December 10, 2002
The Ex Factor

miles to go: 38.67 [YTD: 1,963.33]

My ex-husband and I get along reasonably well, most of the time.

We share a mutual interest in the health and well-being of three lovely, complex, nearly-grown human beings. We speak by phone at least once or twice a week, usually to discuss family matters or Tot issues, and we generally manage to be courteous and cordial when we talk. (We almost never call each other "Asswipe" or "Bitch" or "Flaccid, Mullet-Headed Waste of Molecules" anymore.) Later this month I'm going to be spending Christmas Day at his house in TicTac -- opening presents, assembling expensive electronic gizmos, eating barbecued turkey -- along with all three of our children AND my current husband. Inviting David to Christmas dinner was my ex's idea, believe it or not. Not exactly your traditional Waltons Family Christmas, maybe, but it should provide some amazing photo opps. All things considered, I'd say that 96.3% of the time I like my ex-husband just fine.

It's the other 3.7% of the time that I want to back over him with a '72 Plymouth Valiant.

I called him early last night, hoping to catch him before Daughter #1 showed up at his house for her cake and presents. I had suddenly decided it might be nice if somebody dragged Son #Only's video camera out from under the bed and pointed it in Jaymi's direction for a minute or two, so I could later enjoy a little bit of her 21st birthday celebration, via the magic of VHS. But when I called my ex last night and suggested videotaping her birthday party -- especially when I stressed the fact that she would be there at his house ANY MINUTE, so he should probably go look for the camera RIGHT NOW and make sure it was fully juiced and loaded and ready to run BEFORE SHE GOT THERE -- that's how you have to talk to him, using lots of RANDOM CAPITALIZATION for EMPHASIS -- he acted as though he had no idea what I was talking about. 

"She's coming over now?" he mumbled, sounding sleepy and confused. It took me a minute to understand ... but then it hit me.

He didn't realize that it was her birthday.

"We TALKED about this!" I shrieked. "I called you last week and we TALKED about this!" Just last Friday we were discussing the fact that our firstborn was about to turn 21, and how this probably makes us a couple of official Old Geezers, and how we were each planning to celebrate the occasion. ("I'm going to buy her a case of Mickeys," he joked. Or at least I hope he was joking, especially since I'm going the flowers-and-sea-monkeys route, myself.) How could he have forgotten so soon?? Did a critical chunk of his frontal lobe -- the chunk that houses short-term memory, perhaps -- simply fall out of his skull, through his left nostril, and get mangled in the weed wacker over the weekend?

"You didn't tell me her birthday was on Monday," he protested morosely.

And you know what? He's right. I didn't tell him that her birthday was going to be on Monday. When we were discussing birthday plans and gift ideas on the phone last week, I never specifically came out and said By the way -- don't forget that her birthday is on Monday, OK? MONDAY. M-O-N-D-A-Y. I didn't think I had to. After twenty-one years of celebrating his daughter's birthday on December 9th, forcryingoutloud, I sort of assumed he would have the date committed to memory by now.

That's what I get for 'assuming' anything where testosterone and birthdays are concerned, isn't it?

Jaymi, of course, was devastated when she realized that her father had forgotten her birthday. Apparently there was some feeble attempt to scramble around and pull together a makeshift celebration before she got there -- my ex handed her a fifty dollar bill and said 'Happy Birthday' (and then he asked her to write him a check to cover her cell phone bill for the month) -- but I think that the lack of cake or presents or Pin The Tail On The Donkey, when she walked through the door, were probably a dead giveaway. She called me afterwards from the car, as she and Joel were heading out to dinner. 

"Dad forgot my birthday!" she cried, sounding sad and surprised and righteously aggrieved. "He always remembers Kacie and Kyle's birthdays, but he forgot mine!" 

What Jaymi is neglecting to take into account here, of course, is the fact that she is usually the one who does the reminding, these days ... especially now that all of the females in the family have moved out and the place has become a House of Stoopid Bachelors.

"Nobody takes care of the Social SecraTerris in the family," I told her sadly. One of the suckier truths of life, in my opinion, but something you just learn to accept after a certain age. The person who handles all of the birthdays and anniversaries and special occasions for the family can pretty much count on having her own birthday blown off at least once or twice in her lifetime.

"Trust me," I said. "You won't mind it so much when you're in your forties." And then I pointed out the fabulous milking opportunities the situation presents. If nothing else, she can guilt her father into just about anything, for at least the next twenty-one years.

"Maybe he'll finally buy you that pony," I joked.

This didn't cheer her up at all, of course -- I'm good, but I'm not that good -- but I think she went on to have a semi-decent birthday anyway, in spite of the tragic screw-up. I certainly held up *my* part of the bargain. Her sea monkeys arrived right on time ... along with the roses, the teddy bear, the cookies, the jewelry, the jingle bell socks, the Mervyn's gift card, the money, the ketchup packets and the leather Day-Timer I sent her. (And yes I am overcompensating. Shut up.) 

I called her one final time last night, just before bed, and she sounded like she'd recovered slightly from the disappointment. (Although her first legal martini at dinner probably had as much to do with her swift emotional recovery as anything else.)

"Don't yell at him, OK?" she said to me gently. "He feels bad enough already."

I reassured her that I wasn't planning to 'yell' at her dad, next time I get him on the phone. I'm not mad at him. Exasperated, yes ... vaguely disgusted by his lack of focus, yes ... disappointed that he accidentally screwed up such a special occasion, definitely. If I'm mad at anybody here, I'm mad at myself: I should have called him again on Sunday night and reminded him, just to make sure. I was married to the man for sixteen years. I should know better. But none of this is his fault, really: it's me. It's that old vicious cycle of expectation and disappointment again, and me wanting always to make things perfect for my children, even when I know they can't always be. But I'm not mad at my ex. In fact, this whole thing has finally helped me figure out what to get him for Christmas this year. Originally I was planning to get him a couple of DVDs or a flannel shirt or a couple of refills for his Weed Wacker or something, but now I think I've got an even better idea.

I'm going to give the man a goddamned calendar. And then I'm going to show him how to USE it.


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