Last night, I called F at his Dad's house to wish him luck for today's Footy Fun Day. He came to the phone sniffling.
'Hi Mum.' Soggily.
'I didn't get any ice cream.' His voice descended into sobs. 'And I didn't get any last night either. And it's because I had lemonade, but I didn't KNOW lemonade meant I wouldn't have ice cream. And I'm so stupid, I hate myself. And I'm so ANGRY.'
I tried to calm him down, reminding him he always has fruit for dessert at Dad's house anyway and that crying won't change anything.
'Can I come to your house?'
"Yes. I've had enough here.'
I told him, gently but firmly, that while he's always very welcome, he can't come to one parent's house when the other is annoying him or has punished him. I promised him that if he felt the same in the morning and it was okay with Dad, he could come back early.
'Anyway,' I said, 'We were calling to wish you luck for tomorrow.'
'Aren't you coming?'
'Um ... no. You don't need me to come. Your Dad's coming. He hasn't seen you play for two weeks.'
'I want you to come too. Please come.'
I know it's selfish, but I'm exhausted after three weeks of mostly having F while his Dad has been overseas and interstate and has had visitors (and while I've had absolute mountains of work to do). Three weeks that have been relatively eventful, as far as football goes. Weeks in which we've had tears and tantrums and bullying and misbehaviour and F throwing himself face down in dirt and rubbing it on his face as self-punishment. In which I've wanted to punch another parent for overstepping boundaries and have been rigid with anger and frustration about miscommunication with his coach. I needed a break from football. And Footy Fun Day, which I would have to attend without The Husband, was scheduled to stretch over most of the Sunday, and would involve me hanging out with F's Dad all day. F's Dad, who rang me on Friday to tell me various things F had said about me. ('You can't get away with anything you know! He tells me everything!') My misdemeanours had included buying him honey-flavoured Weetbix and offering him a packet of M&Ms to get his hair cut at my hairdresser's instead of his Dad's barber's. (His Dad's barber gives him biscuits.)
'Sorry, hon, but I can't come. I'll be at the Footy BBQ next weekend, though.' Momentary silence on the other end of the phone, broken by dark muttering. 'Anyway,' I continued, 'Did you tell your Dad this week that I don't care about head lice?'
'What was that?'
'Of course I care. I just didn't notice you had it.'
'Yeah, well, Dad says you're rubbish at noticing things.'
'WHAT? He said WHAT?'
In the background, I heard F's Dad shouting 'I did not! I did NOT say that! You tell your Mum I didn't say that!'
'Yeah, well, actually Dad didn't ACTUALLY say that. But I reckon he thinks you're rubbish at noticing things, cos he said to me, Oh, you're at Mum's for two weeks and she doesn't notice you've got lice and you're with me for two days and I notice.'
'F, I think I have to go. I think I should not say anything to that.'
'Okay Mum. Bye.'
And he hung up, leaving me gaping at the phone and looking meaningfully at The Husband.
'Did you HEAR that?'
'Yeah. Don't worry about it. It's just stupid.'
His Dad's barber cuts his hair to look like his Dad's. His Dad was brought up by a military family and went to an English boarding school and you can still tell when you look at him. His Dad's barber is likely losing his eyesight too: after a haircut, random long strands unexpectedly wisp across his forehead or brush his cheek. The Husband usually fixes Dad's barber's haircuts by evening them out with a razor, giving him a number three buzzcut.
'His hair was too long,' his Dad had told me. 'That's why he had lice.'
'It wasn't long at all! That's not why he had lice.'
'Well, why did he?'
'Because kids get lice.'
'When his hair is longer, it's harder to get the lice out and he was uncomfortable.'
'Okay,' I sighed. 'Fine.' Pause. 'When he's a teenager he'll choose my hairdresser anyway.'
F's Dad snorted.
'What kind of teenager do you expect him to be?!'
'I don't know.'
'I think you're going to try to make him into some scruffy-haired Nirvana look-alike.'
'He can express himself however he chooses,' I replied primly, not admitting that a long-haired Nirvana look-alike would be fine with me.
'Oh, is that right? Any way he chooses? So he can have tattoos and piercings?'
'Well, within reason. Not tattoos and piercings. But if he wants long hair, yes.'
F's Dad snorted and sighed in quick succession.
'You know,' he said, 'You've become quite conservative, really.'