Revelations – and What I Learned This Week

Here it is, in no particular order.
  • In the state of Maryland, squatters have legal rights to a property if they have been occupying it for a minimum of 5 days.  Whether they have a lease, or not.  So check this out: say you go to Maryland to visit your old college roommate and you stay there for 5 days – that’s all you need in that house to call it your own.  The owner has to give you 30 days written notice to vacate – he can’t just throw you out.  Imagine that – driving around Green Spring Valley and happening upon some big beautiful mansion that you felt had your name on it.  Find a way to move in for 5 days…. and the owners will have to spend a few hundred dollars to have you legally removed.  But that’s after 30 days.  Meanwhile, you can live it up for free in the poshest house you’ll ever see the inside of and even get a daily swim in the backyard pool. 

  • Coinciding with the above revelation is the reinforced knowledge that police have a job to do and it isn’t always what you think it is.  It’s no secret that I have had a particularly difficult year past – and there were a few disappointing incidents where I really felt like the police weren’t willing to help me.  Fact is – get the facts.  Once you know exactly what an officer can and cannot do, and your expectations are reasonable, it’ll be a hell of a lot easier to keep your cool – and it will definitely make them more willing to work with you.  The officer I met this week was more than a little agitated when the investigation into the squatters in Todd’s house began, but by the time he left he’d gone above and beyond what he was required to do and left us (at least me) feeling like he really did care. 

  • My klutzy-ness is wearing off on my husband, who slipped off the back of a truck and subsequently heard a “pop” in his ankle that swelled like the Goodyear Blimp and landed us in the emergency room hours later.  I also learned that there are still people left in this world with genuine manners when a woman accidentally pushed her sister’s wheelchair into Todd’s wheelchair, the blow to his already blackening ankle and foot causing a crisp intake of air.  She apologized and kept going.  HOWEVER, she came back later and made a sincere and heartfelt apology – and she waited for him to accept it.

  • Emergency rooms can actually be very entertaining, assuming you’re not there in some life-threatening condition.  We made friends with the people in our little “holding cell” and shared stories of previous ugly injuries, watched hospital staff working like ants in an anthill, Todd played Angry Birds on his laptop and provided real-time information on his condition on Facebook, and I noticed two men in matching Karate gi’s come in – one holding a very bloody gauze-wrapped finger – and the hilarity of it struck the inappropriate laughter button on my interior.  It was all I could do not to giggle, and then Todd kept staring at them and I knew he was dying to ask them what happened.  He suggested we make friends with people in the ER and post pics of their injuries on Facebook, inviting amateur diagnoses in a sort of name-that-injurykind of game.  At least it kept my mind from wandering back to the last time I was in that ER.

  • Fleas are really hard to get rid of.  My poor cat has been attacked by fleas.  We have bombed the house twice, I vacuum every single God-forsaken day, I comb his fur every morning for the little bastards, I have applied Frontline monthly for the last 3 months on my indoor cat, and bathed him three times with flea shampoo – during which time I also learned that my cat can actually meow his own name.  They say everything is worse this year – bugs, allergies, pollen – because of the mild winter we had.  I hope that’s it – because I have never seen anything like it.  I grew up in a house with three cats and a dog – all of whom went in and out several times a day and we never had fleas.  During my first marriage, we had two long-haired cats that never went outside and never got Frontine and then the dog came.  The Himalayan that was still living at the time never had a flea on him.  Neither did the dog, for that matter.  So, WTH is going on?

  • I have to remember to always trust my first instincts about people.  I am seldom wrong.  But giving people a chance, because I am just that kind of person and just naïve enough to want to be friends with everyone, should only be done once.  There’s that old saying, “fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.”  Can’t blame anyone but yourself for getting burned twice.  You’d think I’d have learned that lesson with the first loser I attached myself to, but unfortunately there are several “lessons” still hovering around my peripherals.

  • I’m sick of drama.  I’ve had enough drama in the last two years to at least earn me a free pass from bullshit for a while.  No one is immune, I realize.  But Todd and I had this mutual revelation this week that we are staying far and away from unnecessary joy-squashers and parasites.  We didn’t fight our way out of the dark lives we were separately living just to have some idiot cast shadows over the joy we’ve found together.

  • I need to teach my daughter about the conversation “filter.”  My friend Chris and I were talking about this some time ago… she was telling me how blunt her 5-year-old daughter can be when she tells her she looks “fat in that dress.”  She said both her kids “need a filter.”  Now I get it.  Ava is two years older, but she is beginning to say things without regard for personal feeling that I find unnerving.  She’s always been a spitfire, but nowadays it’s going beyond the usual reporting of things I’m sure the other household would prefer I didn’t hear about to stuff like telling me her other grandmother is drunk, or throwing insults at me or her brother, or making fun of old people in public.  She’s NOT learning this stuff from me.

  • My kids never complain about my mom’s food.  Her Wine Pairing menu at her restaurant is awesome – and with 6 different courses for me, my kids get to sample a plethora of things they wouldn’t ordinarily eat.  If I made Hawaiian butter fish or roasted pork braciole at home, the whining that accompanied it would likely blow out my creative cooking motivator pilot light.  But, not to be deterred, I woke up this morning feeling inspired to try cooking some new things.

  • The Hunger Games is being released on DVD on August 18.  Ever since he finished reading it, Owen has been waiting for me to pick it up.  So yesterday I brought it to the pool with me and when he saw it he said, “yay!” and then, “uh oh, ” because he suddenly realized I won’t be available for anything once I start.  “You won’t be able to put that book down, mom.”  How right he was.  I have only put the book down long enough to cool off in the pool, have dinner, and sleep. Cannot WAIT to see the movie, and hopeful it won’t disappoint the literary version.

  • Penn State is still a hot topic.  I imagine it will continue to be for a long time to come.  I still can’t believe Penn State still gets more Facebook time than the tragic shootings in Colorado; even Christian Bale’s visits to the victims have gotten more attention than the events and the psycho that precipitated it.  I learned that I’m sick of hearing about Joe Paterno and his tarnished legacy, and that it would be best if I kept all of my opinions on that particular subject off of Facebook. 

  • My children’s father – who disposed of the family dog and threw my cat outside in the rain last fall because they were “smelling up the house” – apparently is now sharing residence with not only his girlfriend, but her 3 cats and – as of last week – her new German Shepherd puppy.  I find this hilariously funny. 

  • Red wine and champagne burn a lot more coming back out than going in.  I believe I have forgotten the age-old warning of minimizing alcohol consumption on 95 degree days by the pool, and most especially if one plans to sit in a hot tub.  Red wine also looks very much like blood under the right conditions.

And finally, a little trivia I couldn’t resist.

  • The ASPCA estimated that there are as many as 2000 new cases of animal hoarding every year.  This includes cats, dogs, reptiles, birds, rodents, even farm animals.  One woman who appeared on Animal Planet’s Animal Hoarders show had 260 cats in her home.  Two hundred… and… sixty…. cats.  Imagine what that smells like.  Unfortunately, I can.  The little old lady who lives two doors down doesn’t appear to have any pets, and yet – the inside of her house smells positively noxious.  I must remember to ask the neighbors the next time I see them.  

It’s Over – Our Children in the Middle

 

Divorce is not pretty.  It’s not pretty for you, it’s not pretty for him… and it is NOT pretty for the children who have to cope with their lives changing forever.  Now here’s the part where I tell you – and you will hear this refrain over and over in the divorce and custody process – your new focus is what’s best for the children.  What is in the child’s best interest?
 
Some people expressed surprise that I was able to get my divorce before the issue of custody was settled.  Apparently, people don’t usually do it this way.  I think I’ve already covered the “amicable”  factor enough in my past posts but, in case you missed it, my ex-husband and I filed a no-fault divorce and agreed to handle all the details ourselves because we were amicable.  Long, LONG story short – the divorce became final and he went after primary custody.  Amicability went right out the window.  I already addressed this factor in divorce proceedings: once divorce is on the table, there is rarely an amicable resolve.  I don’t have an answer for why I actually believed it was possible, given our tumultuous history, but I suppose I am naïve enough to always believe that everyone has some good in them.  This won’t change, by the way.  I’m just programmed to be a nice person – that is, until you piss me off.  Nevertheless, I was soon catapulted into the wonderful world of court proceedings and forced onto the nauseating custody wheel of anxiety, unrest …. and education.
 
The first meeting with my attorney was initially a consultation, whereby I explained my circumstances … and he did an awful lot of eye-rolling at what had already transpired.  I paid a retainer.  He gave me some “homework.”  I filled out a form to be filed with Domestic Relations for child support.  I was to keep a “journal” to record details of our custody exchanges and any and everything he said and did – like one day getting rid of the family dog before I returned to our house (which, by the way, I still own today), and later changing the locks to prevent my access to it.  (I mentioned the importance of this journal in a previous post.) I had to write up a “response” to my ex’s Petition for Emergency Custody – essentially discrediting all his accusations which, incidentally, had absolutely nothingto do with custody.  I had to provide my Factors for Custody – which included answers to questions like “which party is more likely to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact between child and the other party,” “which party is more likely to attend to the daily physical, emotional, educational, etc. needs,” “the availability of extended family,” and “the level of conflict between the parties and the willingness/ability to cooperate with one another.”
 
Our first court hearing before a judge was to address the aforementioned Petition.  I was scared to death.  My mom and my dad accompanied me (Todd and I decided it would be best if he was not there at this point).  My ex-husband appeared only with his attorney.  No one from his family was there on this – what I considered a very important day.  What was peripherally unsettling at the time was the fact that there were at least a dozen strangers participating as an “audience” to the most important drama of my life.  I had no idea that these proceedings are open to the public. The judge issued a temporary custody order – granting me primary physical custody of the children, I’m assuming because I was a stay-at-home mom and had always been the primary caretaker and this temporary order would be the least disruptive to and therefore “best” for the children (see, there it is).  We would also have to attend the All Children in the Middle program and a mediation orientation – both mandatory (translation: court ordered).  Additionally, there was also a court order to undergo psychological evaluations (more on this later).
 
The All Children in the Middle program is a “parenting class” that each party must attend separately.  I thought this was a marvelous idea.  Until I realized there were limited times available, there was a $45 fee to attend this mandatory session, and it was a 3-hour round-table (well, in this room it was a rectangle) type of presentation with at least 15 other sorry-ass parents in there fighting for custody where we had to introduce ourselves, how many children we had and their ages, and how long we’ve been involved in a custody litigation.  First off, I loathe introductions like these.  Loathe.   Nobody in this room wanted to make eye contact with anybody else.  I was tense and emotional and kept my gaze in my lap. This beautiful woman across the table from me with the perfectly manicured nails looked familiar – like somebody who has dined in my mother’s restaurant, and she probably did, seeing as she drove off afterward in a Lexus  – and was no less a rookie than me.  The equally beautiful woman sitting to her right, though far more casually dressed, introduced herself – she had 3 children and she was in the midst of her FOURTH year in this battle.  I glanced sharply upward and met her gaze and felt the uncontrollable and familiar rush of tears fill my eyes.  I will never forget her face, as long as I live.  She looked resigned and yet she clearly wasn’t giving up.  I felt bile searing the back of my throat, as I silently contemplated the idea of fighting the father of my children for longer than one more month. 
 
Nevertheless, there were people in there from all walks of life.  This room represented the very essence of America – there were whites, blacks, and Latinos, women and men – in sweats, blue collar uniforms, casual clothes, dressy clothes, suits.  No one is exempt from this type of drama.  No one.  I found we were all ultimately the same.  And I felt this constant pressure from the dam behind my eyes.  I wanted to run from this room, I wanted to hug everyone in it.  And the counselor who led the program did all the talking, asked a few thought-provoking questions for discussion, and apologized a handful of times for the dated 80s hairdos and shoulder pads of the first video.  The second video was actually an old episode of Oprah, about two boys of divorce whose parents each believed the children were handling everything well.  They couldn’t have been more wrong.  The guests all agreed to be interviewed by M. Gary Neuman, the author of the Sandcastles program for children of divorce(his book, available at the local library is called, Helping Your Kids Cope With Divorce, the Sandcastles Way).  He found that both boys were really very upset by all the fighting and bickering that has continued for years since the divorce.  Both parents clearly loved their children, but both had behaved very badly.  The boys felt they needed mom’s permission to hug their father in front of her, and dad actually played back an ugly phone message mom had left him to the 7-year-old and asked if he (the son) thought they should play it for the judge.  Think that’s despicable?  Think it can’t happen to you?  Think again.  The most powerful message these two tear-jerking videos delivered was that these children – all of these children – needed to feel loved and protected and …. not to be put in the middle
 
Your child feels like an extension of you AND the other parent – she identifies with BOTH of you.  If you say dad is a selfish SOB, then your child is in danger of considering that he too is a selfish SOB.  Your children love both of you, they have the right to love both of you, and they have the right to see each of you as wonderful, competent, awesome human beings.  This helps THEM thrive, become healthy successful adults who can go on to have healthy successful relationships that hopefully don’t fail like yours did.  It doesn’t matter what YOU think of your ex.  It doesn’t matter what happened in your marriage.  Your children have the right to have you keep your opinions to yourself.  And guess what? You can only control your own behavior.  You can pray like hell that your ex “gets it” too and that when he tells you he “really learned a lot,” you can be assured he won’t try to malign the children against you.  Unfortunately, even amicable ex-husbands sometimes can’t accept responsibility for what they did wrong.  Stick to your guns.  Do what is right.  Don’t fall into the trap of sharing with your children how much you hate their dad for x,y, z.  They don’t need to hear it.  They don’t want to hear it.  All my children ever wanted, was “for everyone to just get along.” 
 
My son just said to me again yesterday – over a year since the divorce and one month since the custody litigation ended – “I just don’t understand why everyone can’t just get along.”  Well, I have an answer for that – but I’m not sharing it with him.  To have “friendship,” one must have trust.  There is no – nor will there ever be – trust between me and that man.  Marital transgressions aside, anyone who exchanges custody with their ex on the day of a custody trial, and knows full well that the other parent is misinformed about what time the trial actually begins, AND allows them to show up in the courtroom an hour late before the judge deciding the fate of your children without saying a word to you – IS an SOB.   But my children don’t need to know any of that.  They are already questioning things he says to them, or things he’s done.  I remain neutral, I try to answer when appropriate or encourage them to ask him these questions, I do not verbally tar and feather him or otherwise tear him down.  I let them draw their own conclusions.  I listen to them when they want to talk, I support them and allow them to vent.  But moreover, I encourage them to be happy.  I encourage them to move past the events of the past – as I did just this morning when my daughter wanted to discuss the incident between the adults on December 23rd that quickly went nuclear.  I stopped her mid-sentence and told her simply, that’s over now.  We are all past that and let’s look forward to good times!
 
One of the hardest things I think I’ve had to accept over the last 10 months is that although I don’t like what he did or how he treated me while we were married, or how he subsequently attacked me without warning or provocation and systematically tried to decimate my character to everyone including our children – he is still their father.  One thing – the ONLY thing – he and I could ever agree on today, is that the sun rises and sets on those two beautiful creatures.  He loves them as much as I do.  And – he would never intentionally do anything to hurt them (the fact that the Children in the Middle program fell on deaf ears apparently notwithstanding).  They are safe with him.  I know this.  Your ex may not always make what you see as the best or most appropriate decisions with regard to the children, but you have to find a way to believe that his intentions are essentially “good.”  It was the hardest thing I’ve had to accept – that I had to essentially, let go.  I think there are many moms out there who can empathize with the sensation that once you have a child (whether by birth or adoption – I don’t believe it’s much different) you have to come to grips with the fact that there’s a part of you – like some vital organ – that is walking around out there in the world away from you.  That outside of your orbit, this life force is beyond your immediate protection.  I explained it on one particularly emotionally difficult day to Todd like this:  it’s like there’s this part of my body walking around out there that I have absolutely no control over.  It’s a very helpless feeling.  I had this feeling first when I sent my son to school on his first day.  And again – though more intense due to her life-threatening disease – with my daughter on her first day.
 
Like it or not, you are – or are getting – divorced.   Like it or not, your children will not be with you every single hour of every single day, anymore.   Now it’s up to you both – with or without a judge’s intervention – to work out a way of sharing custody of these children in a way that best benefits the children.  There are lots of variances on custody and visitation arrangements.  A common one, it seems, is one parent having primary physical custody and the other parent having visitation every other weekend and Wednesday overnight.  That was our temporary order and, 10 months later, it became the permanent order.  Summertime is the exception, where we alternate weeks with one another and every Wednesday overnight.  Last September I would’ve been sick over this arrangement – today, it is the best possible outcome for my children.  They get us both equally during the relaxed, unscheduled weeks of summer and revert back to the original schedule once the school routine begins again.  The judge – and the evaluating psychologist – felt that the children’s best interests overall were met in mother’s primary care during the school year.
 
It can be very difficult to accept that what was once your authority over what’s best for your children, is suddenly out of your hands.  I struggled daily with my anger over my ex’s actions – that we “could” have worked out a schedule we could ALL live with – without outside intervention or litigation that cost us thousands of dollars.  That by his actions – where our children lived would now be decided by strangers.  Strangers charged with deciding the best interests of the children, strangers who get paid to do it every day, but strangers who don’t know any of us – at all.  To them, we’re just another “case.”  This made me so angry.  And feeling furiously helpless.  I had to refocus my energy on my faith to get me through these days.  I’ve never been a hard-core religious person so like anyone else who has a slippery grip on a personal crisis – I decided I needed God to help me walk through.  And I was perpetually amazed how things came to me, even as my fears so often took over and subsequently made me worry that because I couldn’t close the door on them, I wouldn’t be as blessed as I am.
 
So, with that, I think it’s really important to take a step back and see this crisis through your child’s eyes.  Put yourself in their shoes, imagine how you would feel.  Dig deep and be strong – at least in front of them – and then cry your eyes out with a trusted friend or relative and rip your ex a new anus.  Things you might consider as ways to punish him, are really punishing the child.  Think of how you can keep your child balanced and stable amidst the uncertainty they may be feeling.  This does NOT translate as buying them things all the time, as “some” parents do.  Nor does it mean letting them get away with bad behavior, because you are feeling badly about the circumstances.  The same rules you always had for them, should remain intact.  Get them counseling if you feel they need it, or even if you don’t.  And, though it may be uncontrollably tempting, do not engage in your feelings of competing with the other parent.  You will surely lose, in more ways than in your wallet.  Children quickly learn who and what they can manipulate – and if you think your angelic child would never do it, think again.  
Incidentally, in many schools there are groups that guidance counselors put together – specifically called Banana Splits http://www.bananasplitsresourcecenter.org/ – that  children of divorce can interact with one another and share.  Worth looking into.
 
Forthcoming: Mediation Orientation, Custody Conciliation Conference, Child Custody Psychological Evaluations and how it all ends.
 

 

**I will again reiterate that I am not a legal expert, I am just another mother who survived a toxic marriage, divorce, and a bitter battle for custody of my kids.  This blog represents MY experience, and is not intended to be or replace professional legal advice.