Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Saturday Morning Swim Switch

We walk into the steamy pool area of our local high school every Saturday morning with heavy winter gear; coats, hats, gloves, scarfs, boots and for my daughters, swim suits buried underneath those tantamount layers. It was an idea spawned from my obsessive compulsive need to make sure my girls never fear the water as I did/do. Well that, and the fact that their two best friends are competitive swimmers.

The girls are taking to it like fish in the......strike that.  Like sea bass on a hot grill waiting to be served to Oprah and Gayle. They are all in, fully invested and they make my heart skip a beat when I watch them glide along the water as I could never do.  There is a rather infamous story of me told by The Leaders of The Free World. It has been embellished over the years, I am certain of that.  And depending upon who recounts the tale, it is either told as a horrifying experience or the most hilarious thing ever witnessed at a lake house.

We had been boating and floating most of the day.  After docking the boat, we cranked up the Toby Keith tunes and sat at the edge of the water, drinking our Corona's and enjoying the sacredness of our much too infrequent reunions.  As the sun grew more intense, we all slowly drifted out into the lake, standing amongst the fish and squishy, tickly, disgusting plant life that inhabits the bottom of a lake.  I was uncomfortable at best but the conversation was getting deep and so was I.  Without realizing it, I apparently backed off a ledge of some sort and was starting to go under, grasping for my friend with one arm while carefully keeping my Corona arm safely above sea level, or lake level as the case may be.

But my girls will never know the agony of choosing to save their own life or that of a frosty cold beverage, for they will be the greatest of swimmers.  The one thing that saddens me at these Saturday morning swim sessions is witnessing the parade of divorced families using this noon hour as the drop off point for the switch from mom's house to dad's or vice versa. I see the bags packed full of weekend gear, I see the mom's giving those extra long goodbye hugs and I see the kids who don't appear bothered at all, for they have settled into this life, this routine that is comfortable and common to them.  "Don't worry, kids are resilient", they all say.

And I am reminded how ugly the face of divorce can be. I clearly remember my ex coming to pick up the kids for the first "switch day". I remember the twin whom I had guessed would be falling apart was brave and stoic, while her sister screamed and reached for me as she was carried out the door.  I could hear her screams all the way to the car.  I shut the door behind me and slid down to the floor, like a hollowed out tree, there was nothing left inside of me. I was numb.

While cleaning out some old files, I recently ran across a photo taken of Mr. Sunshine with the kids, just after our separation. It was a black and white photo used in a campaign brochure for his run at a seat in the State Assembly.  The Commando is standing next to him with his arm around his dad and a look on his face that brought me right back to that empty, hollowed out vortex I once inhabited. I looked at the innocence of a child who was being manipulated by a man terrified of losing his children.

I saw the brightness that has only recently returned to his eyes and I also saw a little guy who wanted nothing more than to please his dad.  Smile for the camera, let's tell the voting public we are a happy family, while behind the scenes, he was witnessing the unraveling of his father.  Mommy left us....mommy took the toaster so I can't make toast for breakfast, as he broke down crying in front of them for the very first time.  For years, I couldn't make toast without one of them screaming at me for taking daddy's toaster, the same toaster I had had since I first moved out on my own at the age of 19. It was only recently one of them finally opened up to me about what happened that day.  He must have been holding in all of his guilt, anger and raw emotion when the toaster's disappearance served as the catalyst for him to release it.

Eventually, as all divorced families do, we settled into our own routine; that is, until he made the decision to commit a felony fraud landing himself in a country club to serve 30 months of cooking, gardening and exercise duty while I usher the kids through this most difficult of transitions.  I've been through the unraveling of our son and I've seen him put back together again.  I am seeing more subtle signs from the girls.  Just as in that black and white photo, when they were too young to truly process their pain, they are now too strong to let this openly bother them; but the truth is there, if you look closely enough.  They are taking their emotions out on each other, as only twins could do.

Sitting through teacher conferences last week, I was told in each case, one by one, all three of these children are "gifted writers". It is up to me to nurture this in them.  I know what it is to have it, but I don't know what it is to believe in it from an early age.  We are always writing stories, or telling stories, or imagining a great title for a book or noticing humanity for the good and the bad.  Soaking it in until we realize we can internalize it, process it and then tell it in a way that is earth bending.

Watching the American Idol preliminary auditions recently, one of the girls quickly surmised a pattern.  She noticed when a contestant has a gut wrenching back story told prior to their audition, they will inevitably be a good singer.  I was amazed at how quickly she tuned into this.  As obvious as it is to us, that's some pretty heady stuff for an 8 year old.  As I tucked her into bed weeks later, she told me she had come to another realization. "Mommy, I am living my own back story right now, aren't I", she asked with an intended sad inflection and a heart-melting frowney face.

Yes, you are honey. This is a hard time, a struggle of your very own but just like those singers on Idol, you know what happens when they have a difficult back story, right?  Then with confidence, she nodded and concluded she too would be a winner.

I see these families on Saturday morning through a black and white photo lens and I wonder about their lives. Are they being good and true to their children, forsaking their own anger and bitterness to do what is best for them or are they using them as weapons in their own sick battles for power, control, money or just simply to say they won? When I can feel the tension from the top row of the bleachers, I pray for them. Then I sit back and watch my beautiful girls, who have overcome so much and I pray for them too.  One of which is currently writing her autobiography.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Angry Mobs v. Governor Walker in Wisconsin (or how to run away from a fair fight)

Those that know me really well know I generally don't climb mountains but I would climb a mountain if it meant I could avoid a political debate.  I would circumvent the globe if it meant I wouldn't have to stand toe to toe with an over zealous protester who believes in their cause just enough to bring harm to others or worse yet, an ex-husband who morphed from an agnostic to a right winged conservative political pundit/candidate right before my eyes.  The very same conservative Republican candidate then committed a federal fraud landing him in jail for a term of 30 months. I fucking hate politics, the game, the facade, the labels placed upon us all.

I grew up in Oklahoma and as such, I was given the legacy bestowed upon me by me "Democrat" father.  I place the word Democrat in parenthesis as his version of Democrat does not jive with the culture of today.  I clearly recall my father being a hard working American man who would drive me through the northeast sections of Oklahoma City, pointing out the people who chose to sit on their porches instead of working.  He called them many names. He routinely used the "N" word and referred to them as porch monkeys. 

He told me his tax dollars were allowing them to live on their porches. I didn't understand his words at the time but I could taste his hate.  I rebelled against it, arguing with him in my uneducated 11 year old brain.  I insisted he could not understand their plight for he had not walked in their shoes.  He told me they didn't need shoes on the front porch. (Insert internal soul-killing death scream here.)

Living in Wisconsin for the past ten years, working in a politically conservative environment, I have hidden my Democratic roots.  I have been told many times, my actual philosophies align more with the Republicans and I know that is true when it comes to taxes, for God's sake, that was a real eye-opener moving up here.  But, I have held onto my beliefs because I cannot stand the soap box diatribes from those that would like to condemn homosexuals, women who have had abortions and people who need a helping hand from time to time.  I do not like to judge.  I do not care for people who judge and I believe in extending an open arm to those who find themselves in need of a little help from their friends.

But today, I am ashamed to call myself a Democrat.  I work hard for my money.  My company has been forced to cut raises, bonuses, incentives, holiday parties, monthly luncheons, technology upgrades and staff.  I have watched my co-workers walk to their cars with boxes in hand.  I have endured annual increases on health insurance, with this year being the worst - nearly 40%.  I am on my own, raising my children with no help, no support and my salary has regressed as raises diminish and health insurance costs rise. 

Today I witnessed no less than 15 schools in the state of Wisconsin shut down because the teachers took a day off to protest at the state Capitol in Madison.  Today I saw thousands of people demanding, expecting; nay,  feeling entitled to a set of rights I have never been given, never offered, never even considered as a possibility.  Today I am proud of our newly elected Governor because I believe sometimes you have to break necks to cash checks. 

I am not ready to call myself a R....R...Re....Rep...Republican. I don't like labels.  Never have, never will.  But I want to say to that group of cowardly politicians that fled the state to avoid the new sheriff in town, you have shown your true colors and they are yellow.  You were elected to stand up for us, not to run.  I'm not sure if I've made this absolutely clear but I hate politics and hate is the strongest word in my arsenal.  Imagine myself and my fellow senior managers catching wind of an uprising among the workers in our company.  Let's say the accountants are feeling under appreciated during their busiest time of the year and they are screaming at us for the high cost of health insurance.  They took pay cuts for two years straight and yet, they work harder than ever. But that is not going to happen because you know what?  They have a job.  They are employed and in this economy, they have accepted the sacrifices because the alternative is much worse.

Why then?  Why do all these people march on the capitol of my state and insist they should be treated better than I, better than my co-workers, better than most of the hard working American citizens, including my late, misguided, uninformed father?  Why?

I am at a crucible. My brain is telling me to write something my heart does not want to believe. Was my father right?  Was my registered Democrat, Reagan hating father spot on in one respect? Should people be entitled to that which another is not?  His characterizations were based on racist principles; those that my heart shall never embrace.

But today, it was not about race.  It was not about poverty or privilege.  It was about a man whom I formerly placed in the category of a cad.  Not my father, but the former Milwaukee County Executive, now Governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker.  I categorized him based upon my ex-husband's affiliation with him.  "He is one of them". Just another politician, well spoken, family man - probably stealing money on the side or sleeping with staffers.  I have met him, sat across a luncheon table with him, liked him and appreciated what he was doing for Milwaukee County but jaded I was.  Jaded, for sure.

Jaded no more.  For you, Mr. Governor sir, I respect.  And God only knows how utterly difficult that is for me to admit.