Monday, June 29, 2009

The Babysitter

So you know about the running. Now all the running has got me into trouble. Ran to the ENT doctor Friday after waking up at 4am with horrible ear pain, so much so that it felt like someone had stuck a knife in my ear. I was diagnosed with fluid and TMJ.


First, I need to backtrack. Early that morning, we went to visit Andy's kids as promised. The eighth graders were adorable. Running down the hall to greet us. "It's Elke!" Cooing and oohing. Taking pictures. Asking questions. "I heard you're a vegetarian!" one boy in a red track jacket yelled. Then a girl with long brown hair to Jake: "We heard you like Star Wars!" Unlimited excitement.

Finally, I sat down in a chair and twenty children surrounded me. I believe I have an inkling of what Brad and Angelina might feel like. The kids stared at Jake and the baby. Not to close, but peering and staring and taking pictures and more pictures and more staring.

"This is like the Lion King," Andy said. "Hold her up like Simba, Hayley."

"Mr. Adler talks about you guys all the time," one girl announced. Well, to hear from 13-year-olds that your husband is bragging about you and your kids... it makes the heart go mushy. I was so glad we went.

The four of us went for a quick lunch. Andy's last day of school. It should have been a celebration. But as the afternoon progressed, so did my ear pain. There I was hunched over in my veggie burger. I made an appointment with the ENT doc, but Andy needed to go back to school to wrap up his class before they shut down the school.

"Who's going to watch the kids?" I said. I called three babysitters including my mother. No one was available.

"How about Cason?" Andy said.

And in one of those strange life moments, the phone rang. Cason's number popped up.

"Why hasn't Jake called me in three days?" Cason asked. His voice was tense. For the record, it's not my responsibility to have Jake call Cason. What makes it more difficult is that Jake is not a phone kid. Like, at all. Like, he's so adverse to the phone that he typically hides under the table. And, Cason knows he can call at any time to speak to Jake -- as long as I can coax Jake to scream, "Hi Dad!" from under the table.

I ignored the comment. We're at that stage now that acting a bit pissed off is not going to ruin the relationship. It is a relationship, and sometimes we do fall into a weird comfortable spot of bitching because well... we were married. Bitching was a large part of my marriage with him. There is a short hand.

"Look, I've been sick all week. Sorry he didn't call. And now I have this ear pain... and I have a doctor's appointment, but no one to watch the kids."

"What about Andy? I hear his voice."

"He's packing up his room at school. We're in the city now, having lunch." I paused and looked up at Andy who was nodding his head in a yes, go ahead and ask him motion. "Can you take Elke and Jake?"

"Uh..." he said.

"It's okay," I said. Maybe it was too much. She was four months old. "I can try to find a playdate for Jake. I can bring the baby with me."

"Uh..." he said.

I've written here about the discussion that Cason and I had about the kids. "I'd take both of them when she gets older," he said. "After all, she is Jake's sister."

And I appreciated his words. But when Elke was born, I couldn't help but think of how difficult it might be for both of my children when Jake had to leave the house every other weekend. Would Elke miss her big brother terribly? Would Jake feel left out?

In my parents' custody agreement, my brother, David, and I were split up. My mother took me, and my father took David. Every weekend we were together, but were separated during the week. "It was the biggest mistake of my life, doing that, not taking your brother," my mother has said. "You never should have been split up." I love my brother and we're very close now, but our relationship as children was tumultuous because we were apart so often.

1973. I was two, my brother, David, just a few months old.

Andy is well aware of my history. And shortly after Elke was born he said that he fully expected Cason to take Elke with Jake at some point. "Cason taking Elke will be good for everyone," Andy said. "Also, it will give a continuity so the kids don't feel that they're missing out on each other, or separated, and make it seem as normal as possible," he said. "Maybe Cason will even teach her how to play piano. Who knows."

Jake reading Curious George to Elke

So I got back to my phone call with Cason and backtracked some more. You have to work, I said. It wasn't fair for me to ask you for so much, I said.

"Wait. I can take them. It's fine. I'll just leave work a little early. No big deal." There was a sadness in his voice when he said this. Of course this is only my projection, but maybe it had to do something with him longing for a new wife and a new baby. A child of his own, a sibling he can give to Jake. And I do believe he'll have that one day. I do.

Jake was thrilled when I told him Elke was going with him to his dad's. "You have to show your dad everything, okay?" I told him as I dropped them off. "How to change a diaper. How to burp her. How to give her the pacifier. How to play with toys." Jake nodded, smiled and gave me a giant, slurpy kiss.

"Here's the thing with baby girls," I said to Cason. "You have to wipe from front to back. Like, you have to get in there if she poops."

Cason looked at Elke and pointed his finger. "Don't poop."

I drove off and called Liz, my best friend since the fifth grade. Now, Liz isn't Cason's number one fan. She's Italian, from New Jersey, and while she never flipped a table, she's fiercely loyal and doesn't forget if someone hurts a friend. With all that said, she's one of the most objective, thoughtful people I've ever met in my life.

"You all have evolved," she said. "And I really can't believe I'm saying this, but he's evolved."

I shit you not when I tell you that four years ago, when my divorce lawyer was convincing me to walk out of the courthouse because Cason's lawyer was being difficult to negotiate with and I said I am not leaving this courthouse without a divorce, that I would have ever, ever guessed that one day Cason would be watching my baby.

We have evolved. There's no denying it. And so has our relationship -- enough for him to include my daughter from another marriage in his life. No one feels left out. Not Elke. Not Jake. Not even Cason.

"How'd it go?" I asked Cason when I picked them up.

"Like riding a bike."

"Mommy, Is Elke sleeping over?" Jake asked as we walked to the car.

"Not tonight, love," I said. "We're going home."

"Can she sleep over one day?"

"Yes, love. When she's bigger."

And I'm sure one day, she would.

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