He always smiles when I first see him. I will see this smile tomorrow, a grin from a small mouth like mine, but with gappy, gnarly teeth from his father.
I’ll wait at the bus stop. His father will drive up in a car, which he bought with the last of our son's college education fund. The car is five years old. The interior has been destroyed with Dunkin Donuts coffee, chocolate milk and the carelessly unscrewed tops of stainless steel water bottles. His father has maintained the exterior of the car, having reformed his former speeding habits.
The son will smile. He will grab the car door handle and try to prevent me from opening it. Then he’ll put a book about video games or Legos on the seat. “Now you can’t sit down,” he’ll beam triumphantly.
I’ll roll my eyes and hand the book to him. Then he will educate me about the history of individual Lego pieces and how to save Princess Peach. There is a pink cute character called Kirby he talks about a lot. Kirby is round like a ball. Kirby has a game where everything in his world is made out of yarn. I have never seen him play these games, but I make lots of lame adult comments like “That’s cool,” or “I like that one.”
While we talk, his father drives the car silently. Whenever the son sees the speedometer creep over the speed limit, he chastises his father. He chastises me too, for not knowing exactly where we are going.
My son and his father are homebodies to the core. When we go new places, I often feel like I am giving them a tour of their own town, of their own state. I show them libraries, beaches, hiking trails, as I try my best to remember directions from the Internet that I should have printed out. We have adventures.
We build sandcastles. My son builds a sandman and decorates his eyes with dandelions. We build snowmen. We play tag. We get lost in the woods. We visit a nature center and learn about life on the seashore. My son methodically reads every piece of information printed in front of the exhibits. We play mini golf. We pick apples. We pick pumpkins. We bake pies and breads. We play card games. We watch movies. My son uses the five second rule to eat a piece of popcorn off the theatre floor. We celebrate holidays weeks after they occur and birthdays in a similar fashion.
For his fourth birthday, I bring a cake and baggies of colored frosting to the beach. We decorate a rainbow cake. I give him a beehive game that can’t really be played outside. It has a lot of little plastic parts that keep falling through the slots of the picnic table. I never see it again.
At his ninth birthday, which was the last one we celebrated, there was a bread theme, which I came up with at the last minute. He had a pound cake baked in a loaf pan, we played Slamwich and I gave him a present of sandwich bags with funny faces printed on them.
I’m the fun parent. Parenting guides about divorce warn against this, but I only see my son for a few hours each week. How could he view me as an authority? I have never once done homework with him. He does not have chores to do at my house. The only vaguely educational thing we do together besides read books is do science experiments. I don’t mind if my home becomes extremely messy during a baking or science activity. I don’t mind cleaning up after my son.
In fact, I love finding evidence of him after he leaves. Mud tracked in after a hiking trip. Spices carelessly spilled onto the floor. Batter spatters on the counter. Glue on the table. Pipe cleaners sprawled across the floor like caterpillars. A pot tinged purple from boiling cabbage to make a pH indicator. The Boston fern with a few damaged fronds from a game of catch. Little people from the game of Life hanging out under the couch.
These reminders, and some pictures I have of him on the fridge, are all I have to carry me through the weekends when we do not spend time together. My son lives with his father full time, an arrangement we have had for five years, and one that I don’t see changing anytime soon. He is very happy living with his father.
Every night, I call him and tell him a joke. I send him letters and little gifts in the mail. We spend time at my parents' house on holidays and summer vacations. In the meantime, I’ve been able to go to school full time, and am almost done with an English degree. My greatest achievement in life, however, is the good relationship I have with my son.
After an outing, his dad drives me to the bus stop. As I prepare to leave, my son becomes suddenly giddy in an attempt to get me to stay for a few more minutes. Even at the age of nine, he still sometimes grabs my face in his hands. I give him a few kisses and hugs and step out of the car. He looks up as I blow him one final kiss and he catches it, then rubs the imaginary kiss into his face. As they drive away, he looks out the window at me until they are too far away.