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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Love, family and holidays: a memorable journey

It’s finally officially Christmas in the household.

After a number of delays and assorted other grumbles, we got a tree (a real one this year, thanks to Dr. Doo-Be-Do, who even put it on his Christmas list), got it up and last night decorated it.

Our tradition, which I’ve stuck to through the years, is that we put on Christmas music then Momma hands out each ornament to hang up. That saves the mad dash and grab for the goodies in the box, as we have a somewhat eclectic tree decor.

When we go to Kraynak’s, I admire the heck out of the beautiful trees displayed, in perfect shades of white or blue lights and ornaments, themed beauties that they are, draped in fluff or tinsel or whatever puffy thing is the flavor du jour of the season. But ours isn’t like that.

Ours is kind of a history of our lives. We have a tiny trolley car that looks just like the real thing, that we bought in San Francisco during the first book tour in 1999. We have the pink flamingo we bought in Key West on our honeymoon. Several macaroni-framed school pictures also grace the tree, from preschool right up through junior high, as well as the popsicle stick reindeer K made in elementary school with the cockeyes.

Little Miss’s Nightmare Before Christmas ornament is up, as well as the Grinch and little Cindy Lou Who, who was, as we know, no more than two. Of course, there’s the Star Trek shuttlecraft and the Enterprise, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Neil Armstrong on the moon.  Now if we only had a replica of our beloved Firefly ship…. *sigh*

Moving on through the years, we have the “hat babies” that I bought from some fund raiser M had back in elementary school, when she was younger than her kids are now. There’s the cut-out babies, gilt paintings of little cherubs copied from magazines of the 30’s and 40’s. We have a thick glass book from Germany that we picked up at EPCOT, a series of carousel horses, a red metal tricycle, and several small glass balls traded during various community theatre shows over the years. Miracle on 34th Street, anyone? Four of us did that the first year I was divorced, even K, who got to play a child on Santa’s lap. There’s a delicate clipper ship we bought in Maine the summer we visited B at her Ferry Beach gig, and several blown glass ornaments my mother gave to me, that reflect the lights in a hundred sparkly ways.

Following a tradition I learned from my grandmother’s days of watching Days of our Lives, we also have large red globes with names of each of the family members. We’ve lost several over the years, thanks to many cats and small children, and always try to get them replaced in time for the next year so that even on the tree, we can all be together.

As with the rest of life, we pull together new memories and let go some of the old. Children come to us, grow, learn, and move on to have Christmas trees and macaroni ornaments of their own. Christmas is a time to remember to stop and reflect and be grateful for all we have, have had, and will have.

“Christmas–that magic blanket that wraps itself about us, that something so intangible that it is like a fragrance. It may weave a spell of nostalgia. Christmas may be a day of feasting, or of prayer, but always it will be a day of remembrance–a day in which we think of everything we have ever loved.”
~ Augusta E. Rundell

‘Tis the season

I bet over the years I’ve gone to 100 holiday concerts.

Some were mine, as a child. Some of my favorites then were the ones at Euclid Senior High, where old chorus director Sam Taylor taught the Hallelujah Chorus, from Handel’s Messiah, and each year any alumni in the audience came on stage to sing along.  What a powerful feeling as that music swelled! That Handel music is still one of my preferred Christmas indulgences.

Then as I became a parent, we had multiple performances from preschool onward for B, who was an attention magnet, and always ready to be on stage. There were also orchestral performances from S, and choral bits from M, during a time when we lived in a community that included a great number of Mexican farmworkers, so the concerts were spiced with Spanish Christmas tunes as well.

When K came along, she preferred the trumpet, so we had several years of those performances. She, however, eventually moved on to backstage endeavors, and actually became stage manager for the high school a full year before most kids did, running the lights and all aspects of not only school functions but rentals as well.

The Captain tried an instrument; not so much. However, he does enjoy singing, and has done chorus for a couple of years now. Last night was his first “real” concert with a hundred kids on the big high school stage.

There he was as the event opened, sitting RIGHT NEXT to the piano, where the chorus teacher who’s been there forever had him in yardstick distance. We figured that was a bad sign.

There were a half a dozen songs, and about halfway through the first one, I could see the Captain’s nervous tics start rotating through. I really felt for him. (After all, a year ago, when he performed in front of the sixth-grade and parents group he ran off stage and said he was going to throw up.) The facial tics got stronger, but he followed along with the teacher, stood up and sat down as required and stayed in his seat, instead of wandering the place.

He’d said he had some sort of solo, which surprised us, because he’s one of those singers who makes up in volume what he might lack in correct tone. In the program we saw he was one of those chosen to lead the singalong with the audience for “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree.” So we waited. And hoped.

When his song came up, he walked proudly to the microphone, tics and all, and belted it out with the best of them. If you hadn’t known he had some issues, you wouldn’t have known it then. He took his bow and sat again, beaming, and so were we, even Little Miss, who kept saying, “That’s my brother up there!” A fine moment all around, and well worth making it concert # 101.

(Broken) Home for the holidays

A phenomenon many divorce attorneys 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.

Often, 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?? 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 have passed 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. 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.

There’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.

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.”

Brian James, who is a trained divorce mediator, also adds tips, including not trying to buy the child’s happiness with “stuff”, and making sure if you celebrate together that the children don’t take this as fulfillment of their fondest wish–that you’re getting back together.

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.

For Goodness’ Sake

As the holidays creep not so stealthily upon us, we hear parents remind their children to be good “because Santa is coming.”

For years that worked for me, with my older girls. There was a three to four week respite when they tried really hard to be well-behaved so they could receive the gift of their choice. I was grateful.

But is that really a lesson we want to teach our children?  That the only reason for being good is to receive some sort of specific reward?

I started thinking about this when I read news stories about the American Humanists’ ad campaign starting this week, with ads that read “Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness’ sake.” The ads are expected to appear on Washington, D.C. buses through December.

Christian groups have protested the ads, claiming that God must be included in the discussion of good and evil. CNN reports this comment from American Family Association president Tim Wildmon:

“It’s a stupid ad,” he said. “How do we define ‘good’ if we don’t believe in God? God in his word, the Bible, tells us what’s good and bad and right and wrong. If we are each ourselves defining what’s good, it’s going to be a crazy world.”

So does this mean that Christians only do what’s right because God says it is? And of course the corollary, if you don’t do good, as defined by God, then you’ll be punished? So…to carry that out to it’s logical conclusion, the only reason you’re good is…to get a specific reward. The same thing as Santa Claus.

Fred Edwords, of the AHA, says that the message of the Humanists is that anyone can have moral values, “as a natural result of who we are as a species and who we have become as a civilization. Each one of us knows what it means, generally, to be ethical. We may disagree on specific details…but we all get the basic idea.”

In dealing with my children, their autism often comes between them and their decision-making process. They also take what we say very literally, and cling to it with the fiber of their being.  So what message do we give them when we say there is a Santa Claus and then a few years later, point out that there isn’t and we lied to them? It really throws them to the point of meltdowns, bad behavior and loss of trust.

Wouldn’t it be better to teach them that we all, Christian, Humanist, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist–take your pick!–that we all should be good because it’s the right thing to do? Not to gain some reward or get a pat on the head or to impress some other person–but because we can make choices that are part of the greater good? Take that literally. We’d all be better off.