Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Ms. Flexibility is contemplating the end of the road



One of the things that the new attorney told me was that in cases like this, the high conflict ones, there’s always one parent who is more flexible, end of story, period.  It is rare, very rare, where she has seen a divorce and both parties are flexible on the same level.  I’m sure this sounds familiar to some of you divorced parent veterans out there.  I guess it’s no surprise to me, either.

When the Ex’s extended family showed up from out of town—and with two days notice--I was asked if the girls could come and have dinner with them.  How did I respond?  Of course.  (Like I would withhold the girls from their extended family.)

When his best friend’s kids have birthday parties over the years, and he wants to swap time, what have I done?  Of course let’s swap time.

When he had to travel for business and needed to give up part of his week end, again with not too much notice, who agreed to this, in hopes of fostering a more amicable atmosphere in the future, even when two years ago I was not given the same respite or consideration?

Yep, I’ve been flexible.  I’ve traded and swapped time for things, and made requests of the same nature, and given him MORE time than what was swapped, in the interest of the children, to eliminate the back and forth that is so difficult on the girls, especially baby sister.

And now, looking back on it all, and seeing how he continues to encroach, stretch the limits, attempt to control, I think I’ve had enough.

No, he doesn’t get to dictate what activities I choose for the girls, and no, he doesn’t get to pick and choose what he supports.  No, he doesn’t get away with not paying the children’s copays and his share of said activities for 2 years (and guess who shells out a check whenever it’s his activity?).

Flexibility, to a certain extent, has been good for the girls, but it also hasn’t improved our lives that much.  Come to think of it, these events are what I remember lately:  a text war in a parking lot where he says, “I don’t want you to think you have the kids all day,” rather than agreeing to meet without incident and letting the girls have fun at a birthday party without the drama.  Leaning on DD1 so much that she tells me she dropped out of the brownie Christmas parade because “daddy loves me too much to let me get hurt.”  The girls telling me that “daddy gets jealous” when they talk on the phone to me from his house. 

Flexibility—an effort to compromise and work to co-parent for the better of the girls, has been more or less one-sided, and done zilch to lessen the drama and ridiculous shenanigans of late.

I’ve been patient, flexible, overlooked the nasty jibes and comments, and finally, I’m done.  He has the end of the month to pay his copays and respond about the activities.  I’m mulling over whether or not to enroll DD2 into private school, weighing the pros and cons.  I think she needs the two-teacher per class ratio there for her first year of “school,” and it’s not nearly as expensive as the other private schools in town.  So…it may be time to dust off the gunpowder.  Like my new attorney said, sometimes bullies need to be pushed back.  DD1 should get to do the things that she wants to do; and DD2 deserves her shot at school, too.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Search for a New Attorney



My original divorce attorney saved me and my girls.  I know this is not always the case.  Was our verdict perfect?  No.  Did it provide us with as much protection as we could hope for?  Yes.

Looking back at the messed up wreck I was when I first met her, I can’t believe, sometimes, that I’m where I am now.  At the end of my marriage, I was still placating the beast, drafting up an amicable separation agreement, as a last ditch effort before heading down the divorce road, because he cried, he pleaded, he promised that no matter what he was going to change for the girls’ sakes, he was going to go to therapy.  So I put together a home grown separation agreement and we signed it.  He was to visit the girls one evening during the week in our family home, and then I would bring them to his mom’s house for a Saturday afternoon.  No overnights, because DD2 was so young, just one. 

As can be surmised, that ‘amicable’ separation didn’t go well.  As the weeks went by, instead of being “sorry,” he became upset, then angry.  He wondered when would I “get over” the facts that he threatened to put a bullet through my head, murder my oldest in her sleep, choked and threw our family dog across the room, kicked and shoved our children, shattered their toys, threw dishes in anger and broke them.  He was “done” with this, and it was time for us to move forward.  I should be “over” that he screamed and shouted and swore at me and the children when they dropped a grain of rice on the floor or spilled their milk.  That I should forget that he dangled the baby by her ankles and screamed in her face. 

One night, after the weekly visitation in my home, I had a fever, and he wanted to hang around after the girls went to bed, and demand that I give him a timeline about when I’d be “over” all these things, that we needed “to talk,” that he had “nothing left to lose.”  I remember sitting in the chair, him towering over me.  He is not a big man, but at the time, I felt like he was a giant.  I kept saying what my girlfriend (also an attorney, but not family law) told me to say, “please put your concerns in writing and I will address them then.”  I had to repeat myself six times and then I pleaded that I was feeling so sick and could we please talk about it later.

He left.  The next day, I called my girlfriend and told her what happened.  She promptly put me in touch with my divorce attorney, who after hearing everything that had transpired, urged me to get a TRO and change the locks.  Because it was a late Friday afternoon when I met with her, I couldn’t do it then, I had to wait until Monday.  I had given her my journal, one that I’d kept for years after the birth of my oldest and when his rages began, something my therapist had advised to help me process it all.  She called me the next day and again urged me to get a TRO.

On Sunday, late at night, I received an email from my Ex, demanding that he have three week ends with the girls and etc etc that he no longer agreed with our “amicable” separation agreement.  The letter clearly coached by an attorney.  I then called my attorney who told me to ignore it, act “natural,” and first thing Monday before work, I went down to family court and petitioned for a TRO which was granted.

And thus began the divorce journey.  And every step of the way, my attorney helped me.  My therapist helped me, my friends and family, as best as they could, supported me, too.  My aunty flew in from the mainland to testify at the awful trial at the end.  But through it all, my attorney helped me.

She helped me navigate his nasty, threatening, obsessive single-spaced diatribes.  She (and my therapist), taught me “the art of disengagement,” how not to respond to the nastiness.  For years, I had done so much “explaining” and “placating” and “reasoning” and “pleading,” that it was counterintuitive not to respond.  It took a long time to learn and understand that it wasn’t my job anymore to explain.  That you can’t explain or reason with crazy.  That it was no longer my job to fix the situation or fix him, even though I understood where his crazy came from—his alcoholic father who beat him and his mother and his brother in fits of rages.

My attorney once said to me:  “It’s not your job to be his solution.  Your job is to take care of your girls.  And you.”

Two years later, after a custody evaluation and psych evaluation and settlement hearings, attempts to settle FOUR times, and one nasty trial, it was done.  Sole physical custody of my girls.  Play therapist involved.  Co-parenting counselor involved.  All eyes are still on him, and when eyes are watching, he behaves reasonably well.  (Don’t get me started on the behind closed doors, but I’m learning I can’t control that).  He cannot call and harangue me.  I’ve set up boundaries where he can’t come to my house.  We communicate by text and email.  When he gets out of line, I have the counselors to talk to and just pray that by staying neutral and loving and supportive in my home, that it’s enough for the girls.

For now, it is.  They are growing and thriving and their parent-teacher conferences couldn’t be better.  DD1 is in advanced reading and loves her pals at brownies and ballet and all of her activities.  DD2 is a social butterfly who throws herself into everything she does, literally, as you can see from my last post—she’s on the mend from her fractured collarbone.

But I digress.  My wonderful attorney is retiring.  She’s only keeping a handful of cases, but long, complicated cases like mine, she has referred out.  She is still available by email, I connect with her when things get really rough, like the stupid birthday party stand-off, and she always responds with helpful advice.

So the search began last fall.  I met with one amazing attorney, who used to head up the domestic violence unit for the prosecutor’s office before going private, but at our second meeting, we discovered a conflict.  Exie had consulted her back in 2011, but decided to go with the extraordinary douche who went on to represent him.  Then I consulted with two other senior attorneys who I liked, but finally, I think I found her. 

As I ran down the details of my ex’s manipulative behavior, she immediately recognized the dynamic of control.  That it’s clear my ex is not really about the children, but all about him, and this was actually run-of-the-mill for her (i.e. she’s seen it a thousand times and knows how to deal with it).  She offered advice on what to do with a few current situations and will only bill as we go, unless Exie decides to take me back to court.  I could tell she has a human and humorous side to her, but I could also tell that she would be quite formidable in court, a force to reckon with.  One of her biggest statements that resonated with me—that sometimes bullies needed to be pushed back, but to pick your battles carefully.  She clearly has experience getting orders to assist with manipulators, but she said they always find a different angle.  Do we want to be in court every year?  That’s a decision you have to make.

She also said that because the girls are doing so well—they’ve clearly been shielded from the drama, or since we know he is emotionally leaning on them, especially DD1, that whatever drama he’s laying on them is “tolerable,” at least for now.  That when they get older, they may tolerate it less, and to be ready for that, be ready to support them.  That since he is all about ‘his’ time, rather than “their” time, it will likely backfire on him, if he doesn’t change his ways.  It doesn’t matter if you’re married or divorced, that if you don’t give the children the freedom to grow up, they will resent you.  Interesting take.

And no, I don’t want to be in court every year.  But I do like that I have one more level of protection, one more big boundary to lay down to protect us should/when Exie gets ridiculous.  The latest from him is that the girls have told me he “gets jealous” when they talk to me on the phone, and that’s why the phone calls from his house are short.  We responded that the girls could talk to dad as long as THEY want, and they can talk to mom as long as THEY want, and the calls are for THEM, not mommy or daddy.  And that we would NEVER get jealous when they talk to dad.

The next night, the girls called me from dad’s house, they rambled on and on, chirping happily, so maybe the message set in.  Who knows?

I have some ideas on what to do now in the short-term, Exie has been pushing the boundaries of the decree and is out of compliance.  That, we can address at the end of the month.

And in the meantime, I know and it was nice to have it reiterated again in my meeting with her—Exie will always be Exie, there’s no control over that.  So I have to concentrate on my better life now, the one I’m creating with my girls and my hubby and focus my energy on that.  I’m  just glad I have a little gun powder in my pocket now, with my new attorney, should any real shenanigans arise.


Monday, January 5, 2015

Happy New Year, 2015!



Well, no time like the present to start the new year off with a blast. 

Last week, while hosting a sleepover for DD2, DD1 decided to sleep in the BOTTOM bunk, which was fine by everyone, since DD2 was in sleeping bags in the room next door with her pals.  At 5:00am, we all awoke to a THUNK, and a MOMMMMMYYY!!  DD1 had rolled out of bed (the irony is that her usual TOP bunk has a railing!).  I put her back to bed and we snuggled up, but when she woke up again, she told me her shoulder hurt, and her arm was all dangly, so I took her straight to the pediatrician.  Who ordered an x-ray.  Who discovered a fracture in her collarbone.  Then we were referred to an orthopedist who squeezed us in.  Who set DD2 up in a sling.  Between hollering because she was scared, hurt, and afraid, she would pause and ask each doctor, nurse, and x-ray technician for a lollipop or stickers.  My brave little DD2!  By the end of the visit, she had ten stickers stuck to her shirt and her sling, and two lollipops.  Ha!

So long story short, DD2 is in a sling 24/7 for two weeks, then only at school for weeks 3 and 4.  Big sister still got to do all of our planned activities—including learning to ride a two-wheeled bike with the most patient aunty in the universe ever (this is where mommy vs. aunty vibes were CLEARLY leaning towards aunty) and going ice skating with her pals.  DD2 tagged along where she could and when she couldn’t, I just got to snuggle up and hang out with her for some one-on-one.

So how did the Exie take it?  I informed him day of and he sent a few suspicious sounding questions in response; I’m in wait-and-see mode regarding further fall-out.  At this point, I’m not too concerned, because I’ve addressed everything, given him all the doctor’s notes, informed the preschool, informed both the co-parenting counselor and play therapist.  There’s nothing else I can do.  If he’s a jerk, he’ll be a jerk.

As for hubby, he did not take any of this well.  He had suffered many injuries as a child, and I guess it brought it all back for him, and normally, he is the calm in the eye of the storm.  Something about seeing DD2 all broken up and crying just triggered major distress, coupled with end of year work stress, and he seriously checked out and became argumentative for four days, with one great big one that I can remember being incredibly distressing.  (Great, I was at the end of my rope.)  However, instead of letting this completely break me down, I just dug in and focused on taking care of the girls, because nothing I was saying was helping him (or me or the girls).

On New Year’s Eve, I prepped a turkey, then the girls and I went to a New Year’s Eve party including a campfire, so we could roast marshmallows and make s’mores.  There were kids galore, including DD2’s bestie, and since DD1 had spent all week with her pals, I figured it was DD2’s turn.  So despite DD2 being in a sling and despite the absent argumentative hubby, the girls and I managed to have an awesome new year’s eve, eating, playing, sitting by the campfire, watching the crackling embers, finding sticks to stab marshmallows with and hold them over the flames, enjoying the company, and then going home to rest.  On New Year’s day, I made a turkey and stuffing and kind of repeated thanksgiving, and DD1 was so excited she ate two whole plates, DD2 not as excited, but I was so happy we were together enjoying our meal.  I kept telling the girls that no matter what, my job was to take care of them and that’s what really matters. 

As a result of the arguing, hubby decided to stay late at work on New Year’s Day.  Whereupon he had an epiphany that he needed to reach out for support and he came straight home after I was in bed.  In the soft light of dawn he apologized for not being there for us the day I took DD2 to the hospital and for issuing ultimatums and promised he would look into further resources and advice on stepparenting.  And lots of other loving and kind statements that I will hold close to my heart. 

So New Year’s Resolution time?  I never make these, because I end up forgetting about them, isn’t that terrible? 

I do know that every day, especially over the last three years, I’m trying to be more loving to myself and others, kind and patient.  To not be afraid, to live my truth, to not let other people’s judgments get me down (this was definitely a challenge when all the divorce craziness was up in my face).  Every day, I’m trying to let go of anxiety and stress that I can’t control, and live in happiness.  To be vigilant and to be forgiving.  To not let other people’s behavior affect me so deeply that I can’t concentrate on what’s important—peace and love and loving my girls.  Hmm…I realize this is a tall order.  <3>

p.s. if you have any advice on blending families, I’d really appreciate it.  I think my hubby comes from a very kind and loving place, he wants to protect us and doesn’t want us to be hurt.  But his alpha male senses keep telling him to ‘gain control’ and he gets frustrated because he wants “to win” and wants Exie “to pay.”  He is having a hard time with the mantra of:  The best way to “win” is to live a happy life.  I know this to be true, how do you show that to someone else?

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A prayer for Christmas



May we be blessed with peace, may hope shape our future, may love and forgiveness shine fiercely through the darkness and shadows.

May we remember what was lost, but also cherish what has been found.  May we be protected against fear and pain, and if some of the pain pushes through, may we find comfort in the love within us and all around.

May my two little hearts know they are loved.  May they be strong and confident in their choices.  Please help them stay strong and decipher the mixed messages between the lines, and may they be comforted that they are not alone and that their mommy loves them.

Please help me stay strong in the days and weeks ahead, and thank you for the strength and support for getting this far in life.  Thank you for our blessings, for our home, for warm food and clean water, for the many ways I’m able to take care of my babies and my family.

My heart is full of gratitude.  My heart is full of pain.  Somewhere between the two, may peace and hope reside and take hold and grow.