A Single Dad, Two Households, and One Gnarly Virus
In 2010 a new word was added to my vocabulary: co-parenting. Ten years later another word entered my lexicon: COVID-19, the acronym for the novel coronavirus disease 2019.
The former was due to a separation from my then-wife and a 50-50 shared custody arrangement that forced me to explore the definition and nuance of the term co-parenting. The latter was a term all of us were forced to learn for this virus.
When we moved to the South Bay seven years ago, I felt like the best father in the world. Kids played in the street, we had a fantastic school system and the Pacific Ocean was a few blocks away. This almost made up for the fact that my son still considered his mother’s house to be “home.”
I did my best, making sure that his room was set up to a be a virtual copy of his childhood bedroom—albeit with more Red Sox paraphernalia than before. It seemed to work. He now feels at home both places.
I’m very fortunate that during our marriage, my ex-wife and I agreed on how to raise our son. That has continued into the post-divorce co-parenting stage. However, the pandemic has introduced a new—and decidedly complicated—wrinkle.
How exactly does one “shelter in place” when living in two separate households? My son and I have been very cautious, following the CDC guidelines, in the hope that we’ll be able to safely visit my mother before her 89th birthday (in 2021).
My ex-wife has been doing the same, but this is further complicated by the fact that she still sees her fiancé on a regular basis. I trust that he is following the same guidelines in the same manner that my ex-wife undoubtedly trusts that my girlfriend is adhering to safety standards in her home. Confused? Welcome to the club.
Despite all manner of craziness (stir-crazy, legit crazy and teenage madness at being cooped up with oh-so-boring adults seven days a week), I feel lucky. His mother is a responsible person and generally does the right thing.
I’ve heard horror stories from friends that make my skin crawl. In the strangest case, one parent is an essential worker and the other is immunocompromised. They’re at an impasse. What is the “right thing” to do?
Another friend is afraid to let her son go to his father’s house because the parent is lackadaisical about following the rules (occasionally willing to wear a mask, but only a “cool one”). But she is reluctant to go to court to challenge the custody arrangement—if it is even possible to get a court date during the pandemic.
My son and I have found ways to adjust to the current situation. We’ve rediscovered our love of both biking and chess (with the only change being my now-teenage son crushes me on the chessboard and the bike path).
Instacart has quickly become our pandemic shopping friend. Local places like Jack’s Surfboards and Manhattan Bread & Bagel provided masks (as well as bread flour and yeast, since I—along with seemingly everyone—have taken to baking, as well as adding a few pounds to my frame).
We’ve been lucky. So far, everyone in our circle is healthy, safe and (reasonably) sane. Although we haven’t mastered the art of co-parenting in the age of coronavirus, we’re surviving it. We even celebrated my son’s birthday together the other week. At his mother’s house. With her fiancé present.
We enjoyed takeout dinner from his favorite restaurant and sang “Happy Birthday” (out of tune, as is our tradition) before he blew out the candles on an impossibly large cake. We all had a good time, as my son’s genuine smile indicated.
In a few years, I hope to be adding a few new items to my vocabulary. Perhaps I can offer some suggestions to the universe at large: doctoral thesis candidate, centenarian, mirthful … anything but postapocalyptic is fine with me.
Into the woods. Written by Darren Elms