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.