Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Chapter 10: The Patron Saint of Baby Mamas (part 1)

When we first met, James did not tell me outright that he had a son. Maybe Sara had mentioned it once and it lodged in a corner of my mind, or maybe I just suspected, but somehow I just knew he had a child. I listed previously all the things that “on paper” probably would have prevented me from clicking through to James’ online profile. It was not any one of these things, including having a child, which would have been a potential deal-breaker; it was all of them in concert.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love kids. I babysat neighborhood children starting when I was twelve years old. I was at various points a nanny, tutor, teaching assistant, camp counselor, and mother’s helper. I love to teach kids things, color with them, pretend, get down on the ground and play, run around and be silly, everything that it is to be a kid. As a result, little kids tend to warm up to me pretty quickly. I want my own kids one day, hopefully sooner rather than later. I may be old as dirt, but for now at least, the ground is still fertile.

However, I had never dated a guy with a child (that I knew of anyhow). I suppose it might have been different if the son lived in the same town or if there were any sort of shared custody agreement. But as it was, the child lived with his mother Lisa and stepfather Erik in South Carolina. Going down to meet him for the first time was both exciting and nerve-wracking.

I have already described my reaction to meeting my first in-the-flesh baby mama (or is it momma? I never was certain). I expected her to be wary of me, as the “new her.” I also anticipated that her husband and I would somehow be friendlier, sharing a certain bond as the two outsiders to the product of their (failed) relationship. That was in no way the way things played out. Lisa recently expressed that she had pretty much the same reaction to me as I did to her. She expected me to be the “anti-her” but found the two of us eerily similar. She seemed nice and was eager to have her son’s father in his life. I didn’t get the impression that she worried about me muscling in on her territory in any way.

Erik, on the other hand, came off as a bit of a prick to James and me. During our visits he was the epitome of a military man: firm, commanding and regimented giving us rules, schedules and boundaries. When we were away, he would tell Jamie things that were a bit off-putting. For example, imagine James’ reaction when his six year old son called him from a thousand miles away saying, “My daddy says you’re not my real dad.” Well, needless to say, my husband was not a fan of the man filling his shoes.

The whole truth is that Erik was likely just trying to be a good dad: the kind who raises and emotionally supports the child, not the kind who just happens to have contributed some sperm. I imagine Erik must have worried that we would whisk this little boy away to New York, never to be seen again; that we were irresponsible and Jamie would end of hurt; that we would talk badly about Erik behind his back; or simply that having a father like James, who would come in and out of his son’s life whenever he felt like it, would somehow damage Jamie down the road.

I spent only a few weekends with the boy who I suppose was my stepson, although my husband would never let me say so. I don’t think James felt like a full-fledged father, so why should I have the right to be any sort of parent? We had two visits to South Carolina, the trip to Chicago for the wedding, and another visit to San Antonio after the military moved their family. Perhaps it was only because we would come bearing gifts, stay in a hotel, eat out at restaurants and do exciting things every day that made each visit seem magical. Jamie was spoiled for those couple of days, away from his baby sisters, singing Johnny B. Goode in the car with his dad from New York.

It was all so surreal that I had to remind myself that James and I were in charge, and to remember to feed him healthy food or make sure he used the bathroom before bed. Simple things that a full-time parent (or even a part-time nanny) would have hard-wired in their brains. While I was a little out of practice, I also didn’t feel one hundred percent comfortable telling Jamie what to do, with James, his father, right there. I didn’t want to end up being the evil stepmother! Luckily, Jamie is a good kid, and knows right from wrong. In fact, he had to instruct us that he is not allowed to have caffeinated drinks. While picking up some groceries during our Texas visit, we purchased a local red soda that we figured was just a carbonated punch. It wasn’t till after Jamie had consumed one or two of the (albeit mini-size) cans that we realized it said “contains caffeine” on the side. So despite all of our best efforts to the contrary, we managed to subvert his parents’ rules. (Sorry guys!)

My favorite memory of our time together, aside from singing Chuck Berry ad nauseam, was a spontaneous game we came up with in the hotel room one night. I was straightening up all the clothes strewn about before bed. At one point I had a t-shirt and tossed it over my arm, like a waiter in a fancy restaurant. In a snobby British accent, I asked Jamie, “Can I take your order, sir?” and the kid just cracked up. This evolved into me taking his and James’ supposed dinner orders, walking to the other side of the room to prepare the “food,” then coming back and serving the imaginary meal to my patrons, repeating back the dishes as I did so. The guys took their turns as the waiter too.

As we went on, the orders would get longer and longer, with more bizarre items. It evolved into a memory game that even I, a seasoned waitress, found challenging! We laughed so much that night, and I was pleased that our impromptu game involved imagination and education. It relieved me to see that Jamie could have as much fun with a t-shirt over his arm as a simulated napkin as he could on a roller coaster or with a video game controller in his hand.

Jamie was such a pleasure to be around that our visits always seemed too short. After those whirlwind, surreal weekends, it was back to New York City. Upon our return, James seemed to try to put his son out of his mind. They would talk on the phone maybe once a week, but Jamie was always in the middle of a video game or television show, or heading off to an activity or meal. I think this discouraged James greatly. For the Christmas of 2007, we had purchased a few gift items and a card. I had left them sitting out for my husband to mail his son, but he never did.

Looking back I realize that I really did make a concerted effort to be a good semi-step-mom. I sent out care packages, inquired after him, and encouraged our visits. Lisa told me recently that before I entered his life, there was “little to no contact” between father and son. What shocked me was that since James met that “other woman” in late June, according to Lisa, “he has made zero effort to contact Jamie.” I shouldn’t speculate that there is any correlation between me being in James’ life and the increased contact with his son, or the other woman being in his life and his lack of effort. But in a way it kinda feels good, because it means I am probably a better woman than that “other woman.” Unfortunately it is the child who suffers.

In late November, 2008, I was preparing to move from our marital home to my new apartment back in Manhattan. In the divorce papers, it reads something to the effect of “all marital possessions have already been divided.” I took this to mean that what belonged to each of us were the items located in the residences that we called our own. Yet many of James’ possessions still cluttered that wretched closet in my bedroom (talk about bad feng shui!). I had to admit a slight shiver of joy came over me when James asked for a good time to come by and pick up the remainder of his things, and my reply was that they weren’t his anymore.

In the end, my sentimental side won over. So while his coats were easy to give to charity, there were several heirlooms or collectibles that I thought James might want. So, I gave him a window to claim them before the lease was up, but he never did. One of the things I had come across was an old photo album of Jamie’s baby photos that I remember him telling me Lisa didn’t know he had. I also found an album into which I had lovingly put a bunch of loose baby photos that had been floating around. These two albums, along with the waylaid Christmas gifts, were sent to the Jamie’s mother. At that point, if James wasn’t concerned enough to make the effort to get those things back, I felt like he didn’t deserve to have them. So off they went. A few days later, that potential nemesis - the baby mama - added me as a friend on Facebook. I did not know it at the time, but I was on my way to sainthood.

1 comment:

Kelly's Mom said...

Just started reading the blog tonight and somehow managed to end up reading the entire blog (out of order) with this post last. The bit about sending the baby pictures (and xmas presents!) to Jamie's mom brought tears to my eyes.

I also wish you'd come color with my daughter. She loves it and my husband and I tire of it waaaay too quickly! :-P