Not always the most wonderful time of the year

A phenomenon many divorce attorneys like me encounter each year between mid-November and January 2 is the sudden drop-off of clients and client activity.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it’s the holiday lull, the last-ditch effort to grasp the fast-fading warm feeling of family or at least the rational attempt to try to preserve the illusion that ‘everything is all right’ for the children.

DSCN0169Often, the holidays are a happy blurred memory batch from childhood, with ham dinners with families gathered at grandparents’ house, favorite (and not so favorite) presents we’ve received over the years, candlelit church services, carols and much more.

Overlay this with the commercial media blitz of glitter, bling (every kiss begins with k?? Who knew? Awesome!) and price cuts, and the secular Holidays take on an almost sacred tone of their own.

We want our children to experience this, to feel whole, to be glad and warm and loved. Often we are able to swallow our own pain–or drown it with well-doctored eggnog– long enough to let the little ones experience Santa and the magic.

But what we also see as the years pass is the carving up of these happy days with a broad knife, dividing the time the children “must” spend with father, mother, siblings, grandparents and others. When parents cannot look beyond their own needs to compromise with their children’s lives, the court will do it for them, with lack of emotion or feeling to guide it.

Four hours for mom. Two hours for grandma. Twelve hours for dad. Splitting the day so you have to be hauling kids on the road for two hours of the holiday you’d all rather spend at home. Weather? Schmeather. The court order says… Alternating years, so every other Christmas your hearth is empty and dark with no children to celebrate. Christmas Eve. Christmas Day. Thanksgiving Thursday. Friday? Maybe, if you’re lucky, a few extra days of the vacation when the children can have a parent all to themselves without other obligations.

DSCN0207There’s no good way to do it, so this yields the sucking-up and effort to maintain through the holidays “for the kids.”

In my generation, divorce was not as prevalent as today, and we visited in summers only, so our holidays, though father was absent, were not disrupted. My children, however, were subject to visitation orders, and spent most holidays with their fathers, which was fine with me. Holiday is a state of mind, as far as I’m concerned. You can have a special day on the 23rd, 25th, or even 31st, if you put your mind to it.

Many more children of my kids’ generation grew up in split parenting situations, so maybe for them, it’s not as traumatic for their own children to be visiting other households during these magic periods. And often, no matter how hard you’re trying to hold things together, the children are well aware of the tensions underlying the surface. If those tensions become toxic, then perhaps separation, even this time of year, could be the right choice, for everyone’s peace of mind. It’s important, though, not to compete with each other to “buy” the children with stuff.

But even if the magic fails on one front, there are many more, like these suggestions from Suzy Brown. As she says, “Holidays are about peace and sharing and gratitude and love. During tragedy, or divorce, or heartache we have to reach down and find those core things at a deeper level, a more meaningful level.”

It’s a tough time. I’m going through the single parent thing again for the first time in 15 years, and it’s a big readjustment. But it can be done. If you feel that you can’t hold on, for any reason, please seek professional help, whether in the form of legal counsel, psychological counsel, or just a heartfelt cup of cocoa with a good friend or close relative. Take time out for yourself. Most decisions about situations (absent actual danger) can be put off for a week or two. Give yourself and the children time in as de-stressed a manner as possible. This will pay off as they learn coping skills from you they can use all their lives.

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When do you surrender?

I’ve debated writing this post for several weeks. Overall, I was worried it would sound whiny or complaining, and I honestly try not to be like that (at least not too much). Most people have busy lives and problems of their own and don’t have time to invest in my issues.  I’ve finally decided to write it because it might inspire someone else to take control of their life, before it’s too late.

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red flowers

Fibromyalgia has been a part of my days for about 10 years now , and I’ve written about it from time to time. It’s steadily gotten worse to the point where I felt pretty handicapped. Going to the court house for work was difficult–if I couldn’t get a parking place nearby, I had a hell of a time getting there. I gave up my house for a small apartment with minimal stairs. My marriage suffered and eventually ended. Daily chronic pain was unrelieved by the mild exercise I could do without causing more pain.

My grown children were sympathetic, and we tried to work out a plan where I might go stay with one of them, so I didn’t have to manage a place on my own. Of course, Little Miss would have to go along, and she’s still in school.  And I wouldn’t have a job. Or insurance. And they’re not keen on giving disability for fibro. You know, since it’s not one of those “real” diseases.

Besides, why should any of that be imposed on one of my girls? Not their fault. They’ve got their own lives.

So, nothing worked out. Better yet, this year I’ve had a steady stream of diagnoses. Both knees’ cartilage totally destroyed. Torn retinas causing flashes in night vision. Sleep apnea. Neck and back arthritis. (Getting old just isn’t pretty, folks.)

Overwhelmed, I started wishing that whatever was wrong with me would just escalate and end me before the summer came and I had to make a decision. If I was dead, I wouldn’t have to deal with it any more…the day-long pain, the things I couldn’t do for myself any more, the knowledge that there would likely be more and more things like that. Sure, I could keep taking two Vicodin a day and muscle relaxers, and more and more anti-inflammatories that were eating away at my liver.  It wouldn’t make the pain vanish, but made it tolerable most days.

This is from someone who has a reasonable income that provides for our needs, an education, transportation, food on the table and a roof overhead. I can’t even imagine how this goes for someone who doesn’t have these things.

autoimmuneAnd then in late August, I got the topper–gout/arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. For those who don’t know, the latter is an autoimmune disease. My body had become so dense with inflammation, that it was attacking itself, no longer able to differentiate what was good and bad. That’s why my ribs ache. That’s why my knees are shot. Probably the retinas, too. I’d done it to myself.

That could have been the end.

Instead, I found myself galvanized into action. I’m still not sure what the difference was, but finding myself under official attack must have kicked my competitive nature into gear.  I started reading about RA and some of the treatments out there. I consulted with some friends about it, what worked for them, what didn’t. One of my daughters had a family that had gone on the paleo diet to help with my granddaughter’s thyroid issues, and she extended a hand. My sister Shawna had recently received a spinal arthritis dx and she was dealing with the same thing. I signed up for a monthly healing seminar. I have support.

I could do this.

The dietary changes to reduce inflammation seemed like the best first step. The next day, I went to the grocery store, armed with the AIP list of foods to eat and foods to avoid, and I’ve followed that for over six weeks now. Is it a bitch to eat no dairy or eggs, no beans, no nightshades (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, potatoes), no grains, no nuts or nut products, oils, etc, ? You betcha.

But my pain has dropped about 75%. Yes. I said 75%. My energy is up about 50%. I might take two Vicodin a week, instead of two a day, and some weeks not even that. I’m in physical therapy and try to walk on the days my knees don’t hurt–and there are those days. On cold rainy days, I used to curl up on the couch, unable to move. Now those days are just like any other day. I’m winning the battle, for now, anyway.

That’s all I can do. One day, then the next day, then the next.

Because I’ve got a lot more days out there, and without all the suffering, I know I’ll really enjoy them. I finally scored an appointment with a rheumatologist at the Cleveland Clinic for next month, so new options will become available. There may come a time when I have to give in, but I haven’t reached it yet, not with this new lease on life. Supporting those with chronic pain is hard. But knowing someone else’s outstretched hand is available– preferably holding a couple of spoons!–is priceless.

A brief interlude

IMGP2184I got a chance to travel to Florida this weekend to a friend’s wedding, a long-time compatriot from my newspaper days. She was the matron of honor at my second wedding (or third, depending on how you count it), and I’m the godmother of her first son. That being said, we haven’t been closely in touch for years, though we do manage to have a face-to-face at least once every couple of years.

Florida is beautiful and sunny in May, though the temperatures were considerably higher than I was used to, after a long winter in the IMGP2180frozen Northlands. The wedding itself took place on the beach in Melbourne. Both the bride and groom wore white–before Memorial Day! *fans self*  Most of my lady friends in the South would have fainted dead away. It was short and sweet, and the view was delightful. The ceremony was followed by a small but energetic reception with some of the best food I’ve had in awhile–jerk IMGP2181chicken, reggae shrimp and this lovely cake:

I also fit in a trip to my dear friend Edde’s in Fort Pierce, where we had lovely weather except for the last night, when IMGP2190some serious dark clouds rolled in over the ocean, dragging thunder and lightning with them. But we still had a nice visit. She was feeling a good deal better than she had been in December, when last we visited, so that was something to be grateful for.

Little Miss spent the weekend with her dad, which I hope did them both some good. Certainly a little “me” time was appreciated. And of course, nothing says Florida like this:IMGP2172

Not something you see every day….

 

 

A drive in the clouds

Driving back this week from Asheville, Little Miss and I experienced a chill, ethereal world that feathered off into the mountains on all sides.

IMGP2138IMGP2141Whether it was the blue hills of the southern Smokies or the pine-lined slopes of West Virginia, the world seemed confined to a narrow band of highway, and not much more.

Granted, we were mostly just trying not to get blown off the road by semis roaring past in the rain; but it was beautiful.

We did stop at the New River Gorge to get her National Parks Passport stamped, and took some pictures of the valley and river far below the visitors’ center.

We have become fast traveling companions, she and I, since we’re on our own now. She reads maps, tells me about the birds of the regions, and on this trip, insisted on using her own money to buy snacks for both of us. It was a delightful observation of her empathy and outlook for others.

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At nearly sixteen, she has come a very long way from the time I first began this blog. Then I didn’t even know the extent of the journey that awaited us. Some years we endured forty hours a week or more of therapy. More recently, a constant push to make every moment a teachable one suffices. She’s become a conversationalist, even with her peers. Perhaps she’s not the most stimulating passenger on a long route, but I’ve learned over the years to scale back expectations and appreciate even the small things.

It’s enough.

And that’s all that matters.

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Do you ever outgrow inadequacy?

My stepmother killed herself when I was 13, on a night when I retreated to bury myself in The Wizard of Oz to avoid the fighting that led up to it. After that, I was the person in charge of the house, in charge of raising my sisters, in charge of my own life.

I’ve come to the conclusion that 13 is much too young to do that.

NOT ME.

NOT ME.

I mean, sure I did it. I cooked the meals and cleaned the house. I made sure my sisters were in by curfew (before I went off to college) and that they had clean clothes for school every day. I inspired myself, because my single father chose to drown his sorrows in bourbon and spend his nights at a local bar playing “resident psychologist” so he could feel like he had friends. At the time, I felt like I was doing a pretty good job. My dad paid me $10 a week (hey, it was 1970) and I thought I had things all right. Even when I had to skip some of my friend’s events to take care of kids. Even when I didn’t get to make trips my friends did. Even when I never had a real boyfriend all through high school.

But looking back after my third failed marriage, I think I didn’t have a handle on things. Without loving, adult guidance through those stressful teenage years, I didn’t learn how to relate well to a partner. Everything was just, “Get through the day and make sure you’re not losing any loose ends.” I’m good at that. Perhaps a bit of a control freak, even. So I’ve been told by every man who’s left me. Hard to deny it, I guess.

When you grow up having to mother everything in sight, I suppose that takes a swipe at your ability to choose a good partner who will be strong enough to help you, or Heaven forbid, actually take care of you. I’m sure the psychologists would say that I was drawn to men who needed to be taken care of instead. Well, that certainly played itself out.  Bottom line is I find myself older, damaged, and alone.

It’s pretty sad some days when the only empathy I get is from my dear autistic daughter, who struggles so hard with her own understanding of others’ inner lives.

Now that I’m spending days being introspective, I wonder if my flawed upbringing ruined my sisters’ chances for happiness. (Not that I carry all the blame for that–it’s a parental issue, but I still feel responsible.) Can I have demonstrated enough of a lesson for my daughters even to see, to incorporate in their own lives? I hope they’ve learned somehow, even just by cherry-picking the past for clues. Here it is, 40 years later, and I don’t know if I’ve learned anything myself, other than to get through each day and desperately chase the loose ends that seem to multiply the older I get. No matter what I’ve achieved–and I’ve met many of my life goals–I still feel like I’m that kid trying to juggle so many adult issues armed with a spatula and an old pair of Keds.

When do you finally feel like you’re good enough?

Coming up for air

This title of this piece has multiple meanings, one a literal application to the many aquatic stars we saw last month at the Georgia Aquarium, but another just in trying to sort 0ut a life gotten much too layered and complicated to handle.

DSCN0132Kind of like sorting out the complex layers of African cichlid existence in an underwater river setting, our lives at this moment have trails shooting off in all directions. Some of them are quite positive: Little Miss has really settled into eighth grade, supported by a fine AS teacher, and enjoying half a day of classes with her peers. She has also overcome many of her sensory issues and had taught herself to sing and dance AT THE SAME TIME while she’s using the Wii dance programs. Who would have thought it, five years ago or especially ten? A lot of hard work on all sides. Well done.

Dr. Doo-be-Doo has matured significantly as he’s moved into high school age, making some of his social interactions rough, but not more so than a good proportion of other young men his age. He’s found a gaming club to join to stimulate his imagination, and has become involved–even auditioned–for the local Meadville Community Theatre Youth show in March, which makes his father and me both happy. We’ve met so many nice people through there, and we know this will be good for him.

Both kids have improved their grades, their social interaction and their grip on this world. We’re very proud.DSCN0074

Having an exchange student has helped a lot, I think, showing what a “normal” older sibling would act like. Because Yurie is from Japan, she’s used to a more standoffish interpersonal mode that works fine in our house with the spectrum kids. Everyone has plenty of time to work solo and not be overwhelmed by the others.

The other part of it is, of course, while we’re not having our lives sucked into oblivion dealing with the Captain’s apparently incurable issues, we can actually interact with the others in a pleasant way and build good relationships.

Which is why, when the therapeutic foster care people threw up their hands after 18 months of treatment that had achieved exactly zero because the Captain thinks therapy and learning coping skills is “stupid” and he has no intention of changing anything about himself, we came to a crisis decision.

DSCN0091With the sharks circling, and the county’s plan to send him home, completely unchanged other than to have gained new manipulation tools and catch phrases from the therapists, what to do? We went through an escalating four years of hell before he was placed. We asked for help from agencies, doctors, respite people, family members, and followed every lead we got. He still continues to have no accountability or take no responsibility for his acts. He’s not sorry about anything. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if he turned out to be a Newtown-style shooter, especially since he has confessed that the reason for all his transgressions is to get attention.

And their best suggestion is now to send him back here, unrepaired and they’d toss six hours of therapy each week the family had to endure KNOWING that the Captain will have none of it?

No. No thank you.

What this means is personally humbling for me, of course, because the only other alternative is to release him into the Children’s Services system. Ironic that this is where I work every day, representing other parents whose children are abused, and neglected. Those caseworkers are now going to have access to information about my personal life and the right to dictate what we’ll do. We’ll likely pay child support to the state for keeping him in care, even though his placement there is entirely of his own doing. A humiliating ten months left until he turns 18 in December 2013. But I’ve cleared it with my boss, and he understands exactly what we’re up against. He supports me.

DSCN0055There’s always a possibility that the Captain will see the error of his ways, especially mixed in with the general CYS pool of placees, and realize all he has to do is make a real change, not just a plastic one.

But I think taking him in before we’re sure of this is no different than wrapping ourselves in jellyfish tentacles, so pretty to look at, but deadly and continual poison injections into out lives thereafter.  He’s admitted in the last two weeks that he did so much of the stuff he did to punish us and to get attention. And he hasn’t worked through one whit of it. He stands just where he was after he’d lived in our house locked in his room at night for eight months, after he lived outside in a tent for two, and after 18 months in therapeutic foster care.

As much as we care about him and want him to do well, we also have to look at the big picture.

We have saved the other two. Years of TSS, occupational, physical and more therapy, testing (Little Miss is off for another round in Pittsburgh next month), daily, constant prompting with any medium available. Perhaps that’s all we can do. The decision’s been hard, but now that it’s been made, it at least feels right.

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So we’ll see what the rest of the year has to bring. E is expanding his teaching, enjoying it. I’ve got six novels coming out in 2013, after 6 in 2012 as well. Still practicing law, so we’re coping on a daily basis. Absent a magic wand or some potion to make the Captain see his way clear to wanting to be a helpful, cheerful, determined member of the team and working to get there, I don’t see what else there is. If the family falls apart altogether, maybe there’s a possibility of splitting the kids in some sensible way, where he can come out of foster care. But if the family falls, I fear for the well-being of everyone. We can’t let this one link break the chain. I hope. One month down. Everyone fasten their seatbelts for the rest of the ride.

It’s all about the sound and fury…

So I’ve lived in this rural county since 1990, which you’d think would be plenty of time to have explored every piece and parcel, certainly every activity. But there’s one I’ve put off all these years, till now:

The demolition derby.

For a long time, of course, we couldn’t go because of Little Miss’s sensory issues. Remembering back to her huddled on the concrete floor at Disney’s Hollywood Studio car race show, her ears covered, we wouldn’t have wanted to put her through that.

But now she and her brothers are teenagers, starting to get interested in bigger pictures and less focused on the individual stresses. She’s learned to self-protect in most every situation, and with a set of earplugs, she did fine, high-fiving when the car she picked in each heat didn’t completely self-destruct by the end.

Me, on the other hand? Cringing right and left as the cars ran into each other ON PURPOSE, leaving trails of torn metal detritus across the mud track.  I spend so much of my time cleaning up after messes either in life or in law, that it was strange to watch people purposely destroying things.

But at the same time *whispers* It was fascinating. You couldn’t look away….

I’ve known several people over the years here who’ve driven in the derby, including a spunky woman whose divorce I worked on. She escaped years of abuse with my help, and to celebrate, she challenged herself to do something thoroughly wild and wonderful. She didn’t win, but she had an incredible experience. Good for her, I say.

Was it a highlight of the county fair for me? No.  The first waves of excitement were great, but as the heats wore on, it seemed to be for me, just more of the same. The boys, though? Fascinated giggles and cheers throughout the whole event. Even Little Miss said she’d love to do it herself sometime in the future. But as she confessed to her father, “I’d have to wear a helmet, though.”

That’s my practical girl. An evening well spent with the family, bringing something to everyone. And still time afterward for the always-delicious Nick’s Italian sausage sandwiches, maple candy and fireworks (which we had to watch from the safety and sound-breaker of the van, of course, but that was okay).

And now that the derby’s off my to-do-sometime list, maybe next year we ride the flippy-car-that- goes upside-down -and-spins ride.

On second thought, maybe we just get another slice of elderberry pie from the usual stand. Bless you, Methodist women. Your homemade pies make my heart happy.