Laughing at Big Fat Liar in a Manhattan movie theater on a recent Sunday afternoon with my daughters, ages 7 and 4, I thought to myself, "Hey, separation may not be as bad as I'd envisioned, for the girls or for me." We'd already had a full morning at the aquarium on Coney Island, dancing in the near-empty subway cars en route. And here we were, happily devouring popcorn and falling in love with Frankie Muniz.
Then a half-hour into the movie, my younger daughter leaned over and whispered seven dreaded words: "I need to go to the bathroom." This despite my effort to make a last pit stop before we took our seats. I looked at her sister as she chortled at the screen, glanced around the theater, and wondered, "Do I make her come with us? Do I leave her? How do single parents do this? Is it different in the suburbs?"
Months earlier, after having made the heart-wrenching decision that divorce was the only remaining option, I had quickly sought out recommended literature to help me deal with my kids' emotional and practical needs, particularly the book Mom's House, Dad's House. It covered parenting plans about holidays and school mail, custodial and child support solutions, standards of conduct and access. But there was nothing about the more mundane aspects of single parenthood -- like what to do when one kid needs to use the bathroom in the middle of a movie. When there are two adults, this kind of moment is invisible; you don't even think about it.
I wasn't questioning my adequacy as a parent; I'd always been a more-competent-than-average dad, the freelancing husband of a wife who works full-time. Nor was this a Judith Wallerstein moment -- I didn't suddenly yearn to reunite with my wife for the emotional well-being of the kids. Yet I did find myself wondering anew about the high divorce rate in our country and all the single moms and dads out there, and getting a clearer picture of how the other half -- the divorced population -- lives.