Parenting after the death of an ex spouse.

My ex-wife, the woman I knew from our time in college and who I had 3 kids with, passed away three days ago, after a 14 year battle with breast cancer.

If you have read my other posts you will know that her almost 4 year affair ended our marriage, and the resulting fallout was complicated and full of conflict.

In the last 3 months I went from being a part-time single dad, to a partial full-time single dad (my daughter was told to leave the other house in April by my ex-mother-in-law and the affair partner), to a completely full-time single dad with my ex’s passing.

Over the last few days my thoughts and emotions have been all over the place. I don’t know if I am feeling some version of grief, or if I am just a witness to the grief my kids are feeling from her passing. The complicated nature of the last 4-7 years has made her passing complicated.

I decided to process the onslaught of feelings by listing the thoughts and questions that have been running through my head the last few days. For better or for worse, in no particular order: Continue reading “Parenting after the death of an ex spouse.”

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5 Thoughts on Boys and Fatherhood from a Dad’s Weekend at Camp.

This past weekend I visited my son at his camp for Dad’s Weekend. Two and a half days of fishing, singing, building, running, sock wars, and thunderstorms.

Father, Son

It was my 5th Dad’s Weekend. Each time I drive away amazed how connected my son and I can get in only 2.5 days, and wish that it was as easy the rest of the year. It is hard to describe how this camp, Becket YMCA in the Berkshires, creates a culture where boys and men are able to share feelings and experiences in very real ways. Being able to learn more about how my son thinks (through discussions with him and his counselors), sharing my experiences with him, and having a moment to relax together are the best parts of the experience.

Here are some lingering thoughts about the experience and fatherhood in general from this past weekend: Continue reading “5 Thoughts on Boys and Fatherhood from a Dad’s Weekend at Camp.”

15 Children’s Picture Books to Fight for when Divorcing

One of the joys of being a parent is sharing books we remember from our own childhood, as well as new ones we discover, with our kids. We build our collection, enjoying the pictures, characters and their stories. Then we separate from our spouse and we have to figure out how to agree on a division of marital property. When it came to splitting the children’s picture books I wish I had put my name in them years before, officially claiming them for my own with bold black ink.

The books listed in this blog post are a few of the picture books that I won custody of in the divorce. I read these with my children, over and over again. Some of these books I enjoy because of their illustrations. Others because of the characters. I hope you find some new finds in this list, and rediscover some treasured classics.

Disclosure: I am an affiliate marketer with Amazon. Although the books in this list actually do exist on my bookshelf, I will receive compensation if you click on the images or titles, and purchase the book from Amazon.

Owl Moon,  by Jane Yolen

This is a gorgeous book. The water color illustrations help set the mood for the story of a father who takes his daughter owling under a winter’s moon. The story is told by the daughter, now grown, recollecting her childhood trips into the snow with her Pa. My kids and I would “Whoo-whoo-who-who-who-whooooooo” along with her and her dad, hoping for a site of an owl under the Owl Moon.

The Munschworks Grand Treasury,  by Robert Munsch

Robert Munsch is one of the funniest storytellers there is. He has written countless classics about Paperbag Princesses, Mortimers who won’t go to sleep, out of control ponytails, and pigs run amok.

We loved the stories so much we bought The Munschworks Grand Treasury, which brings 15 of his stories together in one place. Even my students, tough to please teenagers, have cracked up over the years as I read to them from this collection. Just wonderful.

Blueberries for Sal,  by Robert McCloskey

If you grew up in New England in the last 80 years or so, then you know Robert McCloskey. If you aren’t from here, then you might be forgiven for not knowing his books, but not after reading this blog. His book, Make Way for Ducklings, is probably better known, but my favorite has always been Blueberries for Sal. The simple black and white illustrations tell the story of Sal and her mother, picking blueberries in Maine. Sal’s tin bucket never gets quite full, and its “ku-plink, ku-plank, ku-plunk” gets the attention of another larger, and furrier, mom on blueberry hill.

Caps for Sale: A Tale of a Peddler, Some Monkeys and Their Monkey Business,  by Esphyr Slobodkina

This is a classic! The cap salesman’s refrain”Caps! Caps for sale! Fifty cents a cap!” was a favorite of mine many years ago. When reading to my kids, and the monkey business began, my kids held out their little fists and demanded that the salesman get his caps back.

 

Harold and the Purple Crayon (Purple Crayon Books), by Crockett Johnson

This is more than a book. It is a celebration of imagination. Based on a simple premise, a boy’s drawings come to life, this is the sort of story that kids can really connect with. Don’t we all wish our crayon dragons would come off the page and solve our problems for us?

Horton Hears a Who!, by Dr. Seuss

This is the book I brought with me when I was the surprise guest reader in each of my three kids’ kindergarten classrooms. The voices I used, whenever I read it out loud, were based off a wonderful audio version by Dustin Hoffman (check it out below), which I highly recommend. Horton was one of the first books that I put on my copy of the division of marital property list. Unfortunately the version that we had in our house my ex-wife had received on her third birthday. I didn’t get it in the divorce. If a kind elephant is not your cup of tea, then I would also recommend The Sneetches and Other Stories or The Lorax (Classic Seuss).

Horton Hears a Who and Other Sounds of Dr. Seuss: Horton Hears a Who; Horton Hatches the Egg; Thidwick, the Big-Hearted Moose  (audio: Dustin Hoffman)

 

 

The Monster at the End of This Book 

and

Another Monster at the End of This Book ,  by Jon Stone

Full Disclosure: My first paid job out of college was to work for Children’s Television Workshop. Fresh out of school with an undergraduate degree, I spent my days autographing character photos and sending them out to fans across the world. I moved on to teaching, but I have a special place in my heart for all things Sesame Street. My two favorite books are these two, written by Jon Stone, one of the first producers on the show. I used to read these books to my kids in full Elmo voice, but it is my Grover that I am especially proud of. Is your little one afraid of monsters? Well, so is Grover…the furry blue monster.

Little Toot, by Hardie Gramatky

Growing up we would spend many summer weeks at a rental house on Cape Cod. The owners had a large collection of pre-1950 books. The ones I remember best were a large collection of Sad Sack cartoons and Little Toot. They don’t make illustrations like this anymore. There are newer editions on the market, with updated illustration that are flashier and brighter, but for me the color quality of the old color separation techniques is my childhood. The edition of the book I have on my shelf, that I happened to find at a yard sale, is from the 40s. The links I provided above are for a reprint of this older version.

Blackboard Bear, by Martha Alexander

This book, the first in a series, has few words. And that is what makes it a special reading opportunity for you and your child. This story expertly evokes the emotions of a little boy, who doesn’t want to be so little when the older boys tell him that he is too small to play with them. The illustrations do a wonderful job of helping you and your child talk through the common childhood feelings of being left out.

Home on the Bayou: A Cowboy’s Story, by G. Brian Karas

It is not easy for kids to move. They lose friends, family, and a sense of security of where they belong. This story does a good job of showing the range of emotions that a boy goes through when his single mom takes him across country to live with her parents. Living in the swamp is not so easy when a cowboy has to deal with a bully like Big Head Ed. Some of the topics this book addresses are loneliness, divorce, bullying, bravery, sadness, family, and manners.

Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge and
Possum Magic, by Mem Fox
Have I said yet how much I love illustration as an art form? Julie Vivas’ colorful and gentle images in these two books are extraordinary. I couldn’t decide which book to choose for this list, so I picked both. The first is about Wilfrid, who lives next door to a nursing home. It is about his relationships with the residents of the home, but especially about his special relationship with Miss Nancy. Having grown up without grandparents, I feel jealous of Wilfrid every time I read it. The second book…possums, magic, Australia, vegemite…what more is there to say?

A Friend For Dragon, by Dav Pilkey

Dav Pilkey is better known for his series Captain Underpants, but this book from the Dragon series is the one that we liked best. It is a book for those of us who have ever been lonely. A trick leads Dragon on a path of friendship, love, loss, and rebirth. Sweet, sad, and wonderful.

 

Many Moons, by James Thurber

This is an old story. Thurber was a contemporary of E.B. White (author of Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and The Trumpet of the Swan), a humorist know for his essays and cartoons about dogs and marital relations for the New Yorker Magazine. In my American literature class in high school I wrote a paper about Thurber’s book, Is Sex Necessary?  This story is a bit tamer. It is about a princess who demands the moon. A simple task for any good court wizard, mathematician, or Lord High Chamberlain, right? It isn’t until the court Jester finally listens to what the little girl is actually asking for that the true magic happens.

There’s my list of 15. What would you add to your Division of Marital Assets list?

Who Calls You on Your Bullshit?

Have you ever found yourself frustrated by someone else?

Continually?

Could it be that you are doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results, and then ending up frustrated when the other person’s behavior is no different?

Who do you have to call you on your bullshit? Continue reading “Who Calls You on Your Bullshit?”

5 Scary “Girl Things” for Single Dads

When you get divorced you all of a sudden add new roles to your single parenting job. These are duties that you would probably not have had the opportunity to experience while still married. This is especially true for fathers of daughters.

When married the “girl things” were probably passed on to your wife to handle. Now, as the sensitive new aged single dad that you are, confusion, embarrassment, and often terror are a regular part of your day as your daughter’s increasingly feminine needs fall to you to figure out.

girl-sitting-posing-trees

No one properly prepared us to help our daughters with these girl things. They often pop up unexpectedly. My goal with this post is not to give you all the answers, but to give you some things to think about ahead of time. Warnings that will help you properly prepare your already frazzled emotions.

1. Boys (or girls) Let’s start with an easy one. Continue reading “5 Scary “Girl Things” for Single Dads”

Why do Some Mothers Reject their Own Children? A Narcissist’s Revenge

I knew that our new dog had been used as a breeder at a local puppy mill. She had been a new momma within the last few weeks. Her body showed it.

As we finished up the paperwork, and the kids took our five year old parent out to the car, the shelter worker leaned over to me and quietly told me something she had been holding back. Our new mom had not wanted to be one. She had killed her puppies. She had rebelled at the idea of being a parent and had thrown her kids around her cage, until all but one of her ten were gone. No longer a benefit to them the owners of the mill had given our sweet pup up to the shelter.

When we returned home I opened up an email from my ex to my daughter’s school and therapists, reminding me that we were having our own mother-child issues. Continue reading “Why do Some Mothers Reject their Own Children? A Narcissist’s Revenge”

A peek into coparenting with a narcissist

Since separating from my ex-wife I have come to understand that she has narcissistic tendencies that I had never seen before. As I recovered from her affair and its fall out I learned to avoid interacting with her around anything involving my feelings.

However, it is much harder to avoid interacting with her when it comes to the kids. Over the last month my daughter has been living with me full time ever since her mother called the police on her. I have been doing my best to support my daughter and trying to help her understand how to talk with her mother.

On most days my daughter does not want anything to do with her. The reason she gives is that her mother focuses on herself, and does not apologize. My daughter is feeling the full brunt of her mother’s self-centered narcissism.

And like a fool I keep hoping that I can help my ex understand what she needs to do to help resolve the issues between the two of them. Copied below is an exchange of texts I had with my ex this morning. It is a snippet, a sample, of what a conversation with a narcissistic co-parent might look like. Continue reading “A peek into coparenting with a narcissist”

Is the Truth the Most Important Thing When Your Child Reports Being Touched by a Peer?

How would you react if you received a call from the school psychologist, one afternoon while at work, telling you that your daughter reported being touched in the breast and privates by a boy?

When I got that call on Wednesday, I wished it was as simple as getting angry, finding the boy, flogging him, and knowing that my daughter’s honor had been restored. Isn’t that the manly…the fatherly thing…to do? Continue reading “Is the Truth the Most Important Thing When Your Child Reports Being Touched by a Peer?”

A Letter to My Ex-wife on the Occasion of Her Calling the Police on Our Daughter

Dear Ex-Wife:

So many thoughts about a very hard week. And it all started with a phone call from a policeman, asking me to pick our daughter up at your house.

You called the police on our daughter.

Let that statement ring out a little bit. When I spoke with our daughter (DD) on the phone, and when I finally got there, she was terrified. Shaken. Her mother had called the police.

Why? Because DD and her brother had gotten into a fight about headphones hours earlier. Headphones. You blamed DD for being woken up. Later in the day, when she was trying to make you understand that it wasn’t just her fault, you ignored her. You were not able to deescalate the situation. You couldn’t hear our daughter, and instead called the police when you had enough.  Continue reading “A Letter to My Ex-wife on the Occasion of Her Calling the Police on Our Daughter”

Kids and Death: Scary Feelings Should Not Be Avoided

“I hate it when people die.”

One of my students had stayed after school today to make up some laboratory work. Her grandmother died last night. The other grandmother, who she visited in Korea in the fall, had died about a month ago. My student asked me whether it was ok to be angry at other people who are all of a sudden claiming to be her grandmother’s greatest friends, when these same people were nowhere to be found during her grandmother’s cancer. I told her that the one thing I had learned about death in my life, was that everyone responds to it in their own way. She and I spent the afternoon talking about death and dying. Continue reading “Kids and Death: Scary Feelings Should Not Be Avoided”