Ked Dixon is a social worker and family therapist. She was born in south Georgia, got to New Orleans as soon as she could, and has been here for 20 years. She and her seven-year-old son Jack live in River Ridge with an older dog, three rescued cats, four rats, a bearded dragon, a bird, and Ked’s partner, Alex. Jack’s Dad lives in Texas.
Heading for the Hills
Jack’s Dad lives in the middle of the Texas Hill Country and works as a cowboy. He was not a cowboy when I was married to him. This is a post-divorce development. He seems very happy in this work, and it suits him. Since our divorce, he has been able to come visit us in River Ridge a few times, and makes regular FaceTime calls. As COVID restrictions lessened and travel became more of an option, Jack’s Dad and I decided it was time for Jack to go visit him at his house. Jack’s Dad arranged for us to spend a week at the dude ranch where he works. Jack was thrilled when he was invited to spend a week with his dad. I was thrilled to have a week of less parenting responsibility.
I say less responsibility instead of freedom, because at six Jack was too young to ride on a plane by himself, and after spending a great deal of time with Jack, I felt his dad would appreciate another parent on site to tag in. Jack has a ton of energy and loves to hang out, which can be overwhelming if you’re not used to it. After three years of intense “Mommy & Jack Time” I don’t know what to do with myself when I have too much free time, so Jack and I rode the I-10 all the way to Hill Country.
As a child and adolescent therapist, I think and talk a lot about co-parenting. It is a topic close to my heart because, like car line and checking homework, it affects me personally. Simply put, co-parenting is the practice and process of raising a child after the parents end their romantic relationship. There is often, but not always, a legal component to this arrangement that includes time and money. Some people have joint custody with a 50/50 split, and others have every other weekend. I have domiciliary custody, which means that I have Jack most of the time and I get the final word on all decisions. With this great power comes grinding responsibility. I am happy to say that my co-parenting situation is better now than it has ever been. I owe a lot of it to a willingness to assume positive intent from and toward all the adults involved.
The dude ranch was sprawling and rocky. Cows, horses, and goats roamed freely. It was beautiful—in a rustic agrotourism way. When we arrived, Jack’s Dad was on a trail ride, so I unloaded the car and began settling into my little cabin room. I knew Jack would be spending evenings with his dad, so I brought a lot of work and school projects to do in the six evenings of delicious solitude that stretched before me. It wasn’t until I had fully unpacked that I noticed the almost total lack of cell reception in my room. Jack’s Dad was so used to the lack of Wi-Fi and spotty cell phone service that he forgot to mention it. The main cabin was the only one with any connectivity and it was often crowded with other guests checking their phones and computers. My vision for my week went from being the wise woman on the mountain to the guy who brings a work laptop to the bachelor party. Cognizant of my status as “Cowboy’s Ex-Wife,” I wanted to make a good impression—I saved my work until most people had turned in for the night and was my friendly and charming self during the day.
He also forgot to tell me to bring long pants for riding, broad brimmed hats, and closed toe shoes. I assumed positive intent and chalked this oversight up to Jack’s Dad’s historic lack of attention to detail. I was irritated with myself for my own lack of preparation—I had spent summers riding horses in South Carolina in high school and I knew how to be around horses. For whatever reason my brain didn’t register that I needed to pack for a horse ranch and not the beach. Jack ended up doing a lot of riding in shorts until I was able to buy him some jeans on the third day.
Jack’s Dad was also not fully off work that week, so I spent some of each day watching Jack while his dad did cowboy chores that were either not safe or not interesting for children. Again, I assumed positive intent. Because adults who are not around children often forget that they need near constant supervision, especially when they’re in unfamiliar places with farm equipment and large animals.
If I’d had a different attitude, it could have really been a terrible time for everyone involved, but it is important to me that Jack has as many positive experiences and helpful caring adults in his life as possible. By assuming positive intent from my ex-husband, I was able to help Jack and his dad have an amazing visit. I was also able to let go of my original idea of a working vacation and enjoy a very different experience than the one I had planned. I got to ride horses, make friends with a very loud peacock called Kevin, and attend my very first rodeo. After our rocky start at co-parenting, I am grateful that things are turning out better than I could have planned.
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