One of the most basic things co-parents need to figure out is how to manage the logistics of sharing children between two homes. We like to refer to this as the “two-house shuffle.” There are lots of things to keep track of including clothes, homework, extracurricular gear, medication, library books, not to mention the actual children. It has the potential to be incredibly exhausting and confusing for everyone involved. Jackson is an expert at doing the shuffle between what he refers to as his city house (Mom’s house in downtown Saratoga) and his country house (Dad’s house near Saratoga Lake), but there is a lot that goes on “behind the scenes.” As mom and step-mom, we have a standing date at the beginning of every month to figure out Jackson’s calendar, namely, who is doing what when, who is driving where when, and who is in charge of which activities…when. Katie: If Jackson were to hear us comment about the amount of juggling and confusion that happened when his backpack was left at Dad’s, or his lunchbox at Mom’s, or the all-points-bulletin search for his winter boots on the one day it snowed this winter, then he might complain about it, too. Instead, the only thing that Jackson hears, or needs to hear, is how fun it is and how lucky he is to be the only kid he knows with a city house and a country house. Julie and I feel like we’ve got the organizing down pretty well, but there was one time when Jackson felt he needed to take one very important matter into his own hands.
Last year, our neighbors had a Christmas party at which Santa made an appearance. When Jackson’s turn came, he ran over, jumped on the big guy’s lap and started rattling off his wish list. I overheard Jackson explain that he had two houses, and he wanted to make sure Santa and the reindeer knew to go to both houses. I couldn’t make out the rest of their conversation over the noise at the party, but I could tell Jackson was explaining something very important, complete with emphatic hand gestures. Afterwards, Jackson bounded up to me, noticeably relieved. Since he’d just moved into Dad’s house and wasn’t sure Santa had a viable entry/exit strategy yet, he had explained to Santa exactly where Dad and Julie kept the hide-a-key. I wish I could say I had more trust in Santa, but, unfortunately you can never be too careful. I quickly texted Julie, “Move hide-a key. Santa knows. Explain later.”
Julie: There’s this freakish anomaly in co-parenting that we like to call the “pants paradox.” Those of you who also dance the two-house shuffle will surely know about it as well. To eliminate confusion, or so we thought, we decided early on that Jackson would not have separate wardrobes at both houses; he has plenty of clothes and they would just naturally rotate between our homes. How logical we were! How non-controlling! We patted ourselves on the back and called it a day.
One time, after folding what seemed like my 485th load of laundry for the day and having everyone put their clothes neatly in their drawers, Jackson promptly informed me that he had no pants. None. In my firm but kind step-motherly way I told him that this was simply not possible; for I had just done 485 loads of laundry. Upon further investigation, Jackson’s statement was proven irrefutably correct. There was, in fact, not a single pair of pants in his drawer. While seemingly impossible (he surely didn’t come home from school pant-less…did he?), this is the crux of the pants paradox. After consulting with Katie and discerning that Jackson’s drawers at her house contained no less than 16 pairs of pants, we were both flummoxed. We conducted a middle-of-the-night pants exchange, and even though it has happened multiple times since then, we have never figured out how it actually happens.
Our Conclusion: Dividing time between two houses is stressful. No one wants their child to be the last one waiting to be picked up or the only kid wearing regular clothes on pajama day. Figuring out where the science project went or who has a specific DS game, or, uh-oh-that-permission-slip-has-to-be-in-today-but-I-don’t-know-where-it-is can all be aggravating, but it’s all part of the territory. Communication between parents becomes the key component for making sure everything is running as smoothly as possible. Whether the relationship between parents is strained or relaxed, the lines of communication when it comes to the kids need to be wide-open, crystal-clear, and unequivocally free from our own nonsense.
Attempting to keep everything running without a hitch can be frustrating, but we also need to remember that the children have anxieties of their own. They may worry about Santa visiting both houses or where they’ll be spending a particular weekend or if they’ll have to go to school without pants on. It is our job to communicate the logistics to each other directly, not through the child, while also easing their fears and anxieties. There will be bumps in the road for sure, but this is something that is absolutely under the parents’ control. Well, most of it is under our control. We’re just keeping our fingers crossed that we never see a pants-stealing-Santa lurking outside the window…although that would explain a lot.
Julie Cox lives in Saratoga and is a high school English teacher. She loves being a mom to Jackson (10), Declan (2), and is looking forward to welcoming a new baby this fall.
Katie Nemer is a true Saratogian who is loving life as an at home mom to Jackson (10), Zoe (2) and Cocoa (their chocolate lab).
Did you miss Volume One of Adventures in Co-Parenting? Check it out here!