Friday, April 3, 2009

Chapter 10: The Patron Saint of Baby Mamas (Part 2)

In the process of moving on after the divorce, I have tried many ways to combat the sadness I associate with long, lonely evenings at home. I go to industry events with coworkers. I hang out with my core group of girlfriends, and have reconnected with several friends who had fallen out of touch. If nobody is up to hang out, I will go out to eat by myself and sit at the bar for its more convivial atmosphere. The exposure to all these people has been very helpful in suppressing the pain. However, by casting a wide net socially, I’ve invited a fair share of drama into my life. And I don’t mean just any kind of drama, I mean baby mama drama.

Urban Dictionary defines a baby mama as “The mother of your child(ren), whom you did not marry and with whom you are not currently involved.” That pretty much sums it up. I suppose as I enter into my thirties, I should be cognizant of the fact that the men (and women) who make up my peer group are increasingly liable to have children, just as they are more likely to be divorced or, say, have back problems and grey hair. So coming across the occasional baby mama should be par for the course. Except it kinda isn’t, because you can’t always see the drama coming. There is always some sort of issue to work out with these women. Some back story that hasn’t been told. But once that story is told, and once they realize I am a decent person who is not trying to step on their toes, the drama is dropped and everyone carries on like the civilized adults we all are. And in the end, there is a certain camaraderie that is felt.

Let’s take a case in point. In September 2008, shortly before my divorce was finalized, I went to an event after work with a colleague. The next day, I received a Facebook message from an old flame.

Between Owen Van Dam and You
September 9 at 8:39pm

I think I saw you in TriBeCa. I was having a beer at Anotheroom. Hope all is well

Imagine my surprise to receive such a message after three years or so of nothing. We had casually dated on and off until shortly before I got together with James. Turns out Owen worked down the block from me. I had no ill will towards the guy, so after a few volleys of Facebook banter, and sensing some sort of kismet, I offered:

Re: Hey
Between You and Owen Van Dam
September 10 at 7:08pm

Ok, this is weird. I Googled your company to see what kind of stuff you
do, and one of the first links that came up was about a bakery your company had done... The event I was going to last night was on 5th and 79th, and I walked by that bakery, stopping to peek in the window because the design was cool! Funny!I work over on Hudson, and moved to the 'burbs (Whitestone). Long story, perhaps one I could tell you over a drink sometime...

His reply read “A drink after work sounds good. And I've got a story of my own.” A story of his own? How mysterious! My thoughts jumped immediately to the possibility that he had procreated in the three years since I’d seen him last. I had to wait patiently through several cocktails before Owen spilled the beans (I hadn’t gotten up the nerve yet to share my sordid past). Turns out he had gotten a girl pregnant whom he was rather casually dating (sound familiar?), and they were having the baby together. After going over the details of how he got in that situation (well, not the details that were covered in sixth grade health class), I couldn’t help but feel a little relieved that I’d dodged that bullet when we were seeing each other.

We saw each other a couple times over the next few weeks, and our conversations revolved primarily about Owen’s impending fatherhood. He was nervous about being a dad so I filled him in on what I knew (“No one ever warns you about the pooping during childbirth”) One night we agreed to meet up to go see a show on the Lower East Side. A musician we both like, Davíd Garza, was in town from Texas for a series of performances at my favorite music venue in the city, The Living Room. Owen and I met up near our offices to walk over together. As we were walking, he casually mentioned, “By the way, Lacey is coming. I’m excited for you two to meet.” Lacey is the baby mama, and I was a little startled to know she would be there. What the heck would I have to talk about with a very, very pregnant woman whose baby daddy I used to date? And did she even know that we had dated? I wracked my brain trying to remember what Owen had told me about her, but all I could come up with was the color of her hair, her previous profession and that she was apparently fertile!

When we got to the venue, she was waiting outside. We made awkward conversation for a few minutes until the show started, and that was a bit of a relief. Afterwards, we all decided to go to dinner together. Maybe it was the couple of drinks I’d had at this point, but I felt much more relaxed by this point. As we perused the menus, Lacey and I chatted about our mutual love of macaroni and cheese and how she was a vegetarian (like me) until she developed pregnancy cravings. Our dinner conversation then turned to a discussion of the upcoming election. This topic, while sometimes one might avoid amongst new acquaintances, was actually the thing that broke the ice. It turns out Lacey, like me, is a Democrat, and the two of us took great pleasure in mocking Owen, a rare New York City Republican.

The next week, we went to the final show in the performer’s series. Lacey came again, along with some of Owen’s other friends, including the girl who had originally introduced us. We had a great time, and even had dinner at the same restaurant as the week prior. Being in a crowd like that took much of the pressure off me. Seemed like everything was going to be fine.

Owen and Lacey’s baby was born shortly thereafter. The first time I saw Owen after the baby was born was at a Halloween party. After that we saw each other a couple times, once for lunch, and I think a few quick drinks after work before he headed home to his daughter. I was happy to have him back in my life, as a friend (a point I had made abundantly clear to him). We work in the same field so having someone to talk about work stuff with was good. But generally, our conversations were still mostly about his fatherhood. One day I called Owen to see if he would be interested in doing some freelance work on the side for my company. I figured with the new baby in the house, he could use a little extra money. While we were chatting, I asked if he wanted to meet up after work. He said he could, but only for one as he had to get home. We met, chatted, and called it a night.

The next morning I was grabbing a bagel while I waited to go to a meeting with my boss. As I sat there munching away, I pulled my phone out and saw I had a voicemail. I was not prepared for what came next. The missed call showed Owen’s number, but when I listened to the voicemail it was a woman’s voice. The message was from Lacey, who had seen the texts I had exchanged with Owen the night before while coordinating when and where to meet up. She was really emotional and said that she couldn’t understand why Owen would be going out with me when he should be home with his daughter. She mistakenly assumed that one of us was “pursuing” the other, and basically told me to lay off her man.

I was not prepared for this bout of baby mama drama coming in out of left field. When I got back to the office later that day, I told Owen about the message. He was obviously upset and talked to Lacey that night. The next day he told me that she didn’t want him seeing me anymore, and Owen felt he had to respect her wishes. I asked if he wanted me to contact her, but he said it was probably best not to stir the pot. I was bummed to lose his friendship (for which would now be the third time), but felt powerless to do anything about it and certainly did not want him to get in more trouble. I knew from an experience James’ friend Bruno had that men have very little legal recourse when it comes to custody, and I did not want to jeopardize his future with his daughter.

The latent unease I felt about the situation lingered for the next couple weeks as I busied myself with my move back to Manhattan on December first. A few days later as I was getting ready for a two-week business trip to China, I decided I wanted to clear the air. Christmas and the New Year were around the corner, and I didn’t want Lacey feeling stressed and I certainly could have used a little peace of mind. I looked Lacey up on Facebook as it was the only way I could think of to reach her, and I sent her a message. I wrote out my perspective, as I’ve just described it, pressed send, and hoped for the best.

About an hour later, I received a response. Lacey said she was glad I had written, as she’d been feeling bad about making that call. She wrote, “Most of the problem wasn't that you guys were hanging out, it's just that he never told me.” This led her to be suspicious, which combined with the hormones and lack of sleep, resulted in her “snapping” the morning she found the text messages. She apologized and I hoped in time we would all be able to hang out again.

I attended a New Year’s Eve party with a guy I had met at the Halloween party that fall. The thought didn’t even occur to me that since it the same group of people hosted both parties there would be a chance Owen would be there. I saw him across the room when I first walked in, and thought, “Oh shit.” What was I supposed to do in this situation? We had not had any communication since the day after Lacey’s call, per her request, but then she had also apologized for her actions. So was I allowed to speak to him? I decided the best course of action was to pretend I didn’t see him and try to hide.

Sure enough, a short time later Owen walked by. What I didn’t expect to see was Lacey trailing behind him. I had just assumed she’d stayed home with the baby, as she did on Halloween. They came over to say hi, and we chatted for a bit. My date had become rather drunk and went running off hugging people. Owen headed out to the balcony to have a cigar with his cronies. This left Lacey and me alone amidst this raucous party. Neither of us knew many other people there, so I guess awkward conversation with each other was better than the alternative.

Lacey started off by apologizing again for the crazed voicemail. We talked for a bit about what it was like to me a new mother, especially one in her situation. As I had with Owen, I tried to lend a caring ear, and to offer perspective from my past experiences (with James, Bruno, etc.). Our conversation then went to our respective dating histories with Owen. We were each left shaking our heads over the other’s tale, but in the end had found mutual ground and a resolution to the drama. She said she didn’t mind if Owen and I restarted our friendship but that he would have to take the initiative, she was not going to encourage it. The two of them left shortly thereafter, and I went to find what had become of my suddenly affectionate date.

The next day she added me as a friend on Facebook.

Over the following months, Lacey and I traded comments on each other’s Facebook status. It’s not an easy path she is on, and I know from personal experience that a friendly “How are you doing these days?” can be a great support when you’re struggling. She and I had even planned to meet up for a cocktail one evening after she had posted her status as being, essentially, “I need a drink and some grown-up conversation!” But I had not heard a peep from Owen since New Year’s Eve.

Then out of the blue, one day in late March, I received an email from Owen that read, simply:

From: Owen Van Dam
To: Katie Jeffreys

Date: Wed, Mar 25, 2009 at 11:41 PM
Subject: hey there

You up for a drink after work sometime next week?

I figured, why not? We settled on a day on which I happened to have an invitation to an industry event which meant free drinks. He called during on the day we were to meet up to confirm the time, and it was really surprising to hear his voice after all those months (compounded by the fact that I had recently gotten a new phone after losing mine, so did not have his number saved).
Our reunion was not as awkward as I thought it might be. We caught up a little, talked about our jobs, and I regaled my now homebody friend with tales of the single life. I was curious however as to what prompted him to look me up then, of all times. The answer was simple: he had hoped to come to my birthday celebration, but didn’t want to show up out of the blue and not be able to catch up because I would be distracted by all my other guests.

Lacey is not the only baby mama to enter my life since my divorce. As I said, I often go out to dine by myself now that I am single and would rather sit at the bar than a table. I learned during my solo travels around the US and Europe that a woman sitting alone will attract attention from men (and sometimes other solo women). Sometimes that attention is unwanted, but generally I find I would rather meet an interesting person that re-read the same magazine over and over. In the months following my divorce I met many people while out, young and old, professionals and journeymen, attractive and not. Most were simply a diversion while tucking into a veggie burger and a beer. Some I would give my number to with the hopes of going on a date. And fewer still I actually did see again.

One night I was at one of my favorite after-work spots, Zoë, a SoHo institution with a happy hour offering half price pizzas and half price wines at the bar. The bartender there is one of the best I’ve encountered in the city. He remembers the drink you had on your first visit when you come in for your second, and can recommend something new for you to try and enjoy. Anyhow, I was there one evening chatting with an older gentlemen who was convening with his friends at Zoë before heading off to a wine tasting. Our conversation was interrupted by the arrival of the gentleman’s friends, so another guy at the bar took that opportunity to strike up a conversation with me. Jeremy seemed like a pretty easy-going kind of guy who was into eco-tourism and had gone to the same hippy college as the daughter of my dad’s best friend. We chatted for awhile before I had to run off to meet a friend for a show we were seeing. As I was leaving, Jeremy asked for my number, so I scribbled it down on a napkin.

He called a few days later and we agreed to meet after work one day. I called Jeremy when I finished up with a client and he said he was eating dinner. I thought that was weird, but we picked a location to meet and would decide our plan from there. By the time we met up I was starving, so we went to a restaurant he knew of that has good vegetarian options and a happy hour special. I order my food and we each order a drink. We caught each other up on the past week or so since we’d met. When the waiter came by to ask if he could freshen up our drinks, Jeremy asked “Is it still happy hour?” I caught the look of dismay on his face when the waiter replied that happy hour was only at the bar. There had been no seats available at the bar, so I had rightly assumed we had forfeited the specials when we took a table. Besides, the beer Jeremy was drinking was already half the price of the one I’d seen him drink at Zoë. That was strike one against my new suitor.

We had met up really early in the evening, so by the time dinner was done we weren’t really sure what to do. We ended up going back to his place to hang out for a bit, which he took as an invitation to make a pass at me. While Jeremy pawed me, he kept repeating “This is so hot!” which made the whole situation so much less hot than I already thought it. He then put on some travelogue television show which I thought was a rather lame activity to introduce on a first date. So that whole scene was strike two.

Finally Jeremy suggested we go back out and have some wine. On the night we met we had discussed wine at some length, as I am a fan and his hippy college was in California wine country. After wandering the neighborhood for awhile we landed in a wine bar and shared a bottle of Viognier. He wouldn’t shut up about how delicious the wine was and what a good selection I’d made. I thought to myself that either he was a really enthusiastic person with all his “hot”s and “yum”s, or he was just really desperate and/or inexperienced. I settled on the latter and that was strike three. He was out.

A few weeks passed, and I was at the Rainbow Room in Rockefeller Center to set up for an event my company helped sponsor. I had to pick up our things after the event, but didn’t want to go all the way home just to have to turn around and come back. So, as is my norm, I went looking for a place to hang out for a couple hours. I knew that the T.G.I. Friday’s in the city have half price appetizers during happy hour, and I am a sucker for their spinach artichoke (or as I call it “spartichoke”) dip. So I headed over to the Friday’s by Rockefeller and sat at the only empty seat at the bar. The guy sitting next to me turned around and I was shocked to see it was Jeremy!

For the two of us to have met in one neighborhood and then bump into each other in a completely different and random one was a shock. I had been avoiding his calls and texts for several weeks and now had to cover my ass. While I had zero interest in this guy he still seemed intrigued and kept reminding me how “hot” our date was. A younger, less jaded me would have thought it was fate and tried to make something come of it. But the post-divorce me was much more cynical, and this guy had already struck out. I didn’t mind the company however, as the remainder of the bar patrons looks like a rag tag bunch of old drunks, tourists and friends of the bartender.

Finally about an hour before I had to head back to the event, Jeremy decided it was time for him to go home. He had a meeting at ten the next morning, so wanted to get to bed since he had to be up early (leaving me wondering on what planet ten am is early). Before he left, I asked him to watch my things while I ran to the ladies room. Upon my return, he had his coat on and we said a quick good-bye. A few minutes after he left I thought to ask the bartender if Jeremy had paid his tab, which in fact he had not. I was left paying for not only my spartichoke dip, but his drinks and even the one that he had offered to buy me! At this point I’d lost count of the strikes against this loser.

The next day he sent me a text saying that he couldn’t see me for awhile because he had to go to Virginia. I was confused at this sudden turn of events but shrugged it off as no love lost. I thought it a bit peculiar when he sent a similarly worded message the following day. Again, I shrugged it off.

I was at my desk, about a week later, when my caller ID showed an incoming call with a “Blocked ID.” I answered, but there was silence on the other end. About an hour later, another call came in from a “Blocked ID” and again I answered.

This time a woman’s voice said, “Hi, I am sorry to bother you, but do you know someone named Jeremy?”

I had to stop and think for a second. “Did I? I have 400 friends on Facebook, how many are named Jeremy? Wait, it’s probably someone I met recently… oh yeah that freaky kid!” I told her I did and she said, “Well this is his girlfriend!” She had looked at his phone and seen the texts he sent me (again with the suspicious, snooping woman!). She interrogated me about the details of our relationship. I told her there wasn’t much of a relationship at all and that she should probably be speaking to Jeremy, not me. She thanked me and we hung up.

Another couple days passed, and I received a text message from a Virginia number. It was the girlfriend asking for more details about my time with Jeremy. I told her I didn’t really feel comfortable sharing that information, but in the end she convinced me that there was no reason not to dish. I explained how we met, the one date we’d had, and our chance encounter. I told her that we didn’t have sex and that if not for that run-in at Friday’s I hadn’t planned on seeing him again anyhow.

Over the course of our text exchange she revealed that they had been together for three years and that his parents hated her because she was not Jewish and had two children. Jeremy’s parents had brought him up to New York in an effort to break the two of them up. So once again I was smacked with the baby mama drama. Granted, these weren’t Jeremy’s children, but the story was the same. I mentioned that she must have had doubts to be looking through his phone in the first place and she admitted that he’d cheated on her once before but she forgave him his indiscretion. This time was another matter.

After hearing my side of the story, she decided to “kick him to the curb.” Turns out my intuitions about him were pretty spot-on. She described him as a cheap loser who moved in with her because he had no job and basically just wanted a Mom 2.0. I empathized with her, having been in her shoes and having recently dealt with a similar situation with Owen and Lacey. I felt bad for her kids, who had gotten to know Jeremy over the course of their relationship and would now have him abruptly yanked from their lives. I wished her luck and she thanked me for my honesty. Given that I didn’t even know her name, she and I are not Facebook friends. In fact, I never even learned Jeremy’s last name, and that’s just fine with me. After recounting this story to my girlfriends, they dubbed me “The Patron Saint of Baby Mamas,” a title I am proud to hold.

The final anecdote is about another baby mama I never actually met. In early 2009, I began dating Ramón, a guy I had known since college. In fact, he had dated a good friend of mine, Suzanne, while we were still in school. This shared history was in part what created the baby mama drama, as Suzanne told me some of the things that had gone on while the two of them were together. Before he started dating Suzanne, Ramón had gotten a girl pregnant and she had the baby. Suzanne was never sure of what his relationship was with the baby mama. She mentioned that while she was with Ramón, he would buy the baby mama gifts, and I think that made Suzanne insecure.

At the time I was seeing Ramón, it was my understanding that his daughter lived with him and the baby mama had another apartment in the same building. However Suzanne seemed to think that they all lived together, which disconcerted me. I didn’t know who in this situation I could trust: myself (clearly I have issues figuring out who to give my heart to), Suzanne (who has her own issues admittedly), or Ramón (who had probably changed in the nearly ten years since my friend dated him)?

I was able to clear all this up with him, and it turns out I had nothing to worry about. He was really doing right by his daughter and her mother, supporting them both. This support was, in my eyes, the grown-up, real-world version of the gift giving that so irked Suzanne. And I respected rather than abhorred it. I think the three of them were a happy little family, with the two parents able to lead separate lives outside of their shared parenting duties.

Ramón's relationship with his daughter was something I saw as a huge contrast to James’ relationship to his son. In fact the two of them had several similarities in addition to their children, and inasmuch had many polar differences. These were made more obvious by the fact that Ramón seemed to be doing right all the things that James was failing at. It is like those Goofus and Gallant cartoons in the old Highlights magazines. “Goofus gets a girl pregnant then only sees his son once a year. Gallant makes sure he can see his daughter every day.” Unfortunately Ramón didn’t take too kindly to these comparisons, and so because of this and a few other issues, I was unceremoniously dumped. But the whole thing left me with a new perspective on what dating life in my thirties will be like, and how one would successfully have a relationship with a single father.

Ramón one time mentioned that no woman would meet his daughter until a ring was purchased. I know some single mothers who bring men in and out of their children’s lives as if their home has a revolving front door, and I could see how that would be difficult for the child. Ramón's approach seemed a bit far in the opposite direction – and it raised a slew of questions in my mind.

What if the woman and the daughter hated each other? If Jamie were a rebellious teenager instead of a sweet six year old when I met him, maybe he would have resented me in some way.

Or for that matter what if the daughter’s mother hated the woman? If Lisa had thought I was a bad influence on her son, for example, she easily could have restricted me or even James from seeing Jamie.

And how can you know what the woman would be like as a stepmother unless you see her in action? I think when James saw me relate to Jamie, it endeared me to him in ways that just knowing me hadn’t.

So where did that leave me? Four very different situations. Four identical outcomes. Is it worth it to date a man with a child in his life, or would I be better off un-checking that box when searching those hypothetical online profiles? How would I feel if the tables were turned and someone didn’t want to date me just because I was a divorcée? And finally, what good was my status as the Patron Saint of Baby Mamas going to do me if I couldn’t hold on to and of their men?

While all this was going on, I had been speaking to my aunt Crystal about it, as she has been seeing a man with a teenage son. Crystal was recently divorced and is back out on the singles scene for the first time in thirty years. Many of her dating experiences are in unfamiliar territory. Meeting her new beau’s son was a major milestone in their burgeoning relationship, and she was nervous he wouldn’t like her. I told her there was no way the kid could not like her. Her response was, “Everyone has told me that, but that’s what I thought about my ex-husband’s children, and now they hate my guts.” Luckily the teenager did in fact like her, so much so he gave my aunt Crystal a hug good bye, which according to his father, “he never does.” Crystal's situation is made easier by the fact that I don’t think there is a baby mama in the picture with which to contend.

I have enjoyed being able to compare notes with Crystal, even if she is twice my age and was married about as long as I’ve alive. I think in my thirty short years I have learned some important life lessons, and being able to share those with my newly single aunt makes me feel hopeful for us both.

1 comment:

Dan said...

One "this is so hot" comment can work okay - a constant stream of compliments is just plain awkward and yes, seems to communicate immaturity. Though if he was cheating at the time he was probably just commenting to himself.