Thursday, December 30, 2010

How to Save a Life - Conclusion

As of tomorrow, it has been one month since my son was discharged (AMA) from the Aurora Hospital for the Psychiatric treatment of children.  When I left the hospital the night of his restraint and sedation, I told him he was stronger than he knew.  I told him he had the kind of fight in him to beat this.  And within 48 hours he had proven his stability, his stamina and his determination.  They had no choice but to release him, back to my care.

As we left, I used my cell phone to take photos of the conditions of the facility.  Just because my son had to endure this, didn't mean other children should be subjected to it. As the last photo was taken, I was caught by one of the nurses.  She charged up to me and told me I wasn't allowed to take photos.  Other staff members rushed to the scene, calling security, threatening to take my phone.

I asked them if they cared enough to let me report the conditions, to let me champion their cause, to allow me to shed light on this so I could cause change, funding, books, games, cozy chairs and real beds to come their way.  They defended themselves.  We have books for him to read.  Okay, please show me exactly which books you feel are in his best interest.  Would it be the Golden Book series or perhaps Dick, Jane and Spot that would appeal to him more? 

I was then promptly escorted out by security with my cell phone evidence firmly in hand.

Over the past month, I have seen a remarkable, if not revolutionary change in my son.

Here is the main thing.

He smiles. 

The angst, the confusing rage that had suffocated him for his entire life has been replaced by a logical thinking, loving yet still feisty and opinionated pain in the ass to his sisters, but nonetheless happy little boy. He is thriving on our structure, committed to his school work and looking forward to all of our winter plans, including family game nights, sledding, ski lessons, band concerts and lots of sleepovers at our house with his buds. 

We have come to a place where he can talk to me about missing his dad.  He has opened up and allowed me to assure him of the good things he and his dad had and will always have.  He finally laughs at my silly jokes, cuddles with me, lets me stroke his hair and listens to reason without rage.  He has accepted my love, my encouragement and my boundaries.

But most of all.

He smiles.

The smiles of a boy who finds joy and happiness in the everyday, mundane, silly life. 

The very same life he wanted to end during the darkest of days, restrained in tight leather bands, pleading for someone to end his life, hoping to kill everyone who put him there, lost and confused by the abandonment and betrayal he had suppressed.  His scream was released to the cold, black sky until it was all gone. Just as the sky had rejected my scream, it opened up and swallowed his, capturing the desperation and placing it in the only place such ultimate pain could go. Back to the beginning, to the primordial scream.  To set the universe right, returning him to me whole - for now, lest we forget, we have many roads yet to travel before we sleep.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

How to Save a Life - Part Two

I followed the three men down the hall who were carrying my screaming son.  They took him to his room, gave him a paper shirt and shorts to sleep in and introduced him to his cell.  This was nothing short of a prison. White walls, institutional green vinyl mattress, thin blanket, no natural light, bare floors and a smelly restroom. This particular facility, run by a power house health care organization known as Aurora, is one of only two in the greater Milwaukee area with a specialty, an expertise or even a remote ability to treat children and adolescents. One would think being only one of two, you would have distinguished yourself, wiped out your competition as it were.  Or one could drift into an abysmal nightmare where only one of two means you have NO competition, no reason to make your patients comfortable, no concern over real life mattresses, books for them to read or competent professionals to treat them.

I truly don't know if this is a nationwide epidemic or if it is just here in Brew City but child Psychiatrists are as rare here as a street corner without a pub or tavern situated upon it.  Too much controversy over the candy dispenser approach to doling out psycho-pharmaceutical medication to the wee ones, combined with unholy high malpractice rates has driven them out in a pied-piper fashion. Can't really say I blame them as most of the medications these shrinks prescribe carry a black box warning on the label to be alert to the highly likely possibility your patient may very well want to kill themselves shortly after ingesting.  But this is not my path to take.

My path was to complete this blind leap of faith and walk out of that facility leaving my son behind. I was simultaneously exhausted, numb and tormented with fear and anxiety as I passed through those locked doors, feeling a part of my soul die in the process; yet, hoping with the smallest bud of hope imaginable that this might be okay.  With each step, I repeated to myself, he was out of control, he was hurting, he was in pain and I got him help.  He was out of control, he was hurting, he was in pain and I got him help.  Step after step after step until I arrived at my car, looked up to the sky and with a cold, freezing rain blowing across my face I opened my mouth to scream, but no sound came.  Only me in an empty, cold, silently still, lonely parking lot wondering if the black sky had sucked away my scream the way a tornado indiscriminately picks up a house and tears it to pieces until it is unrecognizable.

The next day, I arrived for a scheduled "family" therapy session, which was set for noon.  The appointment was made as we were checking in so we both felt some level of comfort knowing we would be immediately seeing each other tomorrow morning, face to face, in therapy, to get down to business.  I was escorted to a therapy room where I was greeted by one of a long list of psychologists who would routinely rotate in and out of his treatment and the grand doctor himself, the endangered species of Milwaukee known as the child Psychiatrist.  Actually, the psychologist was taking medical history from me when the doctor burst in, dismissing all conversation and sitting down in front of me to ask a) the same questions I had just been asked and b) questions pertaining to another patient as I gradually figured out, he wasn't looking at MY son's file.

I expected the question and answer session to take 10 to 15 minutes, then we could bring the Commando in and do some real work.  Instead, I was given a quick diagnosis, assured of the percentages of children who are in the same situation and offered a treatment plan of one week full inpatient care with a battery of medications to ensue.  After I persisted, I was finally told I would not be seeing my son for the first "family" session; and you call it a family session because.......?  I then told Doctor Incompetento he had the wrong file and oh by the way, this boy is not a percentage for your charts, he is my son.

On the other side of the unit, my baby boy (who knew it was noon) was being told his mother was there and he would be able to see her before she left.  I was told he was in therapy and I would have to wait until visiting hours at 5pm to see him.  They let me walk out the door when several nurses and clinical workers knew how hopeful he was to see me.  Within three hours I received a call at my office that he had become violent when he found out I left without seeing him.  He threatened harm to the staff, inflicted harm to himself by banging his fists into the wall and was subsequently restrained - for over an hour, given a shot of Ativan and still restrained for another thirty minutes before he became calm enough to release.

I arrived at 5pm to find him stumbling about, dry mouthed, incoherent and sporting deep ligature marks on both wrists and both ankles.  Though they had made it abundantly clear upon intake, this was a voluntary admission and I was free to take him home at any time, when I went to the front desk to ask for his release I was denied on the grounds he had now been classified as a threat to himself and others and would need to be held for another 48 hours (under control) before he could come home, by law.

We went into his prison cell and I laid down with him carefully explaining what had happened and why he couldn't come home.  I repeated the same story over and over and over.  Sweetie, you have to be calm, you have to cooperate, you have to show them you are okay, you are in control.   He nodded in understanding but I could tell from his glazed over eyes, it wasn't really registering.

And so for the second night in a row, I had to leave him there, screaming for me to take him home. Angry at me for not seeing him when I was there earlier in the day and feeling, I'm quite certain, as lost and abandoned as any boy could possibly feel.  I was told he went to sleep within an hour of me leaving while I remained awake all night, pouring over the laws, determining my rights as a parent, speaking to his therapist and sure as hell I wanted to get him out of there before......

My God.  What if I have made the worst mistake of my life? What if instead of saving him, I have lost him forever.  Even his therapist told me she was worried he might never come back from this.  In this hour of darkness, I turned to my soul mate, a little bird who has been on my shoulder for a lifetime.  I told her of the horrifying experience. She paused, gave it a great deal of thought and then bravely came back and assured me I was doing the right thing.  For, she speculated, if either one of our parents had had the strength to intervene as I had, maybe our brothers would still be alive.

(To be continued......)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

How to Save a Life - Part One

Many have speculated.  There has been much conjecture among the ranks. What happened to The Commando? Why did he miss school for a full week? Only a handful of people know the truth. I have sought to protect him; yet I realize what happened to him was a normal reaction to the circumstances of his life.

He was targeted, even as a toddler by his dad who was intensely jealous and insecure about the allegiance his son might possibly form with me. God forbid, a child should bond with his mother. It drove him insane when the wee child was sick and called for his mommy.  I remember him pulling my precious baby off my chest in an effort to dissuade him from needing me.  It went back to his own perverse childhood where he and his siblings were placed in the care of an unstable grandmother while his mom pursued her life goals. His older half-sister was selected by the drunken grandmother and repeatedly told her mother didn't love her.  Later, he and his sister were forced to choose sides in a bitter custody battle between his dad and mom. No coincidence, his older half-sister ended up in prison as well.

I knew what was behind his sickness, but he didn't.  When our son was a baby, Dad was busy cavorting about, having multiple affairs, impregnating an underage drug addict and running our business into the ground.  There came a point when I  discovered these affairs, I cut him lose, changed the locks, set his things in the front yard and told him to enjoy the fruits of his labor.

The separation seemed to force him to one of those crucibles in life. He wanted us, he wanted our family, he wanted to come back and make things right. The crack whore had an abortion and the yellow pages sales woman with the enormous fake breasts was summarily dismissed and he turned his life over to God.  But, we needed a change.  Let's break all these ties and move to Wisconsin.

Once we settled in, we became active in a local church, he enrolled in college full time (in spite of the fact I had just given birth to our twins and was trying to hold down my full time job) and he began to work his way into the ultra conservative, in your face, anti-everything-I-stood-for-political arena.  At the age of three, he had our son wearing Bush tee shirts and telling all of his preschool friends how his dad was going to go out into the world to defeat all those bad people who wanted to hurt daddy, i.e., the Democrats.

He surreptitiously spun tales of these criminals who wanted to take daddy's money away.  He twice ran for office, sending our son off to school on election days to tell everyone how his daddy was going to win; 100% certain his dad would win against those vile, monstrous Democrats. Can you imagine what his teachers must have been thinking? Then the little guy would come home to find out the world was not going to be saved because daddy lost. Does this mean the bad guys are going to take our money, daddy? Seriously, who does this to a child?

I didn't truly understand the depths with which he would go until I found out he convinced our son to switch his loyalties from the Packers to the Vikings soon after Brett Favre began wearing a purple jersey.  How can you be a life long Packer fan, then switch over to the sworn enemy then have the moral ineptitude to express that to your son as if it were the law?  Everything with Troy (Mr. Sunshine) was the law, in the eyes of his impressionable son.  The son he fought so hard to win over, he was even willing to tell him horrible tales of how his mom left him/them, didn't love him and how daddy would be the only person he could ever count upon subsequent to our split.

The manipulation had no end and the devastation on this impressionable, trusting young man had no end when the hero he knew as his father was convicted of felony fraud and sent to prison for two and a half years. Who are the bad guys again, daddy?

The little guy's counselor and I knew he was repressing his feelings, staying tough, being a strong guy, acting as if this had no real effect on him.  Yet on the Tuesday night before the Thanksgiving holiday, after a counseling session where he was asked to focus on his feelings and deal with his grief, he exploded.  I had made spaghetti and meatballs for dinner with garlic bread and broccoli.  All things he loved.  He walked into the kitchen and told me if I didn't make something else for him, something more along the lines of REAL food, something he could actually eat, he would tear our house apart and hurt both me and his sisters.

I immediately phoned the counselor to see what they had talked about that day.  As I was speaking to her, he was running through the house, demanding I go get him some food, knocking everything over he could find, breaking doors, pounding fists into the wall.  He wouldn't let me hold him, he wouldn't let me reach him.  I knew what was happening, the lid had finally blown off the pressure cooker and the anger had surfaced.  The counselor told me to take him to a behavioral unit for the treatment of children but I refused. 

We continued through Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday with virtually the same behavior the entire time.  Even inviting his best friend's family over to celebrate Thanksgiving with us resulted in a refusal to wait for the prayer, a demand for rolls before anyone had been served and later, a fight with his buddy that ended with a precious painting by my dead brother being destroyed as he unleashed his anger on his best friend. By Sunday night, I had had enough.  I told him he needed help beyond what I could give him, he needed a higher level of care.  He responded with the same abject tone and vicious stare he had used on me for days....."you don't have the guts to take me there. I'll put my shoes on right now, let's go, let's see if you will really do it because I don't think you will.  I don't think you have it in you to do that.  C'mon, I dare you. I'm ready to go.  I will go anywhere to get away from you."

Summoning all my strength, I made up my mind.  If I call him on this.  If we get in that car, there is no turning back.  He is hurting and he won't let me help him; in fact, he is blaming his hurt on me.  I found that fortitude that comes from being a mom, the one where you are willing to put them through something painful to bring them back to you.  Just like the hernia operation when he was a baby, or fighting against their dad to have the girls get tubes in their ears to stop chronic infections.  A mother knows when it is time to take evasive measures. A mother knows when it is time to call in the Calvary and save their child.

But a mother could have never imagined the depths of pain she would experience in watching three men: An orderly, a nurse and a security guard, carry her baby boy away while hearing him wail for her to stop them and just take him home.  "I will be good now I promise, I will be okay, I didn't mean all those things I said, just take me home mommy, please don't leave me here."

Another nurse pulled me aside and watched as I fell to my knees, begging her to let me take him home.  She reminded me of the anger he had built inside of him as she grabbed my face, pulled it up, wiped my eyes and said, "you're doing the right thing.  If you don't intervene now, you will never be able to reach him when puberty hits.  This IS THE TIME to save him and you are strong enough to do it."

This was the same nurse who had interviewed us previously, a woman who had shocked me with her ability to write, as she didn't have any hands.  It was those very gentle, yet highly effective hand-less stubs,  placed upon my cheeks that allowed me to stand back up and face my own reality. I don't think I would have listened to any other person at that moment.  Only someone I knew had faced and overcome great challenges of her own had the power to lift me up.

But the next day, I stormed in there will my full will and might and demanded my son be released, after I discovered what they had done to him.

(To be continued)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Fasten Your Seatbelts, It's Christmas

In the midst of all the struggle, in the depth of this dark time, I am fortunate to receive daily doses of unconditional laughter. Whether it's from a work mate who does spot on impersonations of some of the bigger personalities in our office or from my delightfully brilliant children, who all have unprecedented vocabularies combined with fully developed humor, understanding of puns (and how to use them) and even, at times, a subtle sarcasm that may not make me laugh but certainly makes me appreciate their command of the English language and the nuances of which, many will never fully master.

(This is not meant to sound like one of those frothing at the mouth Christmas letters, they do language well, that's all I'm saying for now.)

My kids know how to use words, for the most part correctly and creatively.  I spend a lot of time with them spinning words and throwing out clever uses of synonyms, homonyms and antonyms as well as contrasting the differences between similes and metaphors. I realize they are 12 and 8 but truly, it's never to early to give your children what very well may be the one and only gift you, yourself have.  The gift of wordsmithing (which according to spell checker, is not really a word).  Maybe I should be teaching them about the meaning of the word irony instead.

My precious little minions know how I delight when they come up with an example to show me their understanding of word usage.  Just a few days ago, one of the twins put her brown, furry glove on one hand and left her other hand uncovered.  I watched as she proudly held them up in front of her sister, one of her 3rd grade friends and her parents.  She exclaimed, "Look, at my hands.  Get it?  I have a bare hand and a bear hand!"  Her sister and I were thrilled.  The other little girl was busy watching the words fly over her head while her parents gave one of those half-smiles you get when they are obviously thinking, oh shit, I think we might need to be reading more books to her.

Tonight, as we finished our third batch of Christmas cookies and put them ever so delicately into our tree shaped cookie jar.  I spun on my heels, looked them all square in the eyes, motioned them to come closer to me so they would know I was serious and said, "I need to ask you all one very important question. Who stole the cookies from the cookie jar?"

I love these moments when they realize you can draw people in, make them wait in suspense, then deliver a dose of laughter to break the tension.

Finally, perhaps the best story of the week came from the younger of the twin girls (by four minutes, no less).  As we were pulling out of the driveway, she asked if I had noticed her buckling her seat belt without having to be reminded.  It has been one of those things that I have struggled with since gaining full custody of them.  Apparently their dad and grandma let them sit in the front seat when they were too young and let them sit unbuckled in the back seat at any age.  I never got much argument when we were sharing custody but in my full time care, they somehow feel they deserve such ridiculous privileges. 

Can I ride in the front seat?


Why not?

Because it's against the law and it's unsafe.

But dad let us do it all the time.

I'm sorry honey, I'm not willing to risk your lives, I'd rather have you alive than have you happily sitting in the front seat right up until the time we crash and you are taken from me forever.  Not gonna do it.  Now sit down and buckle up.

I can't believe you stopped at that yellow light mom.  Dad used to run yellow/red lights all the time.  One time, when we were late for church and we were with Sherry and her kids, he actually ran over a train track when the lights were flashing and the gates had closed.  

Again kids, I'm sorry - that doesn't make it okay.  Mommy is not willing to take those risks with you.  I want you to be safe.  Now sit down and buckle up!

Back to the original story, here I was with one of them telling me she has decided to buckle up on her own.  And believe me when I say, this is not the child I would have expected to give up without a much longer battle.  Think Braveheart. I frequently look at her and imagine her with blue paint smeared upon her delicate cheek bones.  She is nothing, if not dramatic.  So I intrepidly ask, "sweetie, why are you buckling up without mommy reminding you?"

Oh, that's easy she says.  You know how it's Christmas time right?  And at this time of year, if you were to write a story about a horrible car accident with a family inside, it would have to be the youngest child who dies, I mean right?  It's Christmas so it has to be horribly tragic, it would be the youngest to be written out of the story because that has so much more meaning.

In perfect harmony, her twin sister and older brother unbuckle their seat belt and yell "Woooohooooo".

What is a mother, a writer, a proud mother-writer or writing mother supposed to say to this?

"Sit down and buckle up, all of you".  As I drive away with a smile knowing my kids are already thinking in terms of what could make a good story.

Yet simultaneous fear and dread ascend,  knowing they know how to tell a good story, perhaps even good enough to fool me one day.

Merry Christmas to you all and make sure your youngest children are always buckled up safe and sound, at least during the holidays.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Strength of a Woman and Two Aleve Tablets Per Day

Sometimes I feel like an overused cliché.  Life isn’t about the breaths you take but the moments that take your breath away.  

Fuck that shit. Sometimes all I can do is take another breath, surviving breath by breath and when my breath is taken away, it’s only because I’m too fucking tired and numb to feel myself actually breathing.

I was given two hugs yesterday.  Two hugs before noon.  The first was from my daughter’s third grade teacher.  I had forgotten to send lunch money with the girls so I had to get out of my car with my camouflage pajama leggings, black furry boots and yellow furry teeth from not yet brushing.  My bright red coat drew attention to me, like a Christmas tree, topped off by a flagrant display of bed head.  I delivered the money and had almost made a clean getaway when the teacher approached to ask how my son was doing.

Instinctively I told her enough without telling too much.  Watching every word as they floated off my tongue, I painting with a brushstroke large enough to cover the entire canvas with one swipe, recanting how my 12 year old son was struggling with anger, hurt and resentment from having his ultra conservative, right-wing Republican, ex-politician (wannabe),”I will save the world for you” father sent away for a two and half year stint in federal prison for fraud.

The highlights of my lowlights reduced her to tears and induced her to hug me, there in my pajama bottoms, as the kids were making their way to class. She went on to ask if we were “okay” for Christmas. At first I wasn’t sure what she meant.  “Okay for Christmas”, I asked?  “Yes, do you need help with presents for the kids?”  Aside from the obvious, i.e., me looking like a cleaned up version of a disheveled street person, I was a bit taken aback by her offer.  So many people have come forward to help us.  All friends, no family; family has been busy looking after the convict.  I have had help from other moms and dads willing to pick up the kids, feed them dinner, take them to Brownie meetings….but help for Christmas? No. I had already explained to the minions, Christmas past was gone.  This year, we are going to be about family.  This year, we are volunteering our time to help with moms and dads and kids who are less fortunate than we.  This year, we learn the true meaning.  In other words kids, this year, you aren’t getting what you are accustomed to getting.

“No, we are fine.”  We won’t need help for Christmas, but thank you so much for thinking of us (insert hug here).  “This year, we will be a gift to others.”  I walked out the door, holding my head a bit higher and praying like hell I wouldn’t encounter another person above the height of five feet on my way to the car.

After quickly showering and attempting to present myself with some sort of professional modicum; a little make-up, a pair of heels, I am off to work for a few hours before my dentist appointment.  For the past six weeks, I have opened my eyes each and every day to a cocktail of Diet Coke and Aleve.  The soda is my coffee and the Aleve is to get me through the day without the right side of my lower jaw feeling as if a voodoo sorcerer has decided that side of my face needs to fall off.  The use of rusty instruments, dull from centuries of neglect was, in my opinion, totally uncalled for.  What was my unsuspecting doppelganger dolly supposed to do? But I say nothing because the Aleve works and I know I’m seeing my dentist in December.

Tall, dark and Greek dentist walks in after his assistant has taken it upon herself to ex-ray my roots to oblivion.  I am expecting the worst: Root canal, tooth extraction, partials, retainers, braces, TMJ, TMI, fuck it – you’re just getting old and need new teeth, etc.  He pushes and prods. He pressures and pokes. Then he looks at me with those big brown eyes and says, “Sweetie, you have never had problems with your dentally boring teeth. Are you experiencing a particularly high amount of stress in your life right now?”

And just like that, I gave into my pain and I lost it, in a dental chair, just before noon on a Thursday. I thought I was being so strong to stand up to these pressures but my teeth gave me away.  It’s the fucking holidays so let it flow, let it flow, let it flow.   Second hug was administered, immediately, with love.  Without knowing the financial strains on me, doc said the ex-rays and biting device, yes I said biting device, as in I am clenching my teeth, would be an early Christmas present. You know that shit only makes me cry harder, right doc? I am known to have the world’s ugliest cry face which is made exponentially worse when accompanied by a bib and goggles.

Once I’ve pulled myself back together, the dental assistant continues with her cleaning, simply shaking her head and saying to me, “the strength of a woman, the strength of a woman, it constantly amazes me the strength we have as women, you know?”  With my mouth open, I give her a nod.  “And the fight in a mother, there is nothing like it.  By the way, don’t worry about the gums bleeding, that’s just stress too, you are going to be okay."

Breathe.  I am breathing, and yet I am bleeding from my gums and my heart and my liver and my vagina and from the deepest, most indistinct fear that resonates within my soul that perhaps, I am not enough. 
But Friday arrives and I realize we’ve made it through another week. Give me breath, and I will give you life.  Life that doesn’t have to come from my body, but life I will sustain nonetheless, as a mother. Those moments that take your breath away are not always the happy Hallmark times; sometimes, they come in the form of unthinkable challenges and struggle for basic survival.  Either way, with the strength of a woman, I continue to breathe. 

(Cross posted from another blog where I collaborate)

Friday, November 5, 2010

Before Monday

Monday is the day. Mr. Sunshine reports to his federal prison work camp a/k/a, jail. I have spent the past few weeks doing something that is quite uncomfortable for me. It is not in my nature, not a part of my DNA.  I have been asking for help.

The first and most important item of business was to find someone to watch my girls from the time they spill out of the bus to the time I get home from doing that which supports us all.  I sent out a broadcast email to the moms in my girls brownie troop.  I expected it to take a few days to shake out, perhaps even thought I might need to go to plan B, which was the suggestion of the school guidance counselor for us to take the request to the wider school community at large.

Within 20 minutes, all arrangements were made.  Not only that, I had extra people volunteer who had to be turned away.  The girls had people fighting over who could get to keep them. When I told them what was happening, my little Warrior Princess quickly calculated the number of people who volunteered and began to set up a schedule in her mind as to how we could accommodate them all.  I realized by the look in her eyes what she was up to.  Sweetie, I said, we can't have you bouncing all over the city to a different home everyday, don't you think that would be a bit much, perhaps too confusing? Wouldn't you forget where you are supposed to be on Wednesday? She knew I was going to logic her to death on this one so she agreed we should limit it, but added, maybe we could just arrange some play dates with our other friends on the weekends?  Yes honey, of course we will. Everything will work out, before Monday.

These dear friends, angels all of them - not only stepped up to provide the specific need I requested, but they went on to come up with additional things they could do for me on their own.  "Darling, why don't I feed them dinner and drive them back to your house so you won't have to worry about that on Tuesdays", my Australian friend said with her irresistible accent.  Then another mom who will have them on Thursdays realized we have brownie meetings twice a month on Thursdays.  "Let me feed them dinner on Thursdays then drop them off at the brownie meetings for you".

The offers poured in all day, with a few dads even stepping up to the plate to ask what they could do. Keep in mind, I haven't even begun to tap into the middle school network of support for my 12 year old son and I had dads from the girls school worrying about my son, asking me if he needed someone to spend "guy" time with. My mission is clear with my son.  I am excited for the opportunity to have these next two and a half years to stabilize him.  To give him one home, one safe place - where all his stuff is.  To hold him accountable and responsible for grades, chores, being a good big brother and being responsible to his community. But I can't go hunting with him or do other things guys like to do.  He has been begging me to go paint balling. Sorry, but no.  I take enough pelts with unexpected large balls being hurled at me in life.  I'm not going to volunteer for it.

My good friends in Green Bay have offered to have us up for ice fishing this year.  We've spent the summers with them fishing off the docks but never have I imagined the concept of ice fishing. Dave is one of those men that I want to be in my son's life. He's a retired fire fighter, tough as nails but funny and tender hearted  He can be a bit of a daredevil, tempting fate with his adventures but the twists and turns in life as well as the twists and turns in his neck have slowed him down. His most recent large toy purchase was an RV, that's a good indicator how far he's come.  (Sorry Dave, you know I love you.)

After all this love, after all this support.  After asking for help so uncomfortably and getting it so unconditionally, I cried. That's all I could really do.

Before Monday, I am spending this last weekend in a Tazmanian Devil-like organizing frenzy. I'm painting new shelves, making room for all the stuff the kids had at their dad's house, giving them some separate and clearly defined spaces of their own when they need that quiet time and in general, leaving not one thing undone as I begin this stage of full time, single mom.  Organization is my key to sanity. If you ever want to know when it's time to lock me up in the padded cell, just check to see if my house is messy.  If there are any remote signs of hoarding, or even an unorganized desktop - just put me away.  Yes, I know - it's a control issue, but it feels SO good.

I have remained stoic and strong in these weeks leading up to the day my children will lose their dad.  I have envisioned the life I will make for us as a magnificent journey. I have finally, fully dealt with the loss of Zen Boyfriend, who at first seemed to be ripped away from me like a lost limb, leaving me to bleed out until there was nothing left. Now I realize he was not the man I thought he was and most certainly not the influence I would want in my children's lives at this critical time. It seemed merciless but has ended up being merciful, a great blessing to not only have him gone but to have had five months to make sense of it before Monday.

The events leading up to Monday have stripped me down to the bone, raw and fresh, deeply gouged wounds inflicted by anger, hurt, loss, anxiety and fear.  I believe I waged a war with anger and hurt and I emerged victorious.  I will no longer stare into the detestable bitter face, that was my opponent.  If I am honest, I know fear and anxiety remain, but they are buried, like the layers of the earth somewhere around the transition region. What lies on top, on the upper mantle of my internal earth structure for now, is loss. The loss of my children's father. The loss of a little part of their innocence, the loss they will feel each time they look out into the audience from the stage of a school musical and realize their dad is gone. That cannot be processed before Monday.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Time to Redecorate

It's getting cold.

Traces of fall remain but

I can smell the black, white

and gray that is winter.

Yellow remains for hope,

always hope.

And red for passion.

This is me, for now.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

My Swan Song Sounds More Like Gurgling

The phrase "swan song" is a reference to an ancient belief that the swan is completely mute during its lifetime until the moment just before it dies, when it sings one beautiful song. It's not true of course, but it makes for a good expression. Today, I was supposed to be that fabled mythical creature; yet instead of a swan song, I looked and acted more like a swan diving beak first into a pool with no water. The swan would not sing a beautiful song because she was flapping her wings at the bottom of that pool with a badly damaged ego and a wretched bloody beak.

I have served in a leadership position on a particular board of directors for the past ten years. This was all volunteer work, done with my company's blessing but certainly not required. Today was my last board meeting followed my a luncheon to install the new board. It is tradition to recognize those going off the board, to say nice things about all their efforts, even when they've held their seats for years without doing much of anything important.

During my ten years on this board, I challenged the status quo, asked the board to break apart the current structure, created new committees, restructured initiatives, pulled from reserves to build and invest back into the organization, and personally recruited most of the leaders who went on to follow me, each year making us better, each year building on what I started.  I served for five years as an officer, including two terms as president.  This had not happened since 1973. It was important for me to have two years.  I needed to spend more time overseeing the implementation of the new committees and strategic plans.  I wanted to make sure the roots were firmly planted before I walked away.  It was my baby. My passion for this organization was further demonstrated by my choice to remain on the board for the next five years, until today, when I arrived ready for my swan song, ready for tears and accolades to flow.

I invited my closest friend to be my significant other.  Someone who could revel with me.  I even asked my son to attend but his work schedule prevented it.  Thank the Lord for those small blessings, I would have been mortified to have him witness my gloriously embarrassing swan dive.  As the entire 2010 board was called up to be recognized, I was expecting my moment.  They had to say something about me before they installed the 2011 board.  If they didn't, it would be too late.  So I stood there with my head in the clouds, waiting to act surprised and humbled by the good words that were surely coming my way.

I had been too busy rehearsing my speech to realize they had already transitioned to the 2011 board installation.  People in the crowd had to motion for me to sit my ass down. And just like that, it was over.

Now everybody knows I've never once been mute.  Perhaps that's why I was not given my swan song moment. I had tendencies to hog the microphone and passionately disperse my particular brand of what one of my friends referred to as "diarrhea of the mouth" at more than one event. Everybody knew it, I knew it but I was all about generating excitement.  And being a writer, excitement presents itself in me through words. Every leader that has followed me seems to be making a conscientious effort to limit their speeches, as if they are making up for all the time I babbled on and on.

I don't think it was intentional, I know and love these people and believe they would never purposefully slight me or hurt my feelings.  There is a lot to do when you're planning these big events and some things just get missed.  During my years as president, my passionate writing and love of the cause drew national attention to our little Milwaukee chapter.  We were named best of the best for those two years, competing with mammoth chapters like Chicago, Dallas and Houston.  The annual reports were written by my hand but encapsulated the excitement I felt from a passionate hard working board who had created something truly wonderful. I wasn't doing that for the recognition. I did it because I needed them as much as they needed me. I was going through my divorce. It replaced my marriage, giving me something to love, something to quell the post divorce trauma while I healed. All my talent, time, energy and passion went into this chapter because a new chapter was being written in my life. And yes, it is true what they say, in the end you get more than you give.

I received bountiful blessings in terms of personal development, confidence building, leadership training and making life long friends around the world.  I was meant to be there at that time with too much time on my hands and an ability to write and inspire those around me.  It was one of my many personal beginnings as well as the beginning of what has become a Milwaukee legacy.  We remain the brightest, shiniest star in the entire international organization.  It is my legacy, along with all those that served with me.

As soon as my bruises heal and my beak stops bleeding, I will remember that and I will sing my own personal swan song to myself.  Not just before I die, but just before I begin, yet again.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Dear Linda, Part Deux

I just checked my stat page and realized you are reading me, or spying on me, at least twice a day lately. Since we don't speak otherwise, I will address you here.

I had a wonderful session with my therapist today.  This is the therapist I found to help me deal with all that is happening to me right now, including my decision to not drink anymore.  I asked her to help me figure out why I have so much anger toward you and your son.  I don't like anger, I don't function well with hate.  I believe both will eat away at your soul and prevent you from achieving God's plan for you life.  Kind of like poisoning yourself and waiting for the other person to die.

She told me I have every reason to be angry. I'm sure your son tells you he has always taken care of his responsibilities to his children but I have a very large document and a court ordered judgment that proves otherwise. He owes me a lot of money for the things I have covered over the years.  I would love to show it to you as I'm sure you experienced much of the same with your exes. You must be able to relate and yet, your love for your son has you sitting idly by with blinders on.

I will be struggling to make ends meet while your son is in prison. I have to tell the kids we cannot have the things, do the things, we used to do.  I have to tell the girls, they will not get their orthodontics.  By the way, very mature of you to tell them their mom should just take out a loan.  The loan payment for three sets of orthodontics is $650 per month.  Exactly where do you think I will get that money? Again, I know you have seen their teeth.  This is not purely cosmetic.  They do not have room for their adult teeth to come in.

Yet, here you are, living your life, planning your vacations and expecting things to go on as normal for you. I will not stand in the way of you taking the kids to see their dad, I will give it my best to act like I have some modicum of respect for you, but I am putting you on notice - when these kids grow up and see the sacrifices I had to make, while their dad didn't pay for their medical bills, counseling and school expenses; and when they see that Grandma didn't help because she was too busy traveling, paying legal fees for their dad or saving for her retirement in Panama, then I will no longer stand up for you.

I went to my therapist today with anger and she told me it was okay to be angry.  I deserve the anger.  Yet, the anger is a mask, my mask. It's nearly Halloween after all so it seems appropriate. I can't begin to accept the fear of living in Wisconsin, with no family, trying to raise these kids to be healthy and happy and understand the most important values in life while their dad is in prison, we are struggling and there is nobody to help us.  God knows Jennifer can't stand on her own so she has to be supported by his dad - but what about us?  Where do we fit in?  Do you people think so highly of me that you know I will find a way to make ends meet or do you understand how dire this situation is, or like Troy, do you just not give a damn what happens to us?

I will have transportation arranged for Troy on the day of his release.  He will be taken to the Waukesha County jail.  My therapist gave me the courage when I told her I didn't like being a hard ass.  She said I have to do this for my kids.  I will keep him in jail as long as it takes so I suggest you get together with your family and figure out a way to help us out.  I'm not asking for full payment, just enough to help us survive while he is away.  If you don't, it will be much longer than 30 months before you see him again.  Not a threat, just reality as the court has ordered. He will pay for this crime just as sure and swiftly as he will pay for the other.

And THAT is fear, masquerading as anger. Happy Halloween.

Sorry readers, but the Zen in Zen Mama is taking a break. I am a work in progress.  

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Light Comes From Within

I chaperoned my son's very first middle school dance last night. I'll be honest. I volunteered, not to keep an eye on him, but more to study the rituals of the 6th through 8th grade crowd. Yes, I was all of these at one time in my life and I lived through those years with my older son but I've lost touch with what "they" are like today.  Watching their Facebook posts have piqued my interest and pulled the trigger of my protective instincts.  I wanted to be there to infiltrate them, to study them like Dian Fossey in the deepest part of the jungle. To learn their language and befriend them.

Some things never change. Middle school kids are still the same physically, okay maybe the boobs are a little bigger and the dudes are a tad taller but the awkwardness is still there. They walk as if they haven't grown into their bodies. They do not seem aware of the space around them so they bump into each other a lot. They mostly travel in crowds, girls all holding hands and locking arms - guys with their hands in their pockets, looking cool and aloof.

I had a station to work for most of the night, which gave me the opportunity to observe the kids meandering back and forth from the food area to the dance area. I was particularly struck by a fair skinned girl with glasses and a lovely little dress. She moved on a circuit at lighting speed, gathering food, sitting for a few minutes to consume, circling the food area then walking to the dance area for approximately 10 minutes before returning to start the whole thing over again. Each time she sat down with her food, she chose a different spot, never siting by the same person twice.  Sometimes she sat next to people, other times she sat across from them, facing them head on. She never spoke to another student, nor did I notice any student paying her the slightest bit of attention. It was as if she wasn't there.

In addition to her glasses and cute dress, she wore something else. She carried the most excited look upon her face accompanied by an ear to ear grin that never left her. Here she was in middle school girl hell. Not one friend to be found in a sea of boys and girls all hanging in their tight-knit packs. I kept my eyes open to see if there were any other girls without friends, determined I could find her someone to hang with. I even asked my son if he knew her, hoping he could tell me who her friends were.

Finally, as she was passing by me on her circuit, I stopped her. She happily engaged me in conversation, first in English and then in Dutch. She explained she was born in Amsterdam but has lived here for the last six years. She doesn't understand why people in America refer to her home country as Netherlands when it is clearly THE Netherlands. She spoke for ten minutes telling me the exact number of inches her water bottle stuck out of her coat pocket. I asked if she had any friends here. She pointed a few out as I watched them walk past her without so much as a glance in her direction. I then asked her the question I had to know.

You look like you're having a blast. Why are you so excited to be here? The answer was simple, almost like she was silently prefacing it with a Duh.  She said, "I get to be away from my parents for a few hours".

I always think of us, the human species, as being naturally inclined to want companionship. Many people cannot go to a restaurant or movie by themselves for fear of the stigma or shame of being alone. They worry what people are thinking, doesn't she/he have any friends? That's exactly what I thought of my little Dutch friend and I'm ashamed for thinking it.  Here was a girl so comfortable in her own beautifully pale skin, she didn't need anyone. By middle school standards, I'm certain she is viewed as peculiar. But that's okay because she is intrinsically cool with her pretty dress, her bottle of water and the opportunity to be away from her folks for a few hours.

It reminds me of the Tanya Davis song about being alone. I can eat in a restaurant alone, I can go to a movie alone but to go to a club and dance, I'm not there yet. However, I am feeling inspired and lifted up by this 11 year old girl who walks her own path, over and over again, with the most delightful smile upon her pretty little face. She lights up the room, even when nobody is noticing.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

And Justice Was Served

We arrived in court Monday morning, expecting it to be a short hearing in front of the judge to report on the status of our mediation. It was scheduled just prior to lunch; thus, my attorney shot down my expectation of a ruling. She said we should expect around 15 minutes.

For over an hour, the Honorable Judge Linda Van de Water sat and listened while simultaneously pouring over the fifty plus pages of copiously detailed documentation. She questioned Mr. Sunshine as to each specific area of expense and why he thought he didn't need to pay for it.  She listened to his excuses, his outright lies and his impenetrable fortress known as Troyland, the world in which he lives.

This particular judge has recently transferred to family court after a career spent in the criminal court system. She has a very low tolerance for people who do not accept responsibilities for their actions, people who refuse to see how their decisions affect others and people who are, well let's just say it like it is, criminals.

She finally broke when she noticed on his notes, he had written that he refused to pay for our son's broken retainer because it was not specifically broken at his home, but rather at school.  She interrupted his per se arguments to let him know exactly what she thought of  him. She told him she had heard enough of his excuses as it was abundantly clear he had an excuse for everything. The only excuse she bought was that he is a sorry excuse for a man who had "obviously caused nothing but heartache for me and for his children over the past five years" and she ruled in a way that said to the world, "your actions, your choices, do not diminish the responsibilities you have for your children".  Here sir, may I present to you your ass, on a silver platter.

She not only awarded me every cent of his share of past medical bills, counseling bills, hospital bills, orthodontic treatment and school fees but she went on to require him to pay 100% of the legal fees I had to incur in pursuing him. As if that wasn't enough, she asked my attorney how much she would be billing me for her services that very morning so she could add that in. She noted that he had never paid me the $5,000 he owed me from the sale of our home. I'm certain she took into account the fact that he had stolen $1.3 million dollars and still didn't pay me when he was out buying Cadillacs and taking three week cruises with his fiance around the Mediterranean.

Yes, Judge Van de Water did not like Mr. Sunshine. He now owes me approximately $16,000, which must be paid in thirty days or he goes to jail.  But wait, he will already be in jail.  Hmmmm.  How does THAT work? If he doesn't pay it by the time he gets out of jail, he goes right back in, except this time it won't be a federal prison "camp". It will be Waukesha County jail.  I hope he hones his prison skills before he faces county lock-up.

He further embarrassed himself in court by mentioning the handwritten counter-suit he had filed that very morning, asking me to appear in court to have our arrangement amended for me to be responsible for 100% of the kids expenses while he is up the river for the next 30 months. The judge would not hear his argument as this filing was not before her court; however, I'm certain she used that as one more weapon in her arsenal when she rendered her judgment.

I have a friend who graduated from MIT with a masters in mathematics. He is a veritable math savant, making him a high income earner. Yet, when he went through a divorce here in the state of Wisconsin, he had temporarily lost his job (through no fault of his own). He proposed to the court his intent on becoming a high school math teacher. He had always dreamed of using his talents to teach others. He spent hours volunteering at his son's school to facilitate this passion. He envisioned a life where he could teach during the school year and spend all summer with his two boys, being with them full time during their days with him. Noble right?

The court ruled that he was not allowed to pursue this most benevolent of ventures because he had proven his earning potential in the corporate world and his ex wife was accustomed to that level of living.  Therefore, he would be required to jump back on the corporate treadmill, denying countless high school children his gift, denying his children the precious time he could have given them, and denying himself of the dream he had carried throughout his lifetime. He ended up being a guest on the Dr. Phil show in an episode about men losing their rights in a divorce.

Contrast that to a man who lost his job during our divorce but chose not to look for another job, starting what was the second or third of many failed business ventures. He needed to do that in order to allow him the freedom to run for the state Assembly position he was pursuing. He lost that race of course, and stayed true to his pattern of ending up broke and without resources yet again.  That's when he went to work for the employer he would eventually steal from and well, the rest of the story you know.

The court system denied a man wanting to downgrade his earning potential for the benefit of thousands. What do you think they (the former criminal court judge) thought of Mr. Sunshine and his excuse that he would no longer be able to earn at the rate commensurate with his history due to the fact that he chose to commit a felony crime? She ruled that he would be responsible to pay child support to me based on his full earning potential for each and every month he is away, I am to receive $1,500.

What? You mean I won't have to deny the kids their orthodontic treatment or rip them out of their schools because I can't afford to hire someone to pick them up everyday?  You mean I will be able to pay for full time child care during the summers and perhaps even take them on a family vacation? You mean I won't have to explain away Christmas presents and birthday parties and dinners out and new video games because I won't be struggling to pay the bills and keep a roof over our heads for the next two and a half years?

What a relief that is. What a blessing that is. Yes, it appears justice was served.

Those of you who have read the annuls of Mr. Sunshine know he will find a way to avoid paying me this money.  He acknowledges most of what he owes, yet he came to mediation with a settlement offer of $300 for half of our son's orthodontic down payment and another $300 to pay for his school lunches for the remainder of the year. It was a gesture of yes, I know I didn't pay you for half of our daughter's hospital bills but oh well, guess I just don't have the money, sorry. It's $600, take it or leave it.

Bite me.  Try $16,000 on for size.

His is in the process of selling his cars and his furniture, he will receive a security deposit back on his rental, he will continue to have meetings to keep his business generating revenue, he will drain his mother for legal fees and cell phones and probably even channel money to his church but will he, they (he and his mother who travels the world on extravagant summer vacations) give one thought to providing for his children? Well, you be the judge.

I'm done Mr. Sunshine. Your new home away from home, Waukesha County jail, awaits.

(To see all posts related to Mr. Sunshine, click on the "Mr. Sunshine with a Chance of Pain", link below.)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Green is the Grass

I'm generally not one to post random thoughts or idioms. I like to write with meaning and purpose - a beginning, a middle and an end. But tonight my mind is cluttered.

I am dancing, ever so lightly on my feet, like Ginger Rogers - backwards and in high heels.  I have opened up the channels and dialed up the frequency, not so much intentionally but I think more as a result of not having had a sip of alcohol for two weeks now.

I recently received my wake up call and I'm proud to say I picked up the phone and I listened with the ears of a woman who had been broken.  Hello, do you realize you are it for your kids now?  Do you understand it is all up to you? All of it. Everything they need for the next two and half years is on you. There is no family, no sugar daddy, no benevolent aunt - you are it baby.

I thank God, the universe, my dead mother, my dead father, my dead brothers, aunts, grandmothers and grandfathers for getting together to remind me that I am loved enough to be broken.  I am leaning into the pain, into this bitter wind, the winds that bring forth change, washing away the old. I am not resisting.

The bible says, do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, with the measure of faith God has given you. Done. (The bible didn't say 'done', I said that.)

I am becoming. I am not being. It is a life long journey to become the me that I was made to be.  And guess what?  God doesn't want me to be anything else than what I was created to be. Glory hallelujah!  But that implies I also have to be everything he created me to be.  Shit.

On the other side of death is freedom. Death of a lessor self is essential to allow a more noble intent.

I know what my intent is now and I will not fail to thrive.

The Talmud says, "Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it and whispers, 'grow, grow'". If  you believe that, then you begin to comprehend how much we are loved.  Not to say we are more important than a blade of grass, for I can't really speak to the that. In the end, it may be explained to me how a single blade of grass served its purpose better than I did, but I am hoping that is not the case.

Call it low expectations but I'm fairly certain I can one-up a blade of grass.

Geesh, now I'm really asking for it.

I warned you this was random.

Friday, October 1, 2010

And so, it is October.....

The passage of a week brings another month. And October, with all its wickedness has come forth to sing to me me the lessons from a fall.  When the trees fell into my home, I wasn't sure what the universe was trying to tell me. But as I sat and watched my 12 year old son leap while wrapping his arms around the opposing 6th grade football rival, making his very first one-on-one-take-down-to-the-ground-tackle, I instinctively knew I was supposed to be here.

Had the trees not fallen in the wee hours of the morning last Friday, I would have been in Dallas, as planned with my beautiful friends who had so graciously put the weekend together for us.

I am still reeling from the events that have taken place, spiraled out of control, or in general wreaked havoc in my day to day existence over the last few months and yet, I am grateful for each and every moment of it.  The focus has been shifted from stressing to sensing, from heartbroken to healed and from wanting to be loved to loving myself.

And so I hereby declare, I am ready.

I give in.  I give myself to this opportunity to be strong and present for my children.  I pledge my love for them and promise to dedicate all of my energy and resources to them as I have been given a two and a half year window of opportunity to deepen their roots and build their character.  I will love them in a way a mother should. I will give them what I didn't have. I will give them what their dad didn't have.  I will give them a mom who is simply there, physically and emotionally, for them. 

I am the love of my life, I am all I need to be happy and healthy. I am the cherry on top of my own sundae and I will convey this love to them.  I will raise children who adore the very thought of themselves, not just empowered but owning their power.

All that has happened has brought me to this. Thank you for these lessons from a fall.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Nobility of the Mundane

As I sit to write this, I've just received a series of messages from my soul mate. She resides in a castle in the Hills of Nichols, yet she intuitively knows when I need her.  She has produced the softest tears in me. They are flowing steadily but without the twisted, painful emotion that would usually accompany them. I've been beaten and broken and left for dead in so many ways; yet, this water running from my eyes, down my neck and into my clothing feels as if it could be cleansing me.

I wipe my neck and then notice I have soaked the keyboard with my fingers. The thought occurs to me, are  my tears being transmitting through this post?

When I awoke this morning, I wasn't sure where to begin. What do I do now? Should I be working on the large trees that fell into my house or should I be working on me.  Should I write, should I walk, what should I do to begin to feel human again?

Then her first message arrived, in a Jacob Marley-esque manner, forewarning me she would be sending three thoughts to me today. They began to arrive at slow, thoughtful intervals.

Message One:  Keep waking up.  Many would be in more pain than you feel now without you.

Message Two:  This time, suffering and pain brings a lesson.  Be with it, ask it questions. Listen. Learn. Pain is the crucible that brings peace.

Message Three:  While you are 'being' with the pain, remember the repetitive meditation of the ordinary. Start a load of laundry, clean the kitchen sink. Watch Nemo or Top Gun. Find the comfort and nobility of the mundane.

I sometimes wonder if it's easier to find nobility in the mundane when you live in a castle and not a house with trees in it but I must believe the universe has gone to great lengths to bring these lessons to me. The sharp popping, cracking sound at 2am that split one tree in half and hurled it into my house, and then the fifty foot tall, majestic hickory tree that was pulled from it's roots, leaving not so much as a stump of evidence that it once stood there came thundering across the fence line at 3am. I sat up in bed when I felt my house shake, looked up to the sky and said one word to God, "Seriously?".

You see, the trees were not the worst thing that happened to me this week. By contrast, it was minor.

She may reside in a castle but it's really just a fancy nest. She made it that way by always being able to find the nobility of the mundane. She found it while staring down the same demons that have possessed me. She found it while standing strong against the storms of family turmoil and gail force winds that try to take you down when you watched loved ones dying. She found it when trees were falling, not on her home but in her mind. And she brought these reminders to me today.

That was an hour ago, and the tears haven't stopped. It makes so much sense. All I have to do is start with a load of laundry, or perhaps take a shower to wash the smell of quiet yet anguished desperation off my body. Then I will simply accept and be with my lessons until the tall trees in my mind have been stripped of their leaves, branches and bark in order to make way for new growth, tiny buds of hope and the promise of a new life.

Strip me bare, cut me down to size and then let me grow into the direction of the sun this time, for I have grown weary of the dark.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

All We Need is Love

At some point, you simply have to give up or give in because you gave everything you had to give.  But then you regroup and wonder why there is nothing more to be drawn from this well?  That very same well you stood and witnessed bursting forth with the mother load now represents your failures instead of your future, your fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, instead of just your fuck, your undoing instead of your doing and your most overwhelming, seemingly unimaginable worst possible nightmare instead of your heart's most passionate desire has arrived.  Hello.  I am here to make you question everything you believe in, grapple with the lessons you have tucked away for 30 years and, in general, shake you to the core and foundation of the essence of who you are, or should I say, who you think you are, or should I say, who you were.  

Because guess what, you are not who they think you are and you are not who you think you are. You are just a girl who wanted to be loved by the man she loved.

After all, love is all we need but I am done, so very done.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Moon Over Scotland

I can't even begin to process the things that are happening to me at lightening speed so I'm going to slow it down and give you the highlights, but not the low lights because those are just fucking depressing as shit.

I took my children to the Milwaukee Highland Games/Scottish Festival for the first time over Labor Day weekend. I told them we were essentially Scottish royalty, hailing from not only the clan Donald, but the Lord of the Clans, Macdonald.  They ate fish and chips, they watched the burly men in kilts competing in the hammer and caber competitions and they indulged me as I cried when the entire delegation of drummers and pipers walked onto the field to dedicate Amazing Grace to the policemen, firemen and American soldiers who have served or continue to serve, as well as those that have given their lives in the line of duty. I cried behind my sunglasses.  They clapped and hooped and hollered.  That was my signal that even though they didn't cry, they got it.

I delighted in watching my 12 year old son, who is the only one of my children to receive the traditional pale skin and freckles of my clan. Just as I can walk around a Scottish festival and be recognized by my naturally curly, red hair and fair skin, my son is instantly accepted, wearing camouflage shorts or a kilt, though it may take him a few years to get comfortable with the idea of a skirt and knee socks.

While we were eating lunch at an outdoor picnic table, I watched as an extremely large version of a Scottish piper made his way past us.  Keep in mind, one of my most basic tenants is my sincerest desire to not make fun of, nor harass, nor belittle any of my fellow travelers in this live; however, I found myself looking up to quickly assess the inevitable. The very same principles of physics hold true to a middle aged man who wears his jeans below his belly as do they do a man in a kilt.  When you tuck a kilt below a large protruding object, the back of said kilt will hike up in a manner that would greatly agitate even the most innocent of spectators.  In other words, his ass was showing.

And to further exasperate the experience, as is often the case with me, I said, "Look kids, the moon is shining over Scotland." Now before you get all outraged with me, you have to know, I did have enough reason to point it out when said butt cheeks were well out of the visual purview of my kids. However, when they saw him from a distance, with his calves as big as my waste, they were duly impressed.  For them, a big piper was a BIG piper, nay - a monumental piper.

Thus, I suppose the old adage once again proves true.  The bigger the better.

Footnote to this post,which has nothing whatsoever to do with this post,thus making it not so much a footnote as just a lame attempt at tacking on something that is worth mentioning but not entirely enough to dedicate a singular post:

Kids got upset with me for deleting their online internet accounts. I gave them a warning, if you go in there and trash my office again, you will all be deleted.  Eventually, I restored their restricted access.  Middle child said to me, "What were you thinking mom, how could you do that? I don't have the picture of the black and white dog anymore and you took away everything I need, I mean I don't even have Mozzarella Firefox anymore."

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Can a Crouton Really Beat a Choco Taco?

School started this week for the kids. It's been a whirlwind of excitement for The Commando as he charges forth into the middle school years.  He has always been a few years ahead of his biological age, not with respect to maturity but more so in how he sees himself. Middle school brings with it a certain new level of freedom not afforded in the elementary years. He is sliding into it like a well worn pair of jeans. The locker, the class changes, gym, band, football, girls, meeting kids from other schools, and especially lunchtime.

When we are all together, this freshly minted 6th grade boy will flat out talk. I have to keep reminding myself to be happy about this because the sullen teenage years are lurking perilously around the bend. For now, he talks as if he's not going to see you for the next ten years and he wants to make sure he has emptied out his brain. There is no system to it really, it's just a steady stream of topics that roll out effortlessly. He happily and randomly opens up and lets it flow. Here's an example of our dinner dialog last night, he is telling his sisters and I about middle school lunch.

So girls, you would not believe the kind of food they have at middle school.  Yesterday I had a rib sandwich and curly fries. Can you believe they actually serve curly fries? At school? I'm tellin' ya, they have everything you could imagine. They have pizza but not just any pizza. Dude, it's Pizza Hut pizza! You can pretty much get whatever you want there, like spaghetti, chicken, pickles, even salad.  You know how you girls like salad, right? They have a real salad bar, not like that bowl of lettuce they gave us at Rose Glen. This has everything on it like croutons, cheese, all kinds of dressings, you just make your own salad with whatever you want on it. But the best thing is they have an ice cream machine. I'm not going to eat ice cream everyday, just two times per week. So on Thursday it was CHOCO-TACO baybeee. That's what I'm talkin' 'bout. I heard they have a taco bar sometimes, I can't wait to try that...... which point, patient yet hungry sister interrupts with the following......."You can stop. You had me at croutons."

Friday, September 3, 2010

Dear Linda

I'm writing this blog for you, to you.  I know you check this site everyday - sometimes two to three times. I think you may be unfairly altering my stats with your predictable daily checks of the happenings around here.  I remember when I was married to your son.  I called you and asked you to meet me for lunch to discuss how he was running up debt on credit cards you provided him.  I told you how hard it was for us to make ends meet; yet you allowed him to charge home improvement supplies we couldn't afford when Danny was in town.  This was after I told you of the dire circumstances. You have always done everything and anything he asks of you.

I know you carry your son's burdens - far beyond that which would be expected of a mom.  He's 34 and his cell phone is still in your name.  I mean come on.  He stole $1.1 million dollars from his employer, he's going to jail for two and a half years. I can't imagine what your pain must be. It must be somewhat analogous to mine as I endeavor to raise these children to be healthy and happy in spite of his actions.We are two moms in a sobering amount of turmoil right now. You, having the second of four children go to jail, and me, having the misfortune of having been married to the second of those children.  

In case you haven't already picked up on the subtle nuances, I am angry. This is what I do. I have to process the rage first.  Then, eventually the exasperation will inspire me to step up and take whatever actions are necessary to secure the well being of my family.  I left your son for that very reason.  He ushered me into bankruptcy, ruining my credit with the business venture in OKC, then brought me to Wisconsin with the promise of working "a real job" provided him by Vic, at your beckoning. He lost that job due to his political ambitions and nearly bankrupted us again in the effort.  The details of his numerous affairs with young political staffers is irrelevant to this plea.  I let him keep the house after our divorce, knowing he would default on the loan in my name and he did.

At some point, I realized I had to take my steady paycheck and run. Ironically, you did the same, leaving your first and second husbands to educate yourself and rise above the northern Wisconsin stereotype.  If I had stayed, he would have taken everything again.  And by golly what do you know, it actually happened with his choice to steal, start another company, then oops, get caught.  But hear me when I say, the time has come to realize you are not serving his needs.  Does he really need a cell phone, or would those dollars be better served paying for Lauren's hospital bills?

I'm certain he is feeding you yet another line, in a long, long line of bullshit.  Just as he did when he was out charging up debt we couldn't afford.  He owes me $10,915 in expenses I have covered over the last five years.  I have been able to cover them because we've shared joint custody.  Now that he is going to federal prison (summer camp), we cannot survive without being reimbursed.  The kids have an appointment next Tuesday to install their orthodontics.  His share is $3,650 (with reasonable financing options). He says he's not in a position to handle it right now.  I suppose that means straight teeth are a luxury, not a necessity. You've seen their teeth, right? Should a 6th grade boy really have to go through middle school with a pointy bird-like took stuck up above the rest of his teeth? I can't pay for this on my own.

We are going to court next Friday.  He sees this as me kicking him when he is down.  I see it as a woman fighting to survive and provide for her children, your grandchildren, for the next two and a half years.  I cannot continue to allow him to pretend to be a father without any financial responsibilities. 

I truly want to have a relationship with you and the rest of the family, especially while he is away. But, if you allow him to continue to deny his responsibilities for his children when you so willingly purchased new wood floors and pedestal sinks we didn't need, then I need to inform you of one thing.  I am in survival mode, and I will do whatever I need to do to protect and serve these children. I want you to step up, cut him off and channel those funds to us. I thought he had received his wake up call with his sentencing, but apparently he did not pick up the phone.

I hope you will. It is my sincerest desire and fondest wish to write a post about two strong women who came together in a time of adversity and made sense out of the senseless.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Good Friends Will Go Anywhere

Even though she was slightly apprehensive, my friend Margaret agreed to come with me on my birthday outing to Ravinia, an outdoor music festival just north of Chicago. We were going to see the amazing guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela. That's her on the left.

Notice, she is wearing her St. Christopher pendant. I usually see her with a lovely diamond necklace. On this night, she felt she might need the patron saint of protection on her side.

And she was mostly correct.  I drove us down there with a large tumor sticking out from my tire and almost ran us out of gas by not paying attention to that big yellow light blinking on my dashboard.  That's Kris on the right.  Kris is not afraid of anything. Thank God she came because she kept us from getting lost at least 16 times and she solved the great, enduring mystery of why my chair wouldn't fit in its bag while her chair had loads of room left over. Duh.

Ravinia oversold this concert in a brutal, feeling like you're being herded to your death, kind of way. We parked off site and waited for our bus. While in line, we unfolded our chairs and started to snack on our picnic goods. Once we arrived, it was necessary to step over and sometimes on people to find a place to sit. We squeezed ourselves in, pulled out our wine, food and patchouli candle and commenced to enjoy the serene beauty of the last days of a Chicago summer.

The girls, of course, had the sense to tell me we needed to leave early to avoid the long bus lines but I wouldn't listen. I was the birthday girl and I was staying until the very last perfect chord had been played.  Big mistake.  Huge. We spent the better part of an hour chasing taxi cabs.  Actually, I chased them while on the phone trying to give the dispatcher our location. The girls just continued to walk in the direction of a main road, which is what one would typically do in Chicago if wanting a cab.  Finally, our Serbian cabbie arrived. He didn't understand a word of my broken Spanish or much of my English come to think of it.  He indulged us with something in Serbian. We understood the words crazy and taxi.

Even though it looks highly suspicious, I swear they were not holding me up here. I was doing my signature sexy side head tilt. We made it to my SUV and headed out for more fun in Chicago. Again, it was Kris who saved the day be finding us the perfect little club. Relaxed, older crowd - great dance band and pool table.

It was the kind of bar where you get to know everyone else there in an instant. I took notes from various couples, patrons, band members, bikers, golf pros - all telling them I was working on research for my book.  That was actually true. I think I even helped the golf pro to get over his ex-girlfriend and agree to start dating the girl he had just made out with the night before. They were a cute young couple.  They deserved a chance at love. I love the irony - here I am doling out relationship advice like Oprah while I'm sporting a hole in my heart the size of one tall Armenian.

Margaret and I played pool with some bikers. My partner let me sit on his bike as we were leaving. Those pictures will not be posted for your purview, nor do we need to see the ones with the enormous chess pieces in the hotel lobby. I think Margaret and I thought we were Vanna White, the way we were posing with them.  After all the activities, we talked, as girls will do, about the meaning of life and all - just before we passed out from exhaustion, exhilaration and the excitement of another year gone by for me.

Margaret has been divorced for a year now. It was a bad ten year run she had. She is free and just now starting to emerge from her shell. She is a great teacher for me in the divine art of being alone. She has built a warm, colorful existence with friends, family, career and travel.  And, she stepped out beyond her comfort zone with me to be there for my birthday, armed with St. Christopher, St. Kris and a picnic basket feast for the God's.

The next morning, she looked at me with her deadpan delivery and said, "yes well, happy birthday, I know I feel a year older today." That's okay, she's only 40 and truly, has the best years of her life waiting just around the corner. Thank you ladies - with all my heart, thank you.

Good Friends, Going the Distance

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Marilyn Monroe, Destiny and Jail

Marilyn Monroe said it, "I'm selfish impatient and a little insecure.  I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can't handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don't deserve me at my best."  There is so much wisdom to that. Why are we so quick to put a gun to the head of our relationships and blow them away when people are at their worst?  More specifically, why have I always done this.  Could it be I have an amazingly low threshold for pain and nonsense these days?

Somewhere along the journey, I worked my way up the cynical ladder to eventually become the full embodiment of a jaded woman, unable to trust or extend myself beyond a safe boundary. Just read through the annals of ex-husbands past and you should be able to understand how I got there. But with this last devastating end - I had crawled down off that ladder, and handed it all over.  Here you go, here is my heart.  Here is my faith.  Here is my future, our future - take it and let's build a life together. I trusted him as an old soul with a sixth sense.  A wise person, a strategic thinker and a loving boyfriend.

But behind it all, there was a dark side.  The moon went from full and glorious to total eclipse over the course of one evening. There was duplicity, there was ugliness, there was ego and struggle for power and it was me who couldn't handle him at his worst. Forget about how we were at our best.  The dark shadow of that lunar relationship eclipse crushed my world.  I have been sitting still now for nearly two months. Waiting for a time when my heart would feel whole enough to have a conversation with another man - much less, God help me, a relationship.

I've been hanging out on the back row, more like the nose bleed section of Match.Com.  Letting people filter through with their underwhelming attempts at cracking my shell.  It has provided some much needed humor during a dark time.  I love it when Match sees my inactivity and tries to encourage me with juicy tidbits about a potential hand selected candidate they wish me to meet.  I mean, who could resist when they advise me, "you both fancy felines, like you  - he's not a smoker and he enjoys bowling." Well, there you have it.

I've been working on my Masters Degree in  being alone. I've climbed upon the large platform that is built out of confusion and angst instead of scaling back up that jaded ladder. I have launched my spirit off this platform and allowed it to come back to me with renewed intention and belief. I wish to be without a relationship, not out of fear but because I am enthralled with the changes I'm seeing in me.  There is meditation, exercise, clearing alcohol from my system, weight loss, and an awareness that I am standing at the crucible that is my destiny. This is my test. The universe is guiding me. It's as if I can feel the hands of generations past, all the way to the beginning of time, nudging me forward, patting me on the back and in some cases, embracing me with their light and energy.

That's not to say if the universe decides to throw the perfect man at me, I'll walk away. No, no, silly thought, no.  If that happens, I will dive in to the deep end, knowing I don't know how to swim but trusting a strong set of arms to shore me up.  I love the line from the book, Eat Pray Love, when Liz is told she doesn't need a man, she needs a champion.  I suspect there is a dearth of true champions at this stage of the game but I cannot, ney, will not settle for anything less. For not only will I be continuing to leap off of platforms, I will be doing it with all of my kids depending upon me as their sole provider for the next two and a half years.

Mr. Sunshine was sentenced on Monday. He's going to be going away for thirty months to a federal minimum security camp. We are devastated, reeling, shocked and somewhat numb. I am hoping with all this jumping, leaping and soaring I've been doing during my alone time, my cape is ready.  Thus, if a man intrepidly seeks to enter my life, he had better come equipped with his own cape, a championship belt, or a shit load of trophies for character, stamina, and the ability to talk me down from the occasional platform, or dare I say, ledge.  And in return, he will deserve me at my best, which I don't mind saying will be a life beyond his wildest dreams.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Tickled Pink

I received this card in the mail
from one of my good friends.

Thanks Susan.

I have it pinned to the wall in my office because it makes me smile.

And I need to keep smiling.

Either that, or I need a new purse.

Not sure.