When my son, Patrick, was 4 and his sister, Morgan, was 6, their dad and I divided up the bunk beds and rugs and separated. Jim stayed in the large Victorian on Scott Street in San Francisco, and I moved into an apartment in another neighborhood. Each of us would take the kids for half the week.
And that was that, I thought. Except for trading kids back and forth and going to see their teachers together, I believed Jim and I were done with each other. Time passed, the kids got older, and I found myself at the altar again.
We didn't intend to move in with my ex-husband. But then we had problems with Morgan, and Jim and I often found ourselves at each other's house, devising strategies. Scared, we realized we had to circle the wagons.
Bill, my new husband, and I, already looking for a new place, decided to buy the one below Jim's. Patrick had his main bedroom upstairs, and Morgan's was downstairs, but they both treated the house as one big home. I once heard Morgan sigh on the phone, "No, I can't come over. All of my parents are home."
Of course it was awkward, particularly in the early days. We all just walked into each other's home -- Jim used my fax and copy machines and sent my UPS packages for me. Sometimes I'd go up to talk to him about making the pasta salad for Morgan's birthday party or about whether we should get Patrick a math tutor, and I'd see him hanging out the wash, the way he does when he's upset. I learned not to ask him what he was feeling, and he didn't ask me how I was doing. We had developed a new skill: maintaining distance from someone we were once intimate with.