Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Miser Mom's Ex-Wife

I married my husband in 1997.  Because we share everything, I figure his ex-wife is my ex-wife, too.  This post is all about her.

I'm going to do a bit of complaining here.  But before I start the whining and moaning about my ex-wife (and then move gleefully into the celebration that the whining and moaning is all over), I want to try to tell the story through her eyes as best I can.  I know that there's a version of this story in which I get to play the Evil Step-mother/Wicked Witch, and that's the version I want to tell first.

Imagine you are going through a divorce.  You have two children whom you love dearly and fiercely.  And you discover that your ex-husband is marrying an eccentric cheapskate: a woman who does not use toothpaste.  Who showers with a garden hose.  Who buys running shoes for $1 at a yard sale and wears them for years.  Who shuns air-conditioning.  Even in the best of situations, it's painful to share your kids with another adult of your ex-spouse's choosing; but now, imagine that your ex-spouse chose some nut like me!?

It is true I was not always this extreme.  Perhaps that makes it worse:  I am not sure it would be reassuring to see the general trend pointing in the "even weirder" direction.  I can not even imagine what my ex-wife thinks about all this stuff that I do . . . and that, I'll point out, is HUGELY to her credit.  I've never heard a single nasty word about me from her.   Not from her directly, not from our mutual acquaintances, not from her kids.  That says a heck of a lot more about her than it does about me.

To make her situation all that more tough, the man that the step-mother of her children happened to marry was her ex-husband.  This guy has a long list of redeeming qualities, but conscientiousness and slavish-attention-to-detail are not up near the top of the roster.  This means that the bulk of the scud-work (as opposed to the fun stuff) of caring for her daughters fell squarely back on my ex-wife's shoulders.  Teacher conferences?  All her.  Doctor's visits?  Her again.  Dentist, orthodontist, dermatologist?  Her, her, her.   Hair cuts?  Back-to-school shopping?  Birthday parties?  Well, it ain't him.

When he could, he went to their soccer games and races, which he loved.  I got to spend time after school with them, read them Winnie the Pooh, make them dinner, and to get them out the door many mornings.  But it was clear that the bulk of the parenting lay elsewhere.  For reasons of geography (his commute is insanely long) and temperament (even when he's home, he'd rather be riding the bike than checking homework), the father of our children sloughed much of the mantle of child rearing onto the shoulders of the women in -- and out of -- his life.  If there's a lifestyle description that fits both me and my ex-wife, it's that we're professional, feminist women with PhDs who somehow didn't escape antiquated women's roles in the parenthood department.

It's not particularly nice of me, when I put it all this way, for me to diss my sistah.  But I'm going to rant anyway, and here's my totally selfish, completely miserly rant:
I hate the kid bill!
hate hate hate hate hate.

The divorce decree stated something to the effect that the parents would evenly split all "reasonable expenses".   "Reasonable" is clearly in the eye of the beholder, and let's just say that I wasn't beholding.  Because my ex-wife took on/got stuck with all of the shopping, the definition of "reasonable" was all hers -- that in-and-of-itself seems reasonable . . . but I still hated it.  So every couple of months, we'd get the bill from her, totaling our half of what she'd spent on their kids.  A whopper.

It's hard to describe the difference in our spending, hers and mine.  How did I hate the kid bill?  Let me count the ways.  I hated the excessiveness of the kid bill:  the yearly clothing expenses for one of my step-daughters could have clothed BOTH of my boys AND my own birth daughter AND me for several years.   I hated the waste of it: there was so much we paid for that I thought no one should ever buy for themselves, much less for a kid.  I hated the lack of predictability: I never knew when the next kid bill would come, or how much it would be.  You can probably remember a time when you got a credit card bill and said, "holy cow!  I spent this much?!"   Now imagine that it happens every couple of months, but it's not you that's doing all the spending.  For an obsessive plan-ahead person like me, this was torture.

It didn't help matters that the girls attended a local K-12 private school (that both their dad and mom wanted them to go to).  This is the school that, when I told my friends where my step-daughters went to school, my friends' first comment was invariably, "Wow!  I heard that place is expensive!".  This was the school where, when my younger daughter was in high school, her clique of friends bought her a bracelet from Tiffany's so she wouldn't have to be the only one with nothing from that store.  Sweet.

Between the private school, the kid bill, and the late start at saving for college, paying for my step-daughters became the largest rock around which I had to steer our family's finances.   Their expenses were the reason my husband took far-distant (but well-paying) jobs -- and even so, their care and feeding consumed half of my husband's impressive take-home pay.   The tuition/kid bills became the reason I went from being moderately frugal to black-belt nutso.

The end of an era has arrived, however: the younger of the two girls has just graduated.  We just got the last kid bill.

I'll say it again:  we just got the last kid bill.   This means more to me than I could say, and not just for the most obvious of Miser Mom reasons.  It's only a minor coincidence that we got the last kid bill the same week that my Guy told his boss that he's going to drop down to part-time work from now on*.  After fifteen years of two-hour-long commutes each way, he will finally get to spend more time (albeit less money) on the sons who are still at home.
* Well, not exactly right away.  He's heading out 
for an Army school for three months this fall.
But after that, the part-time plan will kick in.

And for me, it means that I get to appreciate my ex-wife for the things that I really do admire her for, without wondering where her wallet has been lately.  She's so many things that I (and many other professors) would like to be: an award-winning teacher who my own students effuse about, a scholar whose work gets cited in the cross-disciplinary works I read, an avid athlete.  

But she's not a Miser Mom.

I have totally got her beat there.


My ex-wife often reads my blog.  If she does read this particular post, I want to say here:  thank you for sharing your daughters with me.  Thanks for your incredible civility and constant fairness.  I know it wasn't easy for you to cede so much of your children's lives over to someone who had a very different outlook on life, and I really, really, really appreciate how much you seemed to trust me in spite of all the crazy twists and turns that life in this particular house seemed to take.  I might not like the kid bill ritual, but I do admire you.


  1. I had a wander over here from Frugal Scholar's blog. What a lovely lovely post.

    1. Thanks for stopping by! And also thanks for pausing to comment. - MM