We had just finished dinner. Caden had given me attitude that morning about such little things as putting his plate away after breakfast, so I prepared for more of the same.
"Put your plate away, please," I asked, determined to be consistent.
He made no move. "Well, but you are not helping."
I was already clearing the table and putting dishes in the dishwasher. "Buddy, I'm already doing all of this. I need you to help by bringing your plate. Thank you."
"But you are lazy."
He wasn't smiling, and his words stopped me cold. "What did you say?"
He looked uncomfortable, knowing he had gone to far, but not knowing how to go back. "You are lazy about Daddy."
My eyebrows went up, and he went on. "I mean, you don't do things for him. When he asks you, you won't do them."
I have been separated from their father for close to two years, and had no idea what he was referring to. "Buddy - what are you talking about?" My tone was gentler now.
"He asked you if you wanted to take his computer, and you said no."
I suddenly understood what he meant. It was a three-minute conversation that happened nearly four months ago. At the time I had not even realized he was listening, yet it formed enough of an impression for him to bring it up now. How many times had he thought of it since then?
"Do you mean when he offered me his computer, and I said I didn't want it?"
"Do you remember when that was?"
His chin trembling. "It was at the party. For Daddy's birthday."
Oh my god. I felt awful. He was right. It had been New Year's Eve and their dad's birthday. I had gone to the party to pick up the kids, and had been anxious and stressed. I had exchanged terse words with their dad. Despite all that he kept trying to be nice, even offering me a computer he wasn't using, as he knew mine was in need of replacement. I was past letting anyone do anything for me at that point however, and I snapped back something to that effect.
That was it, the entire conversation. But Caden had remembered.
"Oh buddy. Have you been thinking about that, since it happened?" He nodded slowly.
"And what did you think?"
He spoke quietly. "That you were mean to Daddy."
"And how did that make you feel?"
He would not look at me. "Sad."
I got down on his level, put my hand on his back. "Buddy, I am so sorry. I am sorry I spoke to Daddy that way. That was rude, I should not have done that. And I'm sorry it hurt you."
He pulled away, his eyes filled with tears. "But why can't you be nice to him?"
"I am nice to him. We care about each other. I just spoke to him today, and we let each other know how we are doing. We are being nice." I was pleading. See? We are being nice. Be comforted. Please don't be sad.
His eyes trailed back up. "So if you are being nice, does that mean we can live in the same house again?"
I felt heartbroken. After so many months living separately, this is something both children will still ask. I had always expected it to be an ongoing conversation, but I didn't expect the extent to which both children will still ask me to revisit the reason for the separation in the first place. I suppose that's a good thing as they do not seem to remember the sheer stress of that time, but it also means they cannot fathom how this can be better.
What I had to say, I would say gently: "Buddy - we are not going to live in the same house again. I am so sorry."
His face crumpled, and he slid onto the floor.
By now, it was Sevilla's turn to weigh in on the conversation. She was in the bathtub, but she didn't let that stop her.
"Hey!" She called from the bathtub. "I've got an idea! We could all live in one house! Just divide it down the middle. You can live on one side, and Daddy and Lisa on the other. Then we can make a staircase that goes all the way up to a bedroom for Caden and me."
I gave her a look of great affection. "Sevilla, that is a very sweet idea. I am not sure we could do that, but it's a nice idea."
Caden looked up at me from the floor. "And we could find someone to move in here, maybe?" He wiggled his fingers about to gesture at the walls. I loved that he was considering not only that we would move, but also that we would find someone to move in here.
I smiled down at him, but felt uncomfortable. How many more times would I have to say it? "Well, but WE are going to stay here, buddy."
He tried again. "Well if we can't find a house like that, we could get someone to build a house, maybe. They could build one house for you, and one for Daddy." He gestured with his hands to indicate the outlines of two houses, one right next to the other. "And then we could go to whichever one we wanted, whenever."
I gave a small smile. That did sound ideal, and I had no objection to living closer. The trouble was finding a place in that neighborhood that I could afford. "Buddy - that's a great idea. But we just couldn't afford it." He looked crestfallen.
I needed a way out of this conversation. This was going nowhere.
I was about to offer to start looking for a place that was closer to their father when Sevilla piped in from the bathtub. "I can work on weekends!" I looked over, saw her nodding enthusiastically. "I can paint faces at carnivals or at kids' parties. I'll charge $1 or $5 for each face. Then we can use that money to buy a house!" She was beaming.
My eyes filled with tears. I was momentarily speechless, but gave it a try anyway. "Sevilla. That is so sweet..." I had to leave it there. Following that, I turned and walked towards the kitchen, finished putting the dishes away. It had been a long week, and I didn't want them to see me cry.