Will looked at me and said, “I can’t get dis futtin’ thing open!” Stupidly, I said, “What did you just say?” Then his chubby little fingers handed me his juice pouch while his humongous brown eyes peered through his Harry Potter glasses, and he frustratedly said, “Mom! I can’t get dis futtin’ thing open!”
We were surrounded by little preschoolers, their adoring parents and the preschool teacher. It was just a few days after a couple parents approached me about the possibility of my taking the position of President of our little parent-run preschool. I grabbed Will’s juice pouch, muttered something under my breath while looking down so that none of them would notice that I was blushing, poked the straw in the pouch, and was squirted with a steady stream of sugary apple juice – my payment for being a ‘bad’ mommy.
I try to work on my language. I think I’m making progress. I never have been convinced that saying bad words is any kind of an indication of a character flaw. However, with two little people that parrot everything I do and say, it behooves me to rein in on the language a bit.
While I do release the occasional f-bomb, I don’t direct it at others.
There were times, in heated arguments with Mark when I wanted to tell him to ‘f’ off. I wanted to tell him that so badly, that I could taste the saltiness of that word on my tongue.
But I couldn’t do it.
I really thought (and still believe) that I would be taking a step on a slippery slope if I resorted to directing that word at my husband, or anyone else, for that matter. Even after we divorced, when he provided me with so many fine opportunities to direct that bomb at him, I still couldn’t do it. There were times when I felt myself catch that word, just as it was about to fly from my mouth on its fast, straight path to Mark’s head. I knew the relief I would feel. I wanted that relief. I wanted to see little divots in his forehead where those bombs tried to penetrate his thick skull and do their damage.
But I wouldn’t let myself say it.
I have lost track of the numbers of times I have wanted to say that word to him.
Saturday was no different. It was the last day of skiing at what has become our home away from home.
Mark was skiing that day, too.
We tried to avoid him. It’s not a big place. Jen and I were standing with cousins on a balcony, getting ready to laugh and cheer at the end-of-the-season show. I told Jen that I was off to find Will. He’d been wandering around the lodge, waiting for the show to start, hoping to avoid his dad. When I found Will, I assured him that the coast was clear, that I hadn’t seen Mark on the balcony, and we could all watch the show together. When we walked back out on the balcony, Mark was standing behind Jenny, patting her on the head and chatting in her ear. Will took one look, and headed for the opposite end of the balcony.
Jenny was standing with her cousins, and Will was alone, so I opted to hang with Will. I periodically looked over to see Mark laughing, swapping stories with my adult relatives, patting Jen on the head, and basically acting like everything is lovely in the world – a world where he has told his kids that he will “leave them alone”.
I stood there next to Will, looking back at Jenny, seeing that sorry excuse for a father, and the anger grew. At first it felt like my feet were filling with cement. It was as if my feet were telling the wooden slats on the balcony, “Take that, damn you.”
My feet felt heavy and mad and mean and not ready to take any more.
And then my legs started to fill with cement, too. And the weight and pressure of the anger was consuming me. I was starting to feel paralyzed with not knowing what to do. Do I stay with Will? I can’t leave Jenny there to suffer through Mark’s insipid voice and head patting. But Will would not so much as look at his dad. And I felt heavier and heavier. I felt like I was going to explode with all the rage and anger that has built up from every slight, from every misspoke word, from every stink-eyed look, from every infraction.
I thought of all the times that I haven’t stood up for myself. I thought of the times that I have stood up for myself – to no avail. All the times ‘my feelings’ have been hurt. I say that facetiously, because not only have my feelings been hurt, but I’ve been made fun of for having my feelings hurt. The list of slights, insults, and sorry treatments grew…
- the time at the nice restaurant when I politely returned the cold steak, only to have the waiter tell me that I didn’t know what a properly cooked steak was, so I promptly apologized for having sent my meal back
- the time my ‘boyfriend’ drove to LA with me, to support me in my new journey, tell me how much he loved me and would miss me, and then went back to Bozeman and jumped in bed with his ‘real’ girlfriend
- all the times I tried to tell John that I wanted to hear from him more, that we really had something here, and he completely ignored me
- all the times I bent over backwards for Mark, put up with all his shit, his condescension, his dismissals and more
- all the times – surrounded by extended family – when my dad would tell everybody that I was a difficult baby who cried all the time
- all the times my mom would say, “That’s really good, but…”
Standing with Will on that balcony, looking in Jen’s direction, I felt like Old Faithful must feel, right before she’s gonna blow.
And then something snapped.
I was not going to take this anymore.
I walked over to Mark, stood behind him and talked sternly, but quietly, in his good ear.
“You don’t get to tell the kids that you are done being a father, only to show up at this fun event, and pretend to your kids and the world that everything is fine, and that you are the world’s best dad. You need to stand somewhere else so that I can watch this with both of the kids and their cousins. You can not prevent me from watching this with both of the kids.”
He just simply said, “No.”
I didn’t scream, I didn’t yell, I didn’t succumb to any hysteria. With the force of all those missed opportunities, all those perfect occasions for having delivered those choice words – to him, and to so many others – I said…
I grabbed Jenny’s hand and we walked over to stand by Will.