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. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Salted Caramel Christmas

I’m dreaming of Christmas.  I love this time of year and at the same time, I feel melancholy, the blues.

So first the love:

We’ve baked cookies for Santa every year since DD1 was 3 years old.  Even when my family was bursting apart during years 5 and 6, I trotted out the flour and pre-made the dough, then rolled it out the next morning.  It’s a recipe handed down from my grandma, to my mom, to me.  With home-made icing, to boot.  When DD1 turned 5, I started inviting her pals over, and now it’s a tradition with her two besties.  I don’t’ know what I’ll do when DD2 gets older—it’s already quite the flour explosion everywhere with just the four of them!  But I love it.  The small things—setting up the table and trays.  Rolling out the dough and helping them with the cookie cutters.  DD2 helping me mix up the icing while the big girls were upstairs playing after the first batch was put into the oven.  She took a deep breath (I use lemon extract for flavoring) and said, “mmmmm, mommy, it smells yummy!”  Just made my heart melt.  I know how familiar smells will “take you back” to a memory in time—it happens to me every now and again.  I wonder if lemon icing will be a marker for DD1 and DD2 one day, if they will remember these holiday times of baking cookies with their friends in our house, giggling, laughing, eating while “working.”

The first time we left the cookies out for Santa, DD1 woke up at the crack of dawn on Christmas day.  I heard her little feet thump, thump, thumping down the stairs, then rushing back upstairs, running into my room, I opened my eyes to her face leaning into mine:  “he ATE them, mommy!” she cried excitedly, “ he ATE them!  They’re all gone!”  And how I leaped out of bed and followed her downstairs to verify that he had, indeed, eaten them.

I guess this is where some of the melancholy sets in—this year Christmas week is the Ex’s.  And I’ve had two whole years to get used to the new schedule, but it’s still my first Christmas morning without them.  The sleepy wake up and the checking of the cookies and stockings.

It is why we had to bake them so early--our normal tradition is Christmas Eve morning and he has the week end before Christmas, so I told the girls we’d freeze some for Santa, lol.  We have to make the best of the situation.  But I will miss that sleepy, before dawn wake up call. 

The girls will come over Christmas day for a few hours, and they’ll see an empty cookie plate, and they’ll have stockings and presents galore.  I know I’m blessed in this and that our life is so different now, in good ways.  In the ways that matter.

It’s a balance—cherishing the lovely moments and at the same time, handling the topsy-turvy emotions that the holidays always bring up.  The meaning of family, and my “family” has had so many problems—the one I grew up with, and the one that I tried to create with the girls’ father.

Some more love:  both girls are old enough to “help” me when we bake for our neighbors and their teachers.  We did the big hand-out yesterday for the teachers and on Sunday afternoon for our neighbors.  Seriously, my heart swoons, seeing them hard at work stirring and cracking eggs and rushing over to knock on doors to hand over their home made treats.  It’s my gentle wish for them to experience the “giving” part of the season, that it’s not all about Santa and glitzy presents, although DD1 told me she likes giving AND receiving, ha!  But hopefully the giving part of the spirit is taking hold.

So now it’s the close of 2014 and we are forging a new family, a new life.  I am so blessed and wish more than anything it will all be smooth sailing from here, but I know there are Ex battles on the horizon, as much as I wish they could be set aside.  Like I’ve told others and have others tell me—we can only make the best of what is in front of us, we cannot control how others behave, we can only control how we react.  We can only choose how we live.  We can only embrace the sweet and good parts of the season and do our best to let go of the bitter in the bittersweet.

And I also think: no one is perfect.  Even if you or I have built a new life, a new family, there are moments that it’s okay to mourn what was lost.  It’s part of our story, part of how we arrived.  So take those melancholy feelings, and embrace them too, and even thank them, for somehow, the melancholy and the heartache—that strength it took to live through them—is why you survived in the first place.  But do your best to let them go, to forgive your mistakes and be gentle with you.  Because we are in a new place now, and it’s okay to be happy, even if you feel the vestiges of sadness, that very sadness is a testament to what you overcame to be happy now.  At least—I tell myself this for comfort. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Too quiet on the co-parenting front, so...

Well, it’s been a little too quiet on the coparenting front, so of course a bunch of drama blew up over the week end.

First:  DD1’s brownie troop marched in our little town’s Christmas parade on dad’s week end, but guess who ignored the RSVP request for weeks and then finally said no, because DD1 was “too sick” after seeing her for one day?  Context:  over the Thanksgiving holiday, we all came down with the plague.  It was nasty, there were fevers, there were antibiotics, but by Monday, all returned to school in good spirits and with good energy;  DD1 went to dad’s on Tuesday, coughing, but no fever.  In fact, both girls were at school the entire week.  DD1 was so excited about the parade because her BFFs were marching.  He had up to Saturday morning to change his mind, but guess what DD1 told me on Friday night over the phone:  “I’m not marching in the parade, because daddy loves me too much to let me get hurt.”

All I could say was, “gosh, DD1, did you get hurt last year?”  She answered no.  So I just told her I hoped she felt better, because there was nothing else I could do at that point.

p.s. guess who called from dinner out at busy restaurant Saturday evening, sounding all chipper and fine?  Yes, DD1.  The Ex wrote in the parenting notebook that she didn’t march because she was “too sick.”  Right.

Second:  On 11/19 and 11/26 I contacted the Ex about a potential birthday party this past Sunday, we’d been personally invited.  I had already owed him 4 hours of time for taking the girls to the school fun fair (he took them the last two years, coparenting counselor said it’s fine to let me take them this year).  So prior to finding out about the birthday party, I had offered make up time over the winter break, to minimize the “back and forth” which is so hard on the girls, especially DD2.  He could just keep them for the day on 12/26/2014, since they would be there Christmas overnight anyway, and out of holiday generosity, I offered the entire day.  

Well, then I found out about the birthday party, and I ran my proposal by the coparenting counselor—if she thought I could add the party, plus travel time, 3 hours to the 12/26 time.  School fair make up time (4) plus party time equals 7 hours, so he would still come out ahead.  Coparenting counselor said she’d talk to him about it, as it was “a good deal.”  However, guess who missed his appointment with the coparenting counselor?

So cut to 12/1 follow-up.  Then 12/4 follow-up.  No response.  I’m texting my girlfriend back and forth, who unfortunately went through similar co-parenting nightmares with her hubby, when her stepdaughter was young (who is now in college), and because of this is so understanding about the entire situation.

I get an email at 1:18am the day before the party that I can take the girls, meet up at 1:30pm, but demanding “overtime” on 12/26 if we exceed the party of time of 2 hours.  I respond, thank you so much meet you at 1:30pm.  I do not respond to the demand, since there are three weeks to go and wanted to work it out with the co-parenting counselor, the most important part is that he’s letting the kids go.

I get to the meeting spot 10 minutes early, and text him to let him know.  Because it’s holiday shopping time, the parking lot is a mess.  I get texts demanding that I agree to overtime or he will not bring the children.  I respond with the formula as explained above.  He tells me he refuses to bring them unless I agree to his demand.  I ask him that I shared my thoughts and since we disagree, let’s work it out with our co-parenting counselor, but not to keep the children from the party.  He refuses to bring them because, “I don’t want u to think you can have the kids all day.”  I respond that it’s not about me, but about letting the kids enjoy the birthday party, and that we are already late, and I would bring them home promptly at 4pm.

He accuses me that he’s late because I won’t respond to the overtime.  I again ask him to please continue the discussion with our coparenting counselor.  He refuses, he wants more time above and beyond the 2 hours of the party.

I finally respond:  travel time plus party time equals 3 hours.  If we exceed 3 hours we can add the time to 12/26, and you will still have an extra hour.

I sit in the parking lot with no response, wondering if he will show up, trying not to cry.  Couldn’t we have had this conversation on 11/19, 11/26, 12/1 or 12/4?  I call my attorney to find out if there’s anything else I can do.  Nope, just wait for a half an hour and hope he shows up.

He finally shows up.  I load the kids up and we head to the party, and after we’re on the road:

DD1 says:  Sorry we’re late mom, daddy said he had to have a discussion with you.

Me:  oh really?  Well, you know, I’m sorry about you worrying about discussions between mommy and daddy.  It’s not your job to worry about that, we’re taking care of it.

DD1:  Well, daddy is upset because we’re going to a party on his time.

Me:  Oh dear, well, try not to worry about that, sweetie, because over the Christmas break, you’re going to have a lot of time and even make up time for this party with dad.  So right now all we have to do is go have fun at the party!

DD1 (& DD2):  Okay!

Me:  Anyway, it’s not your job to worry about time with mom or time with dad.  It’s up to mom and dad to figure it out and we will.

DD2 decided to chime in:  And it’s A’s job, too!  (A, being my hubby and their stepdad)

Me:  Well honey, actually it’s not A’s job, his job is just to love you guys and me!  When it comes to time, it’s up to mommy and daddy and we will take care of it.

Both girls:  Okay!

(thanking myself they are distracted by hot chocolates that I got for them prior to pick up.)

We finally arrive to the party after a half an hour drive through the country, winding roads, passing horses stabled near a polo field, plenty of time to calm down after the heated ‘transfer.”  It’s so relaxing at this party at my good friend’s house, snacks galore, frozen decorations everywhere, watching the girls have a ball, playing games, making crafts, snowflakes out of felt.  Yes, it’s worth the drama, even though I’m watching the clock and making sure we leave as soon as the cake is eaten.  It was great to see DD2 with her BFFs scampering around the yard, giggling at the top of her lungs, and for DD1 to be the proud “big sister,” and hanging out with the older kids, too.  There were glitter tattoos and princess hairdos and crowns atop the hairdos, and cute pictures, all smiles.  The moms and I hung out and relaxed, and I reconnected with a mom who I hadn’t seen in a long time, who turned out to have gone through the nastiness of divorce at the same time as I did.  Funny how we just don’t talk about these things, until…we do.

Anyway, as with all birthday parties, the cake time was a little off, and we do end up leaving before the festivities are due to end.  My close friend the hostess offered to call Exie and let him know the party was running late, but I told her no need, it would only invite more vitriol, which she completely understood, and she lovingly sent us along our way.  DD1 was sad we couldn’t play longer, but I explained that it was time to go back to dad’s and that was the arrangement, and we had to follow through.

After packing up and heading back through the country and explaining again why we couldn’t stay to play “pin the carrot on Olaf’s nose”:

DD1: I wish you guys weren’t divorced.

Me:  I know honey. And you know, lots of kids in this world feel just the same as you do.

DD1:  Really? (hopeful rings in her tone, I can feel the door opening in her heart)

Me:  Yep.  And you know R’s and T’s mom? (the mom I reconnected with at the party with baby sister T, DD2’s classmate; and R and DD1 were inseparable back in the preschool days)

DD1:  Yeah…?

Me:  Well, they’re divorced too, and so they go back and forth between their mommy’s and daddy’s house, just like us.

DD1:  Really?  (sounding comforted—not that I would ever wish divorce crap on anyone, but it’s nice to know we’re not alone, and I think that’s what her voice reflected.)

Me:  Yep, and you know honey, being divorced, sometimes it’s hard and sometimes it’s easy, but no matter what, it will be okay.  We will always take care of you.  You are always loved. (inner kick to myself, since I can’t really make promises about dad, but at least I can stay upbeat.)  

DD1:  Okay, mommy.

Me:  By the way, I know it’s hard, but it’s not your job to worry about mommy’s or daddy’s time.  It will all work out and I made sure you will have extra time at dad’s this Christmas.  Your job is to do good at school and play with your friends and play and learn.

DD2:  And love everyone!

Sometimes I marvel at DD2’s ability to stay in the moment.  She cries when we transition from dad to mom, but after a few minutes, she is bubbly again-- drinking hot chocolate or coloring and all is well.  How does she do it?  My DD1 is older, more thoughtful, constantly taking everything in.

The girls came home from school yesterday, after their week end with dad, and I don’t know, it almost seemed they were relieved.  We had a grand night giggling and eating supper and cleaning up and signing holiday cards.  A had to work late, but he finally came home right before bed time, and both girls were so happy to see him.  DD2 said:  I love you so much, A!  and then asked him to carry her.  Then she said: I don’t like you A, I LOVE you!!  

My heart just about melted into a pile of goo.  And DD1 also hugged A and everyone cuddled a bit before bed time.  *swoon*

At any rate, when I was standing in the parking lot, not knowing if exie would show up for this birthday party that I had emailed him about weeks ago, I made another appointment with our attorney.  I don’t know what to do about this Ex, but I want to feel confident in the choices we make going forward.  I don’t want the girls to be pulled into the conflict, but he pulls them in.  He likes to pretend he is dad of the year, and when he is on “good” behavior, that is “good” for the girls.  He is also vindictive, manipulative, passive aggressive.  The tit-for-tat game, only he stacks it 5 against 1 if he can.

The thing is, I don’t tit for tat, I don’t play the game.  So what have I learned from the latest drama?  If it was all logical black and white, game playing it would be:  1) don’t offer exceeded time sharing, in the spirit of the holidays, EVER.  2) stick to the very word of the decree and don’t vary one letter, EVER.  3) refuse flexibility in the future should the opportunity arise, no matter what, because the drama is not worth it.

Well, I do agree with maintaining firm boundaries, but parenting, and life, needs some flexibility.  So, I’m reporting his behavior to the people involved with my case, but I’m not going to let it ruin the birthday party, or ruin my day or my choices.  Yes, he is frustrating and such a pain in the rear.  But he doesn’t hold the keys to my happiness.  And it’s my duty to protect my girls’ happiness, too.

So the real lesson learned:  Vigilance can never end.  Love up my girls.  Let them have their feelings.  Pick and choose my battles in the future with the Exie.  Figure out how to work around his craziness so it affects us the least.

Over the next couple of months *knock on wood* life will march on with a normal schedule.  No special requests for exchanges, so let’s hope everything returns to the quiet front.

In the meantime, I will focus on:  decorating our tree together and the loveliness of busting out all their hand-made decorations, the girls helping me wrap presents and bake for their teachers and neighbors, singing Christmas carols, being there when the girls ask questions or need a hug, baking cookies for Santa next week end, hosting some friends for dinner.  Loving up my girls and my hubby and being so thankful that we have each other, today and every day.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Four Ways to Respond if the Ex bad-mouths you to the kids

Happy Thanksgiving!

Please check out my article on handling "negative speak" at divorcemoms dot com here.  It's been such a pleasure sharing my writing here at the blog and over at divorcemoms, too.  

I am so thankful for my family, my kids, my loved ones near and far.  And I'm thankful to the blogging community for sharing our experiences and helping each other on the road and adventure of being a divorced mom, rebuilding our lives in a better place. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Prayers for a better life

With all the suffering in Ferguson and the recent reports of gang rapes at UVA, I just wanted to send out a prayer to the universe—a prayer for peace and healing, a prayer for change, a prayer for love and kindness over despair and violence.

Please, please, let us turn our world into a better place, one that is not mired in racial and gender hatred.  Please, please, help us choose love and peace over these terrible acts of violence.

I wish I could change the world with a sweep of my hand, but I can't.  How do we talk to our children, how to we prepare and protect them from these challenges when they grow older?

I've started, already, dropping little kernels of information with DD1, sprinkled in during talks about school or what her friends are doing, or what’s on the agenda for homework that night, or in the car on our way to swim lessons.  She is only in elementary school, but somewhere along the line, I decided to start the messaging now, planting the seeds, hoping they will take root before she enters puberty and begins to completely ignore me (so not looking forward to that!).

Observations about knowing her body, that it's HER body and no one else's, that only she has the right to her body.  That it's not okay for people to say mean things to her, that people in this world treat girls differently (the brownies did a lesson on other countries where girls can't even go to school).  And even though we live in the United States of America, and girls CAN go to school, there are many, many people in our country who do not think girls are "good" enough, and they are wrong.  That girls and women are just as good as boys and men and that’s how it should be.  That people who are not white, like us, are sometimes treated differently than people who are, and that's not okay, either.  We are smart and kind and loving and we deserve a place in our society, as girls, women, as brown people.

In the fairytale endings of whatever story we’ve been reading, I always add, you know, that prince is only a prince if he is kind and isn’t mean and doesn’t yell at people.

And every now and then we talk about boys, i.e. Prince Hans in Frozen SEEMED like he was nice, but he wasn’t in the end, and that’s why it’s really important to know the whole story about someone.  That there are people in this world who SEEM nice, but aren’t nice on the inside.  And while it’s our job to be kind and patient and fair, but it’s not our job to FIX people who are mean because they are broken inside, especially if they hurt you or people you love. 

One day in the car on the way home from school, we were listening to the song “Belle” from Beauty and the Beast, and both DD1 and DD2 said, that Gaston is not nice.  And I said, really?  Why do you say that?  And DD1 said, “Because he only likes Belle because she’s pretty, he doesn’t really care about who she is.”

So maybe my messaging is taking hold.  I don’t want my girls to grow up mistrustful of the world, but I do want them armed with critical thinking.  It’s a fine balance, and I don’t know if I struck the right tone, but I have to say I was really happy when they gave Gaston the elementary school/preschool smack down. 

How do you stay positive in the face of such negativity and violence?  How do you “win” by living the “good life” and hope that we stay safe and on the side of peace?

I wish I had the magic answer.  Instead, I hold onto my babies and drop little kernels of knowledge and hope they take root and will bloom to protect them as they hurdle into the future.