Friday, September 08, 2006

When the Summer Comes Undone

Whew -- summer vacation is over! Back to school! I'm not always so excited to return to the books and bells, but the end of summer vacation has come (mostly) as a great relief this year, a welcome return to routine and regularity.

I teach high school, and ever since (almost 4-year-old) Cole was born I've cherished the summers where I get to spend long days with him. And I definitely enjoyed this summer, but things were different -- way different. Most notably, Cole's mom left me earlier this year, and, while we were theoretically co-parenting, Cole was with me most of the time. In fact, there was a particularly low point in the summer where I thought she might bow out of parenting altogether. Things have changed since then, and we're now splitting time about 60-40 (I'm the 60), but this summer Cole was with me a lot more than that.

As many of the posts here illustrate, being an attentive parent is challenging. I don't think I was quite prepared, however, for how much more challenging it would be to do it on my own. Cole is wonderful and full of joy most of time, but he's definitely been exhibiting some exaggerated up-and-downs while he tries to deal with his parents splitting up. And, like any little kid, he's constantly pressing the people closest to him, trying to see where the limits are and how people react to different behavior. All that's to be expected, but it's a lot to deal with when you're the only parent in the picture from dawn to dusk, especially while trying to keep a lid on the day-to-day stresses of laundry, dishes, bills, and a messy house.

Things got more challenging when my sister (my only local family member) moved to New York in July. By the time August rolled around, when I was really struggling to find free moments to get ready for the school year. I found myself wishing I could just call in a substitute parent for a day or two. Unfortunately, though, it seems someone forgot to write sick time into the parenting contract.

After feeling the stress of being a single parent, combined with weeks spent walking around the Mission, with its dilapidated (and often deserted) playgrounds and passed-out junkies, left me planning out ways to escape. As Cole gets older, I often find myself wishing I could give him a little more freedom without fearful adults watching him every second. I'd like him to be playing with his neighbors, learning how to ride a bike, and out looking for bugs, and it's sometimes hard for me to picture those things happening in San Francisco.

Living closer to my parents sounds really appealing sometimes, living in Berkeley seems really appealing sometimes. Being able to buy a house sounds really appealing almost all of the time. So maybe a move or a change is order, or maybe I'm just feeling a bit of divorcee depression that will pass now that my thoughts aren't just rattling around in my own head all day long. I'm just going to let things be for a while, and hopefully settle on a plan in the next two years, before Cole starts kindergarten. We'll see how things end up.

1 comment:

Jeremy Adam Smith said...

Between this post and my earlier one on drunks on the playgrounds, we've pretty much covered all the reasons why SF doesn't feel very friendly to young families: cost, safety and crime issues, a sometimes anti-kid social atmosphere, plus the situation you describe, where you have to constantly watch your kid and teach them how to physically negotiate an urban environment. (Last month at a campground I met a dad who lived in rural northern CA; he seemed appalled when I described how much time and energy I spend making sure Liko doesn't run into traffic, play with broken glass, etc. I hadn't thought much of it, but recently I've realized how much this vigilance adds to day to day stress.) To all that you have to add family fragmentation: many parents of young children moved here from somewhere else, and often find themselves without family help or relief, something that many of us didn't expect to need; add divorce to the mix, and it gets really tough. Parents of older children might also add concerns about the quality and safety of public school, which is definitely on my radar though not yet a direct concern to me.

I'm tempted to end with a call for activism: we need to mobilize to make SF more livable! But shit, who has time for that? Easier just to move back to the hometown or to an East Bay suburb.

Hang in there, Chris. And don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it!