:46 pm

    …are you SURE your ex doesn’t have Asperger’s? His level of interpersonal awareness seems remarkably low. And yet, from what you write, he appears to be a good father, so it doesn’t seem like Narcissistic Personality Disorder or Antisocial Personality Disorder would fit…

    (Sorry. I’m a psychologist, if it wasn’t already glaringly obvious!)

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      October 27, 2010 6:29 pm

      I’m not at all sure. I suppose it doesn’t much matter, in the end? He’s got SOMEthing that makes him very different from me, that’s for sure. The kids seem not to be Aspergery, so far. And he is a good father. He relates well to them. In a sense, they’re his most important friends…I’ll e-mail you and maybe you can diagnose him, or is there some sort of test that’s more or less definitive? I know the man pretty damned well, after all…I bet I could answer the questions for him.

      • Celeste permalink
        October 27, 2010 8:01 pm

        I think he just doesn’t think. He doesn’t seem to have any idea about anybody else’s perspective. He couldn’t think it through to realize it would be easier for the kids and himself for them to just go home with him…he didn’t realize that keeping you awake to take the kids back in and then changing his mind would be unpleasant for you.

        I feel like for men, everything is possible. It’s never too late, things will always work out, and worry is never part of the equation. I don’t know that it’s a lesser bonding to others per se, but it certainly is a different way than women do it.

  6. bebe permalink
    October 27, 2010 5:39 pm

    I would love to know why I so relate to everything you say when, on the surface, I have absolutely nothing in common with you – e.g. 50, never married ,no children, living alone. Hmmm.
    But I read (and lurk on) your blog religiously.
    You write beautifully.

  7. October 27, 2010 9:59 pm

    @Anne, I’m curious….a psychiatrist we saw years ago diagnosed my ex husband with narcissistic personality disorder. I am pretty sure he is a narcissist on a low level (no huge grandiose “I’m going to conquer the world” fantasies), but you mentioned in your comment, “But he seems like a good father” in ruling NPD out. My ex claims to love his kids, and I believe that he does, but he is unable to do any of the actual work of parenting. And any time he can get out of doing the work (helping out at his son’s birthday party, or canceling a sleep over with the kids because he’d rather hang out with his girlfriend) he does. Is this typical of a narcissist father?

  8. October 27, 2010 10:38 pm

    as usual you’ve nailed it. actually a friend of mine said my ex has narcissistic p d … and he fits the description absolutely. anyway, i digress. i’m glad you stood your ground on getting the kids back. i am learning that i do have a leg to stand upon. here’s to you remaining strong, and getting stronger (in spirit)!!

  9. fatty permalink
    October 27, 2010 10:40 pm

    Labels are fun and helpful, sometimes, but a simple “selfish,” or “utterly self-centered” might just do the trick. When my ex and I were in couples counseling before our split, our therapist alluded to my spouse having narcissistic personality disorder. It was satisfying for a while (Yeah, and guess what else–she’s got NPD!!), but now, a few years later, it’s just easier, and I think more accurate, to say she’s a pretty self-centered person. Not a diagnosis–a description. Not even a criticism anymore. Just a statement of fact.

    Anyway, I.B., you write some lovely prose.

  10. julie permalink
    October 27, 2010 11:05 pm

    I used to have horrible vision. I don’t know the exact ratios, let’s just say nearsighted, with astigmatism and a bit of a lazy eye, which becomes more pronounced when I’m drunk and/or exhausted. Bad enough vision to not be able to have the luxury of “glasses in an hour.”
    Imagine my glee when upon having Lasik, I sat up from the table, in my Valiumed haze, proclaimed everyone to be beautiful in 3D. I marveled at the leaves on trees for weeks.

    Onto Aspergers, here’s the Autism Quotient test that’s making the rounds on Facebook:
    http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/9.12/aqtest.html

  11. Anne permalink
    October 28, 2010 12:41 am

    @fatty: actually, I agree with you! The “labels” currently in use in the mental health profession come from a book called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Ed., Text Revision, and are basically just the titles to a list of descriptions of behaviors. Also, as I am fond of saying to clients, there are no lab tests for psychological disorders. The DSM is a very political book, and diagnoses get voted in and out of each new edition by committees of mental health professionals (you think I’m kidding? I am not). Also, the DSM utilizes a “categorical” model, rather than a “dimensional” model, which is a fancy way of saying that it tries to fit an infinite number of shades of gray into boxes of black and white. Insurance companies love the DSM–no one else I’ve ever met does.

    We all have personalities, and thus, we all have personality quirks. What differentiates people with personality DISORDERS is, to quote the DSM, “Only when personality traits are inflexible and maladaptive and cause significant functional impairment or subjective distress do they constitute Personality Disorders. The essential feature of a Personality Disorder is an enduring pattern of inner experience and behavior that deviates markedly form the expectations of the individuals’ culture…” So, as is evident from this definition, the personality traits have to be a complete pain in the ass for the individual, others in their lives, or both, in order to be considered a disorder. And, cultures can vary on how much they find certain traits acceptable. Until the 1970s, it was completely acceptable for female employees to be treated as second class citizens in the workplace, for example. Men were SUPPOSED to exhibit some level of self-centeredness; women were SUPPOSED to be submissive. So, if you took the average Joe (or Jane) Schmoe in the 1960s and time-machined them to the present, they’d likely have traits and behaviors that would be considered maladaptive to our culture as it currently stands.

    Regarding the diagnosis of Narcissistic PD, the central trait is an overarching self-centeredness and need for admiration, and inability or unwillingness to understand and empathize with others’ needs, although they can sometimes act as though they care, in order to get others to act the way they want. However, people with this type of personality can run the gamut from your average used-car salesman to a serious megalomaniac. As Julie mentioned about her ex-husband, there are people with “low level” NPD-ish traits, and those that are way out on the fringe. Again–that pesky “dimensional” thing!

    Hope that helps…

    P.S. Sorry for the dissertation…apparently once wasn’t enough for me! 🙂

  12. October 30, 2010 10:59 pm

    i’m sorry, i just need to clarify it … having narcissistic personality disorder is not possible if you are a good dad? what if the good dad persona is just for show. i’m just asking. it’s one thing to play well with the kids … that’s easy to do, but another thing to do the everyday care. or do the everyday care, but not really the way it should be done.
    i know i’m making the issue more confusing; just trying to understand it a bit more.

    thanks in advance!

    • November 1, 2010 10:36 pm

      Well, that’s what I was wondering. I mean, my ex can play the part of “good dad” when he has an audience. He relishes it, and has quite a few people fooled. However, the actual work of parenting when kids are sick/cranky/not cooperating is usually turned over to me, with some excuse about why he can’t do it (never that he doesn’t WANT to do it, which is, in fact, the truth. He’s quite capable of doing it). I’m just wondering if this is true of all narcissistic people, or if it’s just that my ex is exceptionally selfish and self-absorbed. Or possibly both.

  13. Anne permalink
    November 2, 2010 4:14 pm

    Hm…lots of directions to go with this one, and not knowing your ex-spouses (or you, for that matter!) I really don’t want to say Yes or No regarding NPD. That being said, as I mentioned earlier, the central trait of narcissists is that they are focused mostly on themselves, and what others can do to help them or make them feel good. So, no, for the most part they would not be great at the day-in-day-out drudgery of parenting.

    On the other hand…I think that many women (myself included, by the way) often contribute to this by allowing our partners to wiggle out of the more distasteful aspects of childcare. E.g., my husband professes to LOATHE giving baths (in his defense, we have two daughters, and I think the whole dealing-with-female-private-bits is a bit daunting for him) so I give the majority of the baths. I put my foot down regarding diaper changing, so we do that fairly equally, but I do the lion’s share of doggy poop-scooping. And so on.

    Given how most of us were raised, we probably DO have more experience with babies and young children than fathers do, and god knows society certainly expects us to shoulder the brunt of it. Also, I think being a “mother” is sometimes more tied-up with our self-identities than being a “father” is for a lot of men (although not all, by a long shot–please don’t hit me!) So, there’s a lot of complicated sides to this issue. Throw divorce (which usually causes, you know, some hurt feelings) into the mix, and the complication increases exponentially.

    So, there is my long non-answer to your questions about NPD. If you really want to “diagnose” your ex, however, you could google the definition and then see if they fit.

    Good luck!

    • November 2, 2010 10:13 pm

      Anne,
      thank you for taking the time to reply. i know that the roles of parents as perceived by society are a little bit different, and i also know that women, in general, tend to do more of the day-to-day caring of the children. or perhaps it comes more naturally to women than to some men.
      i have googled npd, and the description fits my ex absolutely. i was told about that by a friend who’s a psychologist, and to tell you the truth, it was quite an eye opener for me to read the description.
      i just do not want my children to grow up to be like that or for one of them to marry someone like that. Now that would actually kill me.
      i’m asking these questions because i want to educate myself, so i know how to be a better, more objective mother. the ex will never change; my fears lie in how he is going to affect the children. i just worry for them.
      that’s why i am dragging this discussion on!! i really do appreciate you taking the time to reply.

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