Sunday, February 17, 2008

Conversations with a Kat

Katrina: "Mom, I want to learn to drive. Everyone I know is driving."

Me: "You day."

Kat starts naming her friends that have permits and are already driving. One is supposedly driving with 5 family members in her car. (Note to self, stay off the sidewalks in our surrounding towns). Since they haven't even started driver's ed, I'm not sure how the kids have accomplished this feat. Then, in Kat's Katlike ability to make me wonder what is going on in her little ol' head, she says, "I'm tired of not being able to text my friends because they are driving."

Me (attempting to understand the logic of that sentence and finally giving up): "And you think you will be texting while driving?" She just laughs at me at the same time as saying, "NO! Not me!"

The logic of a 15 year old eludes me at all times.

I strongly suggest she has her father teach her the basics as I tend to be a bit high strung. She then suggests that a friend of hers, who just got his license will teach her. I don't be thinkin' so!

A few minutes after that conversation, she, while on the phone with Emily from our old neighborhood, informs me that Emily drove to the gas station to get milk. I explain that since Emily is 6 weeks older, it makes perfect sense that she should be driving to the gas station and Kat barely backs the car out of the driveway. I also suggested that if Kat walks the 50 miles to our old neighborhood, Emily's parents can give her the keys to their car and she can drive to the gas station to get milk for them.

Katrina and I banter all the time. Our conversations make us laugh and we never really think about what we sound like to others. We joke around. Tease each other. She laughs at me while I try to keep her from growing up too quickly. I laugh at her when she thinks I'll buy her clothes that I didn't wear until I was well past drinking age. Little did we know we had a comedy act going until I took her shopping for school clothes last August. We went to her favorite store Mandee. I can't tell you what we were laughing about, but a couple of months later when she and I returned, the sales clerks remembered us. We were told that we were unforgettable. I didn't have the guts to ask if that was in a good way or a bad way. Never ask a question if you aren't sure you want to hear the answer.

This afternoon while in the check out line in JoAnn Fabrics, we started discussing celebrities and their tendency to name their children extremely unusual names - Coco, Apple, Shilo, Suri. The conversation started because Shilo Pitt's picture was plastered on the cover of a magazine. I commented that Shilo is going to be gorgeous with her father's looks and her mother's lips. Kat started pursing her lips trying to make them as big as Shilo's. Which started me giggling. Then Kat wondered out loud if Shilo was the name of a dog in a movie. From there we discussed the idea of naming children unusual names. Then on to Britney Spears who was (of course) on the cover of the same magazine. While noting Britney, I start to say, I still want to invite...Kat finishes my sentence...I still want to invite Britney over for coffee and try to straighten that poor child's life out. I didn't think the conversation was that funny, or unusual...for us, but the woman behind us kept laughing at our one liners to each other.

Somewhere along the way, I told Kat about Abbott and Costello's, "Who's on first." Found it on YouTube and she agrees, that is the two of us on a daily basis.

We'll be headlining at Zanie's next month. Look for us.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Parental Rights

I just read a statistic stating that within one given year, the US has 2.4 million marriages and 1.2 million divorces. That sure drives home the 50% divorce rate statistic and got me digging into other facts. It appears that 67% of second marriages and 74% of third marriages end in divorce. These statistics are very disheartening. Makes one wonder if monogamy is really possible. One article stated our divorce rate is realistically around 25% (oh, come on!!!) while others state it is as high as 60% (maybe they just averaged the first, second and third marriage/divorce statistics).

In our old neighborhood the divorce rate was negligible. We were the only divorced family in the preschool my children attended. Also, we were the only divorced family in our neighborhood. That is until the lady down the street had a love child with a minister that was not her husband and the woman on the next block (who could not believe that I would file for divorce) ran off with a guy 20 years younger; leaving her two children with their father. I never did thank them for taking the spotlight off of us. But they both disappeared so quickly that I was never given the opportunity.

Although divorced myself, I am a firm proponent that divorce devastates everyone. Lines are drawn. Friends and family take sides, yet there are no winners but many losers. Families are ripped apart, emotions are eviscerated and children never quite learn how to cope with what happened between their mom and dad. A friend of mine whose parents have been divorced for years stated that when her mom complains about her father, my friend, even as a grown woman, still feels horrible, "It's as if she is ripping on my DNA." Although I avoid saying anything negative about my ex-husband in front of Kat and Adam, after that conversation I am even more aware.

In my marriage, I asked for our divorce. It would be dishonest to say that I couldn't live another day in our marriage. I could have existed in that life, but I chose to live, not exist. Even now knowing how the divorce would affect Kat and Adam, I would do it all over again. Grading on the curve, I truly believe they are happier now than they would have been if we stayed. Besides, living a farce is not conducive to raising smart confident children. I was extremely unhappy. So was Kat. Her migraines started at 3 years old. The stress was so thick you could cut it with a knife. Adam was too young to remember what our house was like.

I actually thought that Adam would adapt the best out of the two kids, yet he never quite adjusted. Per Adam, Kat remembers their father living with her. Even though life was not a Norman Rockwell experience, Kat knows what it was like to live with a mom and a dad together. I filed for divorce when Adam was 11 months old. We moved out when he wasn't quite 2 and divorced by the time he was 2 1/2. He doesn't have the memory of his parents together. That fact bothers him immensely. It's not easy living with the fact that my choice is the cause for that pain.

Kat remembers what our life was like. Although she too had difficulty with the fact that her father did not live with us, she was more bothered by the fact that he tended to not excersize his visitation rights. Initially he only lived 1 block away. Then he was only 1.3 miles away. Sometimes the only time she saw her father was when he drove down the street to watch a game at a friends house. Kat saw other fathers in the neighborhood spend time with their children. She often asked why she didn't have a Daddy who wanted to play with her. For a long time she thought the reason that her father wasn't around was because he didn't love her enough. There have been so many conversations where I have explained that it's not that he doesn't love them. He's just not capable of giving more than he does. He's flawed. Not them. I don't know if they will ever truly comprehend that fact. When your father is by choice fairly non-existant in your life you will always feel a bit unloved.

On the other hand, Adam blames me. Adam was once told by his father that he wanted to fix our marital problems, but I refused. Since then, Adam went on a campaign of you left Daddy alone. You made him live by himself and took us away. Adam was 9 at the time. Adam wanted to move in with his father so he wasn't alone. It was a very difficult time in our house. There was a point when I tried to simplistically explain the chain of events, but it fell on deaf ears. In reality, the situation was not simplistic. I did not know how to explain it. So I did not pursue it. He didn't want to hear the facts. Besides, how do you explain that when counseling was suggested his father said he would rather see me in divorce court. A week before the papers were final is when his father asked for a reconciliation. By then it was too late. Maybe one day Adam will ask again and will hopefully understand. Maybe he won't. I doubt the scars left by divorce ever truly heal. And when parents pit the children against the other parent, the scars are even deeper.

When I hear my friends discuss their divorces, I am always surprised that divorce settlements are so skewed. The settlements are a true indication as to who had the better attorney, not what is best for the children. I wanted out. That was it. When we moved to my mom's, I took our clothes, Kat and Adam's toys and furniture as well as the silverware and crystal. The bedroom furniture that I bought prior to our marriage and all living room furniture stayed with my ex-husband. When we moved into my mom's I used the bedroom set I had when I was 12. People thought I was insane to leave so much behind. My dignity and sanity was more important than any material item.

I know friends (male and female) driven by other forces and emotions. They ended up paying through the nose and the ex-spouse reaping the benefits of the other's emotions. Loving fathers have paid the price of a BMW just so they can spend a(n) additional day(s) with their children every other week. Others have absorbed all the household debt and attorney fees because they felt it was the "right thing to do". In other cases, such as mine, I settled for less materialistic items. Some people also know how to work the system. I receive less than $500/ month in child support. I could go back to court to request more, but know how the system was worked before and know it will be worked the same again. I would be paying legal fees with a negligle, if any, outcome. Were our attornies looking out for us, or did they smell blood and take advantage of the situation? Or is it our legal system?

Basically, in the state of Illinois the courts generally side with the mother regardless of who is the more fit parent. I understand the anger and resentment that a person feels during a divorce. Been there. Done that. But throughout I never quite felt that my children were taken completely into consideration.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to take a new position with the company I had been with for 12 years. I knew my current position was not going to be around much longer. It was just a few months after 9/11 and positions within the hospitality industry were few and far between. Therefore, the only glitch is that we would need to move out of California to be exact. The state of Illinois has very strict laws about taking minor children out of the state in which their non-custodial parent resides. The attorney I hired stated it would be extremely difficult and quite expensive, yet I needed to try.

My reasoning may have been selfish. Some would argue that I didn't take my children's feelings into consideration. Yet I was faced with the fact that my current job was not going to be mine much longer and I had a position with a company for which I enjoyed working. Take the position, or face the unemployment line. The options were quite limited. Although my ex-husband lived near, he rarely saw the kids, so any guilt of taking them away was asuaged by the fact that he never spent any more than 24 hours with them on any given visitaiton week and there were times that 60 days went by without him ever laying eyes on his children. No, there wasn't any guilt in my decision. I was trying to be the responsible parent and support my children.

The subsequent legal battle was endless. The costs insurmountable. I jumped through every hoop the courts required of me. My ex-husband jumped into the role of father of the year, yet couldn't be bothered to show up for his court appointed meetings with a mediator/psychologist. The court system proved to be a debacle. After spending the costs which could have been used to purchase my own BMW, I was told that I could move to any part of the country, or world, for that matter, but "the minor children shall reside in the same state as their father until they are 18 years of age." So I turned down the position in California.

The court did not care that I was left unemployed. Nor were they concerned that our sole monthly income was less than $500 a month in child support. I had no other income. (We are still receiving the same amount, less than $6000 a year in child support. Insane!) Nor did the court care that the non-custodial parent was continually late with his half of medical, dental and school registration fees. No, the courts didn't take any of those facts into consideration. They were concerned that I was trying to "steal" my children from their father. It didn't matter that I complied with their every request, jumped every hurdle to do all that they required during the court proceedings. None of that mattered. I was the bad parent. I was irresponsible when all I was trying to do was support my family.

The icing on the cake to this debacle was when I attempted to apply for public aid, unemployment, or food stamps until I could get back on my feet. The state of Illinois denied my application. Their reasoning? Because I was offered a position in California, but chose to not accept it. Therefore, I turned down gainful employment and ineligible for aid. Can you believe it? The System did not care that they dictated my choosing between my children and career. The choice was easy. But the System then made it impossible for me to support my children. What or where can anyone survive on less than $500/month. If it wasn't for my mom, we would have been homeless. It was a horrible chain of events and a reality check to what others less fortunate endure on a daily basis.

That is when I realized how flawed our legal system remains. I've heard discussions about paternal rights as well as maternal rights. Why does it need to boil down to gender. What about parental rights? Our legal system is skewed and needs serious reform. I don't know how to start, or who to go to. How do you fix a system that is so severely flawed? It's tragic.

Divorce is difficult enough. The innocent and naive pay the penalty. The legally savvy run to the bank. It makes zero sense to me.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow...

Last night I watched massive amounts of snow fall to our yard. Our total accumulation at 6AM today was 10", yet more was still coming down as I drove to work. Although I am not a huge fan of winter and even on summer's hottest days, it can always be about 10 degrees warmer for me, watching the snow fall is one of my favorite pastimes. It is SO relaxing. Just wish we had a fireplace to make it more comfy cozy.

When we first moved into this house I decided that we needed to install a fireplace in the living room and a sun room off the dining room. Being a tad cash challenged, I still want to those renovations, but haven't quite figured out how to do so. When watching the snow fall, I really want a fireplace!

Anyway, while it was snowing, there was the cutest fattest bunny I have ever seen romping in our front lawn. He cracked me up. He jumped, hopped and played in the snow. Sadie wanted to go play with him. Don't worry. Sadie would never harm a fly, let alone a bunny. In fact, every morning when I let Sadie out in the back yard, I tell her to go chase the bunnies. She runs outside ready to play with her friends. Unfortunately, the bunnies run away and Sadie just stops in the middle of the lawn and sits; looking very forlorn. She's like the kid in the playground who doesn't have any friends. The bunnies run away and she can't figure out why they won't play with her. Sadie has never figured out, what those bunnies already know, that most dogs her size chase and kill bunnies. Sadie doesn't have that killer instinct. She just truly wants to play.

Last night when the snow started, it was crazy windy; howling through the windows and rafters. I believe the wind gusts were 4o mph. Kat saw two bunnies in our front lawn playing. One was bigger than the other. The littler bunny kept hopping in the snow with the wind behind him. The little guy took flight every time a gust of wind blew past him. Since I missed the show, Kat tried to explain what the bunny was doing. Her impression of a bunny taking flight was probably funnier than the actually event. She was laughing so hysterically that the sentences couldn't quite come out, just odd words like, "hop...vroomm...flying". Adam and I began laughing along with her. We hadn't seen the "bunny show", but her impersonation of the little guy was priceless. If the bunnies were looking in our window they probably got their own show. The three of us looking rather of us impersonating a bunny taking flight and the other two full out belly laughing at her.

Little did the bunnies know that they are the only creatures allowed in our front lawn after a snow fall. Kat is very particular after it snows. No walking in the lawn when a fresh blanket of snow has fallen and Lord help the unknowing individual who puts one toe in the newly fallen snow. That girl can be lethal. The back yard is OK territory, but not the front. I have to admit the lawn is beautiful when unblemished by footprints. Although Kat does fall short of standing on the front step scaring other animals away, bunnies are the only animals she allows on our snow covered lawn. Probably because of their entertainment capabilities.

I still wish we had a fireplace in the living room, but with the bunny show appearing every evening, we'll just wait until we are a bit more cash solvent.