I often forget, in conversation, that people might be confused when I refer to “my ex-wife.” I’m a heterosexual woman with no history of lesbianism (sorry ladies). So I can see where the phrase might be confusing. I have an ex-husband. Actually, I have two. And that is never confusing to people (confounding, perhaps, but never confusing).
“My ex-wife” is, of course, the ex-Mrs. Sig Other. She’s not MY ex-wife at all. She’s Sig Other’s ex-wife and the mother of Child One and Child Two. But more often than not, she feels like MY ex-wife. She’s the ex-wife I talk to about plans for the children, about arrangements for birthdays, holidays, school functions and the like. She’s the ex-wife with whom I organize pick-up and drop-offs. Ex-Mrs. Sig Other is the ideal ex-wife in many, many ways. She is kind. She doesn’t poison the children against me (as far as I know). She’s relatively easy in terms of plans. And she’s a nice person. She was just not a good match for Sig Other.
Modern day society has adjusted to divorce. It has had to. Fifty percent of first marriages result in divorce. The odds are worse for folks on Round Two. So society has had to adjust to divorce. And you would think, that in the same way, it has had to adjust to remarriage. But it hasn’t really. We still live in a world where the fantasy of a primary, traditional family structure reigns supreme.
To be honest, Child One and Child Two would tell you that being a child of divorce sucks. Shlepping stuff back and forth, constant confusion about schedules, too many voices chiming in – all of that sucks. But its real. And we make the best of it. What sucks for me – the step-parent – is that traditional institutions make no room for untraditional families.
Here’s a for instance: two weeks ago, I go to sign Child Two up for AYSO soccer. I loathe soccer. Soccer, to me, is the thing that plagues my weekend. But my ex-wife is out of town and she asks little of me and so when she asks this one thing – when she asks if I can go sign The Boy up for his beloved sport, of course I say yes. I stand in line in the smoky blazing hot Valley heat for an hour just to get an empty form and look over to see that the line to return the completed form is just as long. So I take my forms in triplicate on a clipboard and start to fill them out while standing in the second long line. And I fill in the information for the father. Then I fill in the information for the mother. And then there’s no other space for any more information. What about me? What about the stepmother standing in line to sign Child Two up for the season? What about the hours I’ll spend on the weekends, shlepping him to practices and then to games? What about the ice-packs I’ll put on sore knees and the water bottles I’ll pack so he doesn’t dehydrate? Doesn’t that count for a line on the AYSO form? Is it too much to ask for a space that says, “And anyone else?” I don’t need a title. It doesn’t have to say “step-parent”. It could just say “anyone else.” That would be enough.
Ex-Mrs. Sig Other even sweetly tried to get me on the roster for Child Two’s 5th grade class so that I would have advance notice about school functions where I’m expected to show up and serve. Year after year I’ve gone to the damn school fair and put in my four hours of service at the boiling hot prize booth. And year after year I’m the only person without a printed name badge. Why? Because Child Two’s hippy dippy school has forms that only allow for two parent names on the roster. Momma Bear and Poppa Bear. Step-bear gets left in the cold. So, I decide, this year I am NOT going to put in my hours, I am NOT going to the lame picnic that I’ve gone to five years in a row where other mothers look at me and can’t decide if they should be nice until the Ex-Mrs. Sig Other gives them the sign that its ok. Bless her for stepping in and shaming those nasty conventional parents.
This is less a problem at Child One’s huggy school. Super Crunchy Progressive Secondary School has accepted the fact that Child One has too many parents. Three parents on conference calls, three parents on the email list and three parents on the roster. If they are surprised or confused , they hide it well. Or they’re so progressive they can’t tell which one of us is married to the other. For all they know, the Ex-Mrs Sig Other and I are the couple and S.O. is out in the cold (in fact, sometimes I think this is Child One’s fantasy as she’s made more than one joke about her Lesbian Mothers). The folks at Super Crunchy School don’t care. They’re just happy to talk about Child One and how fabulous she is and how fabulous they are and how much everyone loves everyone else.
But its an issue. And it will remain an issue. In spite of the odds, the majority of Child One’s friends’ parents are still married. So they don’t have three parents. Or four. They have two. Two parents who live in the same house and don’t require their children to adhere to a schedule or carry things back and forth or feel torn whenever they’re with one parent about not spending enough time with the other. It’s a terrible burden, this whole “Child of Divorce” thing. And yet it is a fact in our lives that we must endure and try to help the children navigate. I hope we’re not fucking it up too badly. I hope they only spend a moderate amount of their adult therapy discussing what a piss-poor job we did of easing their burden. And I hope that future generations either manage to lower the rate of divorce of adjust their forms to accommodate the third parents. Some of us Steps would really appreciate a line of our own.