Breaking up the warm, fuzzy way?

One of the newest concepts out here in the world of divorce litigation is–not litigating.

Cooperative or collaborative divorce puts the separating couple on a path, together, to settle the issues involved in their separation. The cooperative process makes a lot of sense for most people, saving the money involved in formal discovery and court time as well as the emotional destruction that often accompanies the average divorce scenario. After all, these two people are going to be tied together in some manner forever, either through memories or more often, in dealing with children. Children grow up and then have their own weddings and graduations and children. Can you really expect to co-grandparent with someone you have thoroughly trashed earlier in life?

The process requires those involved to be open with information exchange and to discard any hidden agendas. Ideally, the parties and counsel work with financial and mental health advocates to craft something fair to all–a win-win outcome, if you will. In the event the matter is not settled, counsel is discharged, and the parties move on to hire litigators.

This sounds so hopeful to me, and I hope it comes to our area soon.  Several Pittsburgh attorneys are studying to be the sort of mediators who participate in cooperative divorce, so maybe it will.

But having actively dealt with a dozen families going through separation and divorce in the last week, I’ve got to admit I’m skeptical.  Sure, collaborative divorce doesn’t work for everyone–those with drug/alcohol or domestic violence issues aren’t playing on an even field, and so should be screened out.  I’m talking about ostensibly intelligent, capable people who would seem to be able to see where their hostility and long-term angst is taking them.

For example, the man whose wife has lived with another man for over two years, stealing all his money in the process …but he won’t even think about divorce because “she’s a great wife” some of the time.

Or the wife who went to pick up her belongings after she’d moved out and found the boxes her husband had packed full of her things–mixed with used cat litter.

Or the couple who both want the house neither can really afford–just because it’s the only asset the other wants. Each has spent well over $10,000 on the divorce so far, and have litigated through domestic violence court, criminal court, support court, custody court and now divorce court.

What about the husband who agreed he and his wife would split his pension, then retired without telling her, collecting his checks for years before she even found out she should be getting money?

It’s no wonder that lawyers, particularly in family law, get burnt out. I know when I came here to practice, there was a delighted rush through the ranks as so many of the general practitioners wanted out of marital law and referred cases to me.

Some days, after hours spent steeping in the bitter brew of family discord, it’s all I can do to come home to my own loved ones and remember I love them. But I’m grateful that they help me recharge those acid-soaked batteries and go out to–hopefully not fight–another day. Let’s hope more people jump on that wagon.


This week, I’m featured at the Carnival of Family Life; please come by and read some of our interesting posts! Also, this blog has received another award— thank you so much to Julie and also to Casdok, who made it possible by including Little Miss on the Faces of Autism blog!

On the road again

One step forward…three steps back.

I’d expected to be writing such a post about Captain Oblivious as he navigated the first six weeks of junior high, but we’ve actually been pleased with his school situation. The itinerant teacher that manages the mainstreamed autistics met with the Cabana Boy at open house and explained that the jr. high theory is very much like ours at home– they let him roll. If the other kids tell him to shut up, or to knock off his unacceptable behavior, they let him experience the effects of peer criticism (and praise), and only interfere when someone’s about to be hurt. We really haven’t heard much from them, and he seems to be getting along.  So, keeping our fingers crossed while we’re ahead.

No, the black spot on our outlook at this point is Little Miss, who was doing so well. She hasn’t changed– in fact, socially and at home, she’s continuing to improve all the time. Her intuition is coming into play, she’s displaying more empathy and genuine correct emotion. But academically, her language delays and dysfunction are shooting her in the hind end over and over.

Everyone says fourth grade is different, and boy, are they right. The whole style of teaching changes. Everything moves fast, there’s more lecture, less hands on, and the material heads into the area of the abstract, which is not a place where our kids exist happily.

Little Miss is particularly fond of the concrete–her math is still solid.  But so far 2 x 2 still equals 4, you know? The concept of government by the people and for the people?  Lost on her. How about the process of scientific experimentation?  Proposing a theory and designing a test to prove it? No way. It’s heartbreaking.

So, I’ve bitten the bullet and requested the formal evaluation that they’ve put off for several years. The school psychologist, who has been a great help and support, has been reluctant to do the test because– you guessed it–the child has some significant delays that make communication difficult. Well, painful as that is for all of us, we need to document just how bad it is. Then we’ll need to devise a treatment plan during school hours, including putting her back in autistic support the majority of the day instead of just for two subjects. The teachers have made it clear she doesn’t need a TSS in school, she needs speech.  So we’ll have to fight for that. And make them do it.

We’re accessing outside programs as well, not dropping the whole bomb on the school.  We had the managed care re-eval and they want to send us a BSC and TSS for six after-school hours a week.  Along with C.O.’s mobile therapist, we’ll have eight hours of strangers being in our home again, taking our time away from the children. I’ve been searching for a speech therapist within a 60 mile radius, to help push those issues of pragmatic, expressive and receptive language.  So far, nothing.

But we’re on that road again. All we can do is hope it’s for the best.

Taking a stand

Since my office is in the same building as Republican headquarters and right across the street from Democratic headquarters, it was kind of inevitable that I’d get flagged as a target for campaign sign placement. After all, I live on a main drag, where lots of people would see the sign every day.

I really hadn’t made a firm commitment to either presidential candidate. Frankly, I’d be real tickled if in some election year there was actually a candidate that I admired who the party picked who I thought was competent and not a sleaze. (I know. I want a lot.) Politics is something I don’t really get into these days, because it’s disheartening to find the system doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to, the people just spend time making negative claims about everyone else, and nothing positive seems to be accomplished.

But I was raised on politics. My father was the Republican precinct committeeman, a campaign manager, a San Francisco Goldwater convention delegate–you name it, he did it. For years, I did it too. I was the kid who got sent door-to-door in strange neighborhoods canvassing, then I was a page at the Ohio State Republican Convention when I was 15. I cold-called people in support of candidates. I handed out bumper stickers with the best of them.

The little old ladies at the polling precinct were so proud when I was 18 and walked in for the first time to vote in the Ohio primary, handing me a Republican ballot with bated breath. Of course, that’s when I had to tell them I’d registered Democrat because all my friends did, because they liked Howard Metzenbaum and I wanted to vote for him. I didn’t think jaws could drop that far. But my dad, through gritted teeth, made some comment in the background about the system working. I think there was something there about how I couldn’t drive the car any more, too.

Many of us in the autism community may have preferred one of the candidates who was eliminated earlier in the process; I haven’t heard much from either of the two main men on the subject. Special needs children certainly came into focus with the addition of Sarah Palin to the Republican ticket– but honestly, it feels like that little boy is more of a prop than a cause. (See more on this here.)

I’ve been reading and reading and liking what I read less and less. The last straw was when the New York Times revealed that the scope and format of the vice-presidential debates would be limited because “McCain advisers said they had been concerned that a loose format could leave Ms. Palin, a relatively inexperienced debater, at a disadvantage and largely on the defensive.”

Excuse me?

If they didn’t think she could handle the job, they shouldn’t have offered it to her.

That, along with the general tenor of the Republican party line, as the evangelicals grow louder again, McCain sounds not like the candidate he was eight years ago, but like the current president, and there are threats to a woman’s right to control her own body, and for everyone’s right to choose a loving partner, regardless of gender– all of this finally settled in and we made a decision.

There is an Obama sign in our front yard, and I’ve volunteered to cook some meals for campaign volunteers, in lieu of going door-to-door, which is a little difficult with our issues and schedule. We’re registering people to vote, too, and encouraging anyone we know to get out. This will be a close election, and we all remember what happened in 2000.

It’s time to take action, before it’s too late.

Moving forward

I write a lot about Little Miss and Captain Oblivious, our two autism-diagnosed children. Ditto Boy you hear about less. Talk about middle-child syndrome!  Not only is he the middle child, he’s the second boy, AND he’s only ADD. He probably does get lost from time to time. This is an issue that comes to most families with a special-needs child. (See The Other Three Kids.)

Two years ago, we got frequent calls from the school because of his behavior. The principal always thought, and perhaps rightly so, that he was sent to school a bit early. His birthday is August 17–so he just made the Labor Day cut for five-year-olds heading for kindergarten; I know many parents make the decision to give their boys another year before public school. By that time we had our hands full, knew he was smart, and hoped he could cut it. Emotionally, he struggled, often bursting into tears when things didn’t go his way, occasionally lashing out physically.

One of his most painful interactions was with a sweet little girl named Elizabeth. (Actually, most of his interactions are with girls.  Guess we’ll have something to worry about when he hits his teen years.) Anyway, Elizabeth acted like many second and third grade girls act, in a very callous way, manipulating triangular relationships, playing one friend against another, and often announcing to Ditto Boy that “You’re not my friend any more!” This would send him into depressions that would last for days. His teacher finally recommended that the two be placed in separate classrooms.

They spent fourth grade apart, but the boy spent another year without any close friends. He’s always been very sensitive, even twitchy.  His dad says it’s likely his ADD, having grown up in the same situation. People with ADD vainly grasp at things they ought to remember, fail to complete tasks that should be done, often getting in trouble for it. After awhile, E says, ADD folk just assume that if something went wrong that it must have been their fault somehow, and self-esteem suffers. So we’ve tried to work with him, give him some special time, and give him some rights and privileges the others can’t handle.

And something wonderful has happened now that it’s fifth grade. We notice as the bus pulls up, that the kids on the bus yell greetings and farewells out the window with genuine affection. He calls friends on the phone now and they call him. He’s taken his adoration for Hiro Nakamura and the other Heroes to the playground, where a number of recess-mates play imaginative plots along with him.

At dinner the other night, he was describing one of these flights of fancy, and he said Elizabeth was playing along with him.  Surprised, I asked if that was “the” Elizabeth. He said it was.

“I thought you two didn’t get along,” I said.

“Oh, she’s my friend!” he said, with a big smile. “Sometimes she says she doesn’t want to be my friend, but it’s fake. In a couple of days, she always be’s my friend again.”

So here’s to the growth of maturity, and patience, and to the constant chance to renew friendships with people important in our lives, on the playground or anywhere else life happens to take us.

That time of year…again!

That Chris Baty email in my inbox leaves no doubt–NaNoWriMo is almost here!

Each year the folks at NaNo take down the site for a week or so just before new signups, to clean up and clear out the forums. Then October is a steady run of everyone getting their engines ready to roll for November.

For those who haven’t heard, the name stands for National Novel Writing Month. This doesn’t just mean, as might be inferred, that we celebrate people who write novels for 30 days. It means that we get people to write novels IN 30 days. Yes. 30 days. 50,000 words. In 30 days.

It can be done. I entered for the first time last year, and actually wrote 68K on my story before it came to conclusion in that month. As reward, I was able to download an exciting certificate to put on my wall, and the little button there to the right in the sidebar. I was thrilled.

The story went on to be polished and In Search of the Lost Chord is sitting this minute in an agent’s office, at her request. She’s even sent me a contract. I’m not sure the relationship will go anywhere in the long run, but that’s still pretty exciting.

I’ve been ready to write again ever since last December 1. In the meantime, I penned another novel draft, an urban fantasy set in western Montana, because that story was ready to come out before the months had passed. I’ve kicked around a number of possibilities for topics, themes, and plots, and I think I have something I can work with.

The point of NaNo is not to write the Great American Novel–International Novel, actually, because people from all over the world participate–but to write a novel. To get the words down purposefully. It’s a fairly small commitment, 30 days, and inside those parameters, you have your own permission to write the book you’ve always felt was inside you. Maybe you discover you really don’t have it. At least now you know, and you can move on to other dreams to try them out. Or maybe, as I did last year, you can get your story on paper and send it out to find a home.

Even as the excitement grows, my writer friend’s words haunt me: It is fun to chunk the novels out, one after the other, but without commitment to the whole process, editing and sending them out, you’re no closer to publication than before you started writing. For the first time, that fundamental truth is finally starting to sink in.

So I’ve made a to-do list, reviewing five manuscripts I already have that are essentially salable in the current market. I’ve agreed with my NaNo-anxious self that before I can devote the energy to a new piece, that I will overhaul these and send out appropriate queries and copies to agents and editors. That, after all, is the bottom line for me, as I’ve said before: writing for others to read. I’ve begun already, one of my sci-fi novels taking on greater depth as I turn one of the characters a little evil. I like where it’s going. Four to go. I’m hoping that, just as NaNoWriMo spurs people to let that commitment drive them to completion, that my desire to hit that adrenaline shot in November will drive me to get my work out where it needs to be in the next six weeks.  Wish me luck.

P.S. If you’d like to sign up for NaNo and need someone as part of your support team, add me to your list–I’m there as babs1e! I’d be glad to help cheer you on!

Another year older and deeper in…

No, not ME. My youngest grandchild turned one this week, and we went to her house for a cookout and birthday party. The food was yummy, standard cookout fare, well- prepared, and my daughter made enough to feed an army. (Well, she really made enough to feed the kids for dinner too, so she didn’t have to cook during the Steelers game. Go Browns!)

The hors d’oeuvres that were dill pickles swathed in cream cheese and corned beef? A little odd, but strangely compelling.

The kids found a number of other kids to play with. One of the other families also has an Aspie, and he and the Captain spent some time talking at each other while the other boys ran and played and shot hoops. Little Miss found a quiet corner and avoided most of the commotion. That’s where the ‘deeper’ part comes in. The deep part was more oriented toward the birthday party entertainment, which was one of my other granddaughters, age 9, and her well-spoiled best friend with their microphone and speakers and guitar with name emblazoned thereon.

Now, I would think if you were the proud possessor of a microphone and speakers set-up and a guitar with your name on it, that you would have put some time and effort into the practice of singing and playing. When the girls announced the imminent musical set, I had the conception that they would be delightfully awkward imitations of Hannah Montana and her ilk.

Well, bless them, they had the awkward down. Turns out that neither of them can play a chord on the guitar, but they can play loud. And sing…loud. In some key. Sometimes several in the same song. They offered some original songs that seemed to be about lost loves and broken hearts (at 9???) and also one about “My Family” that hit many sentimental notes. Then they segued into some Jonas Brothers covers.

The adoring family members and stalwart friends who watched the set broke into thunderous applause when cake was announced, delaying the rest of the program.

The birthday girl cooed and whooped over each bright piece of tissue paper and discarded what was inside. She had her own small cake, stuck her hand in the icing and immediately begged someone to get the dirt off her hands, foiling every attempt to get her to eat the cake until someone delicately fed it to her on a spoon.  Good for her.  Learn to wrap the world around your finger at an early age, kiddo. With the singing duo and the other divas ahead of you, it’s something to be queen for a day.

Lessons of 9/11

Millions of words have been dedicated to the tragedy that was 9/11/2001. Nothing I could write could add to the depth of the sorrow, shock or loss that so many suffered that day. Nothing I can do would add to hope that we are safer, or satisfaction that those responsible have been punished–not even our government has accomplished that.

All I can do is think back to that morning, turning on the television just after the first tower was hit, as the morning news show in New York was shaken up by what seemed then to be a random accident.

As the events unfolded, we in the Northeast panicked and worried and held our collective breaths for hours until it became clear that the attack was over. But that day, unlike any other before or since, my Internet ‘family’ offered support, love and encouragement as we all stayed in touch, from Pennsylvania, to Florida, to Ohio, to California, to Texas and back through the Internet, in chat rooms or through instant messaging. We shared news and tears and figuratively held one another’s hands, praying that our loved ones and those of our countrymen would be safe.

Unlike many other events in our history, technology made it possible for Americans as a nation to be in direct communication with each other at a moment of crisis. The extent of television coverage brought news into homes with an extent of detail and image (who will ever forget the sight of those towers crumbling?) that wouldn’t have been possible a few decades before. Instantaneous posting of news accessible on the Internet kept anyone paying attention up to the moment with information.

Even cell phones had become so common that passengers on the doomed plane that crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania heard from those on the ground what was happening via phone and took action accordingly. Those same phones allowed many of the victims to have a chance to say goodbye, in Pennsylvania, D.C. and New York.

The nation seemed much smaller on that day, all of us closer, bonded together by tragedy in a way that all the prosperity in the world hadn’t been able to accomplish. Technology helped that bond, by putting us at each other’s fingertips. In recovering from 9/11, we had the opportunity to continue to work as one, with our security and safety as a goal.

But the headlines today say we are no longer united by our fear and desires, as we were then. We are once again drenched in political strife, the divisive parties engaged in business as usual, each using its energy to denigrate and destroy the other instead of working together to make us safe and whole. The government bureaucracy around national security has burgeoned like a mushroom cloud, costing billions of dollars; but have they really made the average man on the street any safer? What Washington has spent here and abroad on the war–three TRILLION dollars — has cost us a stable economy and the opinion of many around the world.

The Bush administration may or may not have entered into this Mideast war for the right reasons; what’s clear at this point is that the objective has not exceeded, and that long-awaited satisfaction will not be achieved. We just continue to sacrifice our people and the people of the nations we are supposed to be protecting, while spending money we could be using in much more constructive ways.

If we have learned nothing from the 9/11 attack, as the adage says, then we are doomed to repeat it. The 21st century doesn’t call for business as usual. What matters in this day and age is much greater than petty interparty politics and earmarks and fistbumps, or even America vs. the world.

The global situation in the 21st century demands that we take our collective power, the same unifying power we discovered back on 9/11, and put that power to work for human concerns, for global concerns like starvation in Africa, animal extinction in Alaska, ice melting in Antarctica, and for America, perhaps the outlandish thought that people committed to love and honor each other should be allowed to marry, have rights and raise families–no matter what their gender. And that’s just the A’s.  There’s lots of letters left. Let’s get together and build a world we can all be proud of.

Life as a sum total

I don’t believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive.      — Joseph Campbell

I had a revelation the other day; one of those moments of clarity when something about life just falls into place. I discovered what’s important to me in terms of determining value: experiences.

Many clients come to me at a time while dividing their assets, and it’s surprising what they value. When I worked doing restraining orders in the next county over, I routinely could get men accused of abuse to waive visitation with their children as long as they didn’t have to turn in their guns to the sheriff. I’ve heard of cases where women gave up custody of their children for a car. Some litigants want to keep the family home; others want to keep the six-figure retirement account. Some just want the dog.

While many people are worried about the accumulation of money, driving the bigger car, buying up real estate, those things aren’t important in our lives. We have a modest house, and we need our two cars, because we work in different cities with very little access to public transportation. But none of these are flashy in the least, or foreign, or new–or even red.

What we do have are experiences. We’ve been to Disney multiple times, to Niagara Falls, to Mammoth and Wind Caves, to museums and parks and zoos, local and cross-country. I took two girls to New Orleans for Mardi Gras several years before Katrina; we stayed with old friends of mine in the Garden District and had a wonderful time. (Even when the cop pulled up and offered my high-school age daughter edible underwear. Don’t ask me.) We’ve petted sharks, we’ve shaken presidential candidates’ hands, we’ve seen the world’s biggest thermometer. We watched our cat birth her kittens on my great-grandmother’s hand-pieced quilt. We’ve marveled at the magic of fireflies caught in jars. We’ve eaten and cooked in every ethnic cuisine I can think of, with exotic ingredients of all flavors.

I’ve written here before about our other wild experiences, like the trip cross-country for the book tour that wasn’t, or the shootout in the fruit grove. Each of these, as with so many others, always brings the comment,  “Do you remember when-?” and then a reconnection to times past, and sometimes people past as well. Valuing experiences allows me to also value what I’ve chosen to leave behind, including two ex-husbands, jobs I once loved, placed I’ve lived. I can treasure moments that were good about them, without having to draw in the whole relationship.

But it doesn’t have to be anything earth-shattering. We remember the indoor water gun fight between five or six teenagers and myself that ended with me hiding in the tub behind the shower curtain trying to avoid being drowned. Whether we’re sitting around a campfire in the woods, stretching our legs with a fast and furious Frisbee game during a road trip, or sharing a cup of hot chocolate and telling endless knock-knock jokes, we build bonds that help draw us together and give us something to remember.

The same value system transfers to those we meet. I don’t care what brand name of clothing people wear (though I must admit, $300,000 for an outfit seems like something out of a crazy fantasy world), what neighborhood they live in, whether they’re a waitress or a doctor. If someone has been somewhere I haven’t been, or done something I’ve never done, and can make their experience come alive by sharing the story, they’re someone special in my eyes. Sometimes an experience is evidenced simply by a warm shared gaze between a couple, or a parent and child; the bond reveals itself. Through a very poignant kind of mathematics, that experience adds to the rest that make that person what he or she is.

Though it’s harder to find new ones as I get older, I’ll keep accumulating events and experiences until the last day, and if my belief holds true, I’ll have more chances to gather experiences even past that. But Campbell addresses this as well:

“Eternity has nothing to do with the hereafter… This is it… If you don’t get it here, you won’t get it anywhere. The experience of eternity right here and now is the function of life. Heaven is not the place to have the experience; here’s the place to have the experience.

What’s holding you back? Experiences are waiting. Go find them–and pass them on.