Thursday, November 25

Trying for Thankful

I'm trying hard to muster up Thankfulness without bitterness this year.  For every thing I should be thankful for I find myself enveloping it in sarcastic bitterness.

I'm thankful I have 3 healthy children... even if my oldest lives 3000 miles away and my youngest are being kept from me.

I'm thankful I could talk to my children this morning and share some thanksgiving memories with them... even as they go to another woman's house to help prepare a feast to share with her, not me.

I'm thankful my children are having a full thanksgiving meal today... even though their excitement and joy about it wounds my heart with jealousy, loss, regrets, and irrational anger.

I'm thankful my daughter gets to make cookies today... even if she makes them with another woman, and eats them at someone elses thanksgiving day table.

I'm thankful for the 18 years of memorable thanksgivings I have in my heart... even if each one reminds me of everything that's been taken from me.

I'm thankful my family is safe, happy, warm, and loved... even though I can't provide that or share that with them.

I'm thankful that even if the whole world forgets about it, I know that I am still the mom.  I am... even if I'm the only one who remembers...

Mia

Tuesday, November 16

Wish List

An email from my mother in law is in my inbox.  I haven't replied because I have to wait for the angry feelings to go away first. 

She spent some time with my youngest recently and was commenting on how much fun she'd had *stab stab stab* being with my "darling little girl". *stab stab stab* 

She asked what I thought my daughter would like for her birthday, what her interests are and what size she wears *stab stab stab* and then went on to remind me that a) I had once "chided" her for sending a gift card  b) which had been my husbands idea c) since we'd just moved out west and didn't know what stores were there.  Uh, ahem, really?  Let's talk about this, mother in law dear...

First of all, my husband hated gift cards for children - said that they were thoughtless and showed that the sender couldn't be bothered to know the recipients interests or put forth the effort to give a gift that showed any care or connection.  At the time I bought into it and agreed with him - this was information we shared during our dating and first holiday years.  As our children came along he was disgusted on a personal level when a gift card was given to them.  What is a good wife to do?  Smooth it over, shine a positive light on it, make it feel as good as possible, and subtly discreetly refer to the gift card vs gift giving concept in a neutral non threatening way at some time in the future.  Check.  Secondly, the situation she was referring to happened almost 6 years ago - SIX YEARS - when my "darling" daughter was six years old.  A) 6 year olds are pretty easy to buy for and B) after six years I think it's time to let it go.

But... whatever.  I'm easy to blame, I make a good scapegoat for the dissolution of the marraige: I'm not there to defend myself and I never could stand up to their expectations anyway; so it's ok for her to *stab stab stab* me with rubbing my face in my separation from my daughter and to bring up old grudges as a way to set a precedent for what a horrible person I am and have always been. Whatever helps her sleep at night.

In the meantime, a more real reply to her email would be this: 
       What my daughter wants most isn't something you can buy "grandma".  She wants me.  She wants to be happy and secure and safe, and to know that her family is not divided and in conflict, tossing around accusations and lies and trying to hurt each other.  She wants her grandma to help her see her momma, to talk with her daddy about how to make this better, to come and visit with her and do some of the things daddy can't or won't do.  Come, grandma, do some laundry or cook a hot meal, bring her to visit her momma an extra time or two just because you know it's the right thing to do.  Want to go shopping and buy her something? Invite momma along and share it all together.  Want to make her little heart shine and grow? Do what you think you can't: interfere, intervene, intrude.  Or, you could just shrug your shoulders and send a gift card.  Whatever helps you sleep at night.

I don't care if you send a gift card or a gift or if you even consider my words or not.  I am still the mom.

Friday, November 12

Speechless moments

One:
She is doing some dishes and I am sitting on a stool chatting with her, just passing time.  We've been friends for 12 years now and there is always something to talk about. 

"He's been gone for 7 full days now and I am done! I've never been away from him for that long and I hate it! I feel like just going there and telling him to get in the car and come home!" Her back is to me and she can't see my face.  She is laughing at herself and doing dishes and I am sitting there with tears streaming down my face. 

She is talking about her son, a boy the same age as mine, a boy I've known for 12 years and whom I tease and chat with easily even now.  He is her firstborn, a son she sees everyday except for this year, this 10 days of summer camp.  She misses him because out of almost 14 years she has never been away from him for so long. She keeps talking about missing him and I am thinking about all the days I've missed MY son.  I think about how I had never been away from MY son before either, and now it's been week after week after week for months and months.  I hate her almost, because she can miss her son but yet NOT miss him - because in a couple of days he'll be back in her arms, in her house, in the room she nags him to clean, eating the food she cooks, and their time apart will be nothing more than a hiccup. 

She turns off the tap and folds the dishtowel while saying, with an embarrassed laugh, "I mean, really, how can anyone expect a mom to go so long without seeing her kid?!" 

You'd be surprised at what people expect a mom to do.

Two:
We are sitting at the dining table chatting over a glass of wine.  Her husband is watching tv in the other room and both her sons are in their rooms.  It's nice quiet girl time for us.  Special time because we have it so rarely.  We are talking about her youngest and how he's changing as he moves into puberty and how she has some fears about what is up ahead.  He is the same age as my youngest, but with some significant differences that make anticipating normal changes something worth fretting over and discussing.

"I don't know," she says, "it's always something these days and I can't tell if it's supposed to be happening or if it's a symptom of something I have to worry about!"  I murmur to her, wordless mutterings of empathy, listening intently.  "Like, his sleeping pattern is different now and it's driving me crazy. He has trouble sleeping even with his usual medicine.  I guess it's the age, is it like that with Bear too?"  She is so worried, stressed, and seeking understanding that she doesn't register what she has said.

My eyes tear up instantly and when I speak, my voice is thick and quivery.  "I don't know..." and then she gets it.  I mean it really, I don't know.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry! Oh God, I'm sorry! I didn't mean it, I know I know, it's ok..." and she is holding me and I am sobbing into her chest because the truth is that I don't know - I'm not there to know if my baby is having a hard time sleeping, if she is sad or lonely in the middle of the night, if she is scared or has funny dreams or is too tired.  I'm not there, and no one tells me.

Important point about those speechless moments:

She never means any harm.  Ever.  This is my truest bestest friend who has seen all the parts of my life over the past years and has been instrumental in helping me be with my kids whenever possible. I know she would never deliberately pose such questions and the truth is that I don't want her to NOT pose those questions.  I want to speak freely and for HER to speak freely.  I want to talk about her missing her son - I know how it is to miss your child.  I want to talk about her fears with her other son - I know how it is to fear for your childs future.  I don't want her to stop talking about things just because they hurt me. 

These moments happen all the time to me with other people.  Moments when I find myself having to explain or justify or change the subject even.  Moments when I have to bend down and pick up some peice of lint off the floor to disguise my tears, or start coughing to cover up the quiver in my voice.  It's easier when they happen with her because I don't have to hide.  I don't have to censor or explain - and I hope she never does either.

There are times I'm speechless, yes, but I'm still the mom.

Thursday, November 11

Picking Peices

I drive 70 miles, one way, to see my children.  It's about an hour and 20 minutes most of which is a straight shot of interstate. 

On a "long" visit, I drive the hour plus long/70 miles, pick them up and drive an hour plus long/70 miles back to my house where we all try to reconnect for the day before we pile into the car for the hour plus long/70 mile ride back to drop them off... and I turn around and drive that long trip all by myself back to my house.  On a "regular" visit, it's 280 miles, and over 5 hours of travel time all on ONE DAY just so I can be with my children for 3 hours.  "He" won't do half of it - and hasn't been ordered to by the court so I have no choice but to do it on my own. It's been a complete solid year of that now.  You do the math.

On a "regular" visit, the trip is just me driving all the way out there, spending a few hours with the kids for dinner, and then driving back home alone.  114 miles and almost 3 hours of driving all by myself with my thoughts and regrets and grief.

There have been times when I had to pick between gas money for the trip or gas money to get to and from work for the week.

There have been times when I have packed up every bit of food I could rummage from the cabinets and fridge into a cooler to bring with me so I could feed my children dinner and use cash on hand for tolls and gas.

There have been times I could not go see my children because there wasn't gas in the car or money to buy any.

It's all about picking the right option, and about picking out time and picking over funds on a day to day basis.  It's about picking up extra hours at work, picking ramen over rice, picking staying home over driving to the library, picking up scrap paper and lost pennies, picking up discarded soda cans to return, picking the shorter time route or the less distance drive, picking the dollar menu items over the meal deals, and picking quantity over quality which they hate or quality over quantity which I hate: no matter what the experts spout. 

It's about picking which lie to buy, which shade of rose to paint on my glasses, which child to please, which way to pose the truth, and which fucking breath to breathe, and which peices of our lives to pick up and hold tight and which ones to let die away forevermore.

It's always about picking.  I used to pick up the laundry, pick up the legos, pick up the piles of mail and homework and discarded dishes.  I used to pick up children, prescriptions, friends, and birthday cakes.  I picked up socks, dog poop, used kleenex, and the newspaper.  Now I just pick up peices of memories, peices of life. 

I keep this little red pic from my son to remind me that no matter what guitar (or what life force) is being used,  and no matter what song (or what note) is being played, the difference between just grabbing on with your hands or finely picking with a pick is noticeable.  It can create a sound that is worth stopping to listen to instead of a sound to ignore. 

Picking matters.  Picking on a guitar, or picking this over that in life.

And so I pick. 

And I hold onto this red plastic pick that my son has created music with so I can remind myself of that one fact. 

Picking matters. 

Even when the difference is unnoticeable to the untrained, it matters.

Thursday, November 4

Repetitive Memorization

Remember rote memorization from grade school? Sitting in rows, everyone chanting the times tables outloud, writing each fact ten times in a row, taking timed tests... the way some kids groaned because they already knew it all and how other kids groaned because it seemed like they'd never get it?  Now in our later years, our 40's and more, we remember them though, don't we?  At least the basic ones that allow us to recall the the others... memorization and repetition was key.

I've lost so much with the passing of time - lost an entire year and a half now of my childrens lives. Lost opportunities, chances, moments of critical bonding, memory making activities, traditions and familiar comforts that I could have shared with my children.  But I was shored up in the midst of grief by this: repetitive memorization cements a fact into you. 

I had 12 years of repetitve actions with my children and my love will be, IS, cemented into them.  I am still the mom even though I'm not the one making their lunches now, not the one folding their clothes and nagging about their shoes in the hall and not the one signing permission slips and helping with homework.  The fact of my love still remains.

Saturday, October 16

Tick Tock

He sits on the floor watching as his guitar is restrung.  We've eaten dinner at the table and now he is there in the music room all full of food, relaxed, and engaged.  She is upstairs lost in the world of animated action controlled by her own hands as she tries again and again to navigate a make believe hard place: far preferable to navigating the hard places of real life.  She is clean, fed, entertained, cuddled, and adored and now she is up there relaxed and at peace.  I have driven, fed, bathed, supervised, entertained, been captive audience; I have cooked and cleaned, held, tickled, scolded, nagged, teased, cajoled, instructed, enforced, loved, loved, loved, and now I sit here in this space inbetween them both and I watch the clock.

In 14 minutes we will be in the car, in the dark, in the cold, on our way away from this day of love and reconnection, speeding onward to break apart again all that we built up in these few hours.  These last minutes go too quick - they each need their own space to process that our day is done and that separation lies in wait.  I can't help them except to offer that space, that safe space, the love that endures the separateness and the separating. 

I hate these fleeting last minutes - it is hell, a tick tock tick tock tick tock hell. 

Friday, October 15

Holding Love

When my first child was born, I was enamored with her ears.  They were the perfect little pink seashells in exactly the right place.  They were so fragile looking, so tender, and so beautiful.  I love many things about my girl, she is all grown up now and yet her ears still remain one of my favorite parts of her - she is a good listener, she hears people.

When my second child was born, it was his hands that I marveled over.  He had these amazingly big mitts! It reminded me of the way in which you can guesstimate how big a puppy will be by their big floppy feet.  My boy had BIG hands. Granted, he was a 9.5lb baby, and his hands were in proportion to the rest of him, but still - I looked at those hands and could imagine how big and strong he'd be; like his daddy.  I imagined the love he'd hold in those hands, the gentleness in them when he was grown. He's just a boy still, a large thrumming teen catapulting his way through these years on his way to adulthood and his hands have been everything I'd imagined so far - as well as few things I hadn't.

When my youngest arrived, everything about her was petite, tiny, a perfect package in exquisite detail.  I loved her hands too - her fingers were so elegant, long and graceful, each finger perfectly formed.  On the cusp of adolescence now, her hands are gentle and soft, still beautiful and long fingered, and always outward reaching.

In elementary school one year, my two youngest made these glass dishes formed partly by their hand imprints:

 They were so beautiful! I cherished them and kept them safe in a curio cabinet. 

These days though I have them sitting right out on my dresser.  They often hold the bits and peices of my days: earrings, pennies, paperclips, a guitar pick... the things from my pocket or my bedside table that I scoop up and deposit there. 


And now they hold the love that I tripped over...

Funny how things work out sometimes, isn't it?

Love, Mia


Saturday, October 9

Love Rocks

It was in May, warm and sunny and it was his 14th birthday. 

The year before had been mid-chaos and fractured, but I was still living at home and though there was very little in the way of communication between my husband and I, we'd managed to pull together a little party of sorts for the all important Thirteenth Birthday.  A few special friends playing basketball in the driveway, plugging in the amp and rockin out on the guitar in the late afternoon spring air, burgers and dogs on the grill, the gift of using an adult friends music studio to have a mini-jam session, and then sundaes and PS2. 

This year was different. How could I make his special day "special" when I wasn't even there?  I'm the mom - so I did what I could.  I spent my car payment on his gift: a used Ibenez Acoustic he'd be sure to love, all set with pickups and gone over in fine detail first. We baked and decorated a cake, piled picnic foods in a cooler, and drove the 70 miles to pick him up. 

Our new version of family: my now-14 year old boy, my youngest girl only 12, my grown up girl of 20 who had come home from across the US to live with me briefly, and me. We drove to a favorite hiking place and ate our picnic, blew out candles on the cake, and listened to my boy play his new guitar while sitting on a huge boulder in the middle of a beautiful park. Then we hiked.

In the past, my son had leapt and scampered and dare-deviled his way through the trails and this time was no different but one brief moment found us walking side by side, quietly.  I tripped, not an unusual thing, and we bent to see what (if anything) I had stumbled over.  My son held my arm for support as I bent over to peer at the ground.  I tripped over this:



An ordinary rock?  It seemed to be, but still I chose to dig it free from the ground and to our amazement, this is what I found in my hand:      


I tripped over love.




Tuesday, September 28

Current Events - pt 2

     You need to take responsibility for your actions. You haven't taken responsibility for your actions! When are you going to take responsibility for yourself?
     Those are words I heard him say to me and assume it is what he says about me to others. Words I know he says to himself about me when he tells himself why it's ok that he's behaving the way he is.
     She seems to minimize her behaviors and shift responsibility off herself. ...blames others... Has minimized her role in this matter. Explains away events. Does not accept responsibility for personal role. Did not cry or show emotion, was serious.
     Statements and fragments of statements written about me by a "professional" after a "brief interview" with me and then a lengthy discussion with him.


For more than a week now I've thought nonstop about these things, about the theme expressed by those words. About the constancy of it's being brought up over the past year.  If I remove all emotion from my thoughts, remove my attachment to the meaning and my need to respond, then I can see the way in which these things might have a foundation in truth. But only if I remove emotion and attachment and involvement, only if I try to stand outside it all. And then I see too, how my every effort to explain ANYTHING about my behavior, my actions, my FEELINGS even, appears to be blaming, shifting responsibility, minimizing.

If the shoe were on the other foot.... as the cliche states so accurately.


I don't necessarily accept that the statements and resultant theme held over me are true or valid - but I do accept that it is a believed (and believable) stance from which he has made his argument. And only by doing that, by seeing how he's arrived there at that point and how he's made it his absolute truth, am I able to finally, finally, oh God finally, let go of my futile attempt to figure out what to do to make this whole thing better.


I can't change his truth. I can't change his perception, nor can I change the tremendous damage I have done over the past year in my efforts at trying to change his truth (aka blaming, shifting responsibility, minimizing...).


What I can do is accept all of that and work with it instead of against it.

I can do what I expect HIM to do and that is to accept responsibility for my actions regardless of WHY those actions were committed.  I can stop explaining why I've done something and simply sit with what I've done and the way that is perceived by others... and then respond to that.  Not by explaining any reasons, but simply by responding.

I will do this because this is what grown ups do: take responsibility.  I will do this because it is what a mom does, what a mom wants her kids to do, and I am, after all is said and done, Still The Mom.

Love, Mia

Tuesday, September 7

Friday Balancing Act

I've tried over and over for the past hour and 45 minutes.  I can't reach them by phone and I am alternately worried, outraged, and annoyed.

Worried: Did they make it home from school ok? Did something happen late last night? Is someone sick?  Is everything ok? What if He is sick? I hope He is ok... no, don't go there...  What if my son is in trouble at school?  Did my daughter have a problem walking home from the bus all by herself? It's been raining, was there some accident?

Outraged: I can't believe it! He got them right after school and took them out and now they'll be late! He's done it before - I'm sure that's what he's done. I've driven 70 miles, it's taken over an hour with the rain and the Friday traffic and now I have to just sit... and wait... and it's one more thing I don't have choice or control or say in. Argh! I hate this whole thing! No, I know, he blocked my number and they can't get my calls. Like before... come ON!!!  Aren't we done with this yet? What, did he hide the house phone, take away my son's cell phone? Is this such a joke to him?

Annoyed: Sheesh, they NEVER answer their phone anymore. I'm just "a mom" and my son ignores my calls and texts just like he does to his dad.  They never answer the home phone or they can't find it or can't hear it. They were supposed to call me when they got home, this is soooo annoying!  Forgetful, air headed, thoughtless teens!  They know I'm coming, we just spoke last night and now I've called 5 times and texted twice... watch, they won't even be home or maybe they will but they won't be ready to go... Argh!

But then, as I am getting into my car to drive the half mile to their house from my friends house where I stay when I come to be with them, I try one more time and my son answers.  I am short, terse; relieved and with no reason for outrage, I'm just annoyed.  My son starts to explain and I cut him off.  "I'll be there in two minutes.  Be ready to go, OK?"  "Yeah mom, we're ready!"

The sight of them coming out the door and down the drive makes my heart feel like it's actually swelling, rising up in my chest, filling up.  And at the same time, at the sight of their faces I feel pain so peircing that my eyes well up with tears that burn like acid as I tilt my head back to prevent the spillover.  Mustn't let them see me cry. I am the mom, the grownup, the safe stable adult whom THEY can cry in front of.

Our time together is full full full of chatter.  Their first few days of school, their classes and teachers and friends and what they've been doing after school and in the evenings and this very day while I was trying to call them. 

We eat, we watch tv, we talk.  And while I am bitter that I have to impose on my friends hospitality just to have time with my kids, and am simultaneously bound by the limitations of her house and her time, I am oh so grateful that I have a friend so willing to open her house and her heart to three extra people on a Friday night when she is already tired and worn from her own long week.

My son falls asleep on the couch while I play Yahtzee with my daughter.  I see his sleeping face morph from the thin cheeked, big nosed, distant eyed teenager into the soft mouthed, sparkly spirited little boy that my heart will always hold.  My daughter and I whisper and try to shake our dice as quietly as we can.  Her spirit is joyful and radiant as we share this private moment when it is just her and I.  I am so unsettled, dissapointed, guilty even, that my son is tired and can't just go to his own room to rest, can't even go home because taking him home means taking them BOTH home and means me getting "in trouble" for not sticking to the committed time of 8pm.  I am also elated, fulfilled, and cleansed by sharing this almost intimate time alone with my daughter, time we need, want, are desperate for - this time that is a salve on the wounds we both feel.

There is so much to feel and so little time to feel it in.  We have three hours.  My emotions are so wide and deep and go from one continent in my heart to another.  Balancing that all out to feel the simple joy of mothering my children in the moment takes a heavy dose of denial, a generous amount of not thinking ahead, a foundation seated in not remembering 'before'.  Staying present and focused without prejudicing the moment by adding guilt, remorse, and sorrow take effort that leaves me exhausted, drawn, empty. 

And I haven't even begun to consider their emotions: those of my sleepy teenage son who has to balance normal behavior with the want and need of a boy for his mom and the guilt associated as he navigates those two huge places in his heart, seasoned with anger and grief; and those of my pre-teen daughter, so needing of me, so genuinely cheerful and open hearted that she'll welcome the attentions of any female in my place, and the guilt she tries to pretend isn't pricking at her sweet spirit, well marinated in confusion and unanswered questions, torn loyalties, and sweet love.

Balancing it all in my heart, tipping the weight of it one way or the other by smile, tone of voice, and the noncommittal even tempered, "mmmm..." until later.  Balanced until they are out of the car and through the doors into their own home - the one that is still in my name but I can no longer go inside.  Balanced until I am alone and all the work of holding it together comes undone.

I carry always though, the knowledge that my kids do their own unbalancing act. For that fact alone, I am the most full of self loathing.

I am their mom, still, and always. Unbalanced, balanced, and somewhere in-between.

Love, Mia

Thursday, September 2

Current Events

While the stories are still unfolding here, so you can understand why my life is the way it is, there are things happening every day that impact my relationship with my kids.  Today was another setback.  In moments like this I find myself numb and distant, only able to think the same one thought over and over: "Isn't there any one, any where, who can fix this?"

Essentially, more than a year ago now, my husband told the court I was mentally unstable and he feared for our childrens safety.  No evidence of harm or innappropriate behavior committed by me: to them or near them or indirectly toward them, just that one verbal statement that he had "serious concerns" and I have been viewed as a threat ever since.

At first, in September and October of last year, I had supervised visits with my kids.  They were supervised at my husbands request, by a couple we jointly knew.  This couple? I had cared for their children while that mom was in a mental health facility.  I had listened to her, pre and post her hospital stay, tell me about screaming at her children, cursing at them, telling them to leave the room before she beat them.  She told me how scared her kids were when she told them she felt like hurting herself and that she had to call a friend to help her.  This was the woman who my husband asked the courts to assign as a guardian during my visits with my kids. 

Initially she was willing, compassionate, and available. Then she wasn't.  She had issues of her own, her husband was sick, her kids were struggling, etc.  I was able to arrange, legally, for a friend of mine to be listed as an alternate so I could still see my kids. And then the restrictions were lifted, sort of.

In October I had moved into a house in our town with the parents of a girl who used to babysit our kids a very long time ago.  We had stayed in touch (the mom and I) and she invited me to stay in the room her daughter, now all grown up and moved out, used to be in. The newest legal changes allowed for me to have my kids overnight and unsupervised, so long as the overnights were at that house, and that address, at my husbands request.

Everything happened relatively quickly and what came to light as I moved in and then the kids came to stay a weekend was that the house was filthy - real actual filth, mold, dust, animal hair, rodent excrement, etc. as well as very poor plumbing resulting in not much hot water available and only one usable bathroom. Additionally both the missus and the mister were entrenched in depression so thick that it hung in the air, a helpless hopeless despair of health issues, insomnia, financial ruin, unemployement: which is the reason I guess for all the filth.  And then there was the drinking.  Mister was a drinker of the sort that starts in the late afternoon and continues until he passed out in the late late evening but he would always rouse himself to drink more, sit in a bathtub of cold filmy water for hours sipping more alcohol, and then finally go to bed somewhere around 5am.  After a couple of boozy inappropriate nighttime run-ins, I knew this would NOT work. 

Nice people? yes. Generous to allow me to move in? yes. But it was not a place where I OR my kids would be safe, have a healthy environment, and the ability to settle in or experience some stability.

I moved - in late November of last year... and where I moved was where I could have a sound stable safe clean environment that welcomed my children and provided a foundation for me.  Where I moved was where I could find employment, and a future.  And where I moved was both where my husband subsequently refused to allow the kids to stay overnight, and was over an hour away.  But with no other options I didn't know what else to do. 

I felt like I was NEVER going to be able to get my kids on a regular basis and since ending my own existence wasn't a viable option (yeh, been there, tried that!) my next choice was to persevere with gaining a future that held something resembling hope and peace.  So in spite of his refusal to let the kids stay with me, I stayed there... or rather here, where I am now.

I gritted my teeth and pushed my grief at bay through minimal visits with my kids in December, January, and February hoping he'd see that I was in a stable secure place, employed in the same job, and that the kids were enjoying our visits and not suffering any harm.  I made it to soccer games, school meetings, and provided appropriate holiday treats.  And then I petitioned the court to extend my visits at my new residence.  March 2010.  A year after I'd originally filed for divorce, 9 months since I'd lived with my children, and 4 months since I'd had them overnight with me.

My husband said that thing again, the "serious concerns about mental health" and the judge believed him.  No matter my job, my stable housing, my compliance with every other restriction, my childrens health and well being - no evidence to support HIM or his statement, and with no credit for anything I'd done, I was refused. 

I was ordered to undergo a mental health evaluation at a court clinic.  Our next court date was scheduled for July 2010.  A few weeks later I was told that the judge would be out on a county exchange in July so we wouldn't be heard until September.  It took until July to get an appointment at the clinic anyway. 

What I got was more time lost with my kids: no spring vacation, no summer vacation, no sleepovers or extended vacations.  Just alternate Saturdays from 8am to 10pm.  No assistance with transportation for the 70 mile drive. 

And finally my mental health evaluation and a court date of September 7th, 2010.

My evaluation was initiated and then, of course, that doctor went on vacation and didn't return until this week.  That result is that the report on the evaluation, which the judge needs time to review, is not completed yet and so the court clerk was told to postpone and reschedule the Sept. 7 date for a couple weeks out.  More time lost with my kids. 

I still don't know when the date will be, only that it will be that much longer before I can see my children for any extended time.  I don't even know for sure that this "evaluation" and this doctors assessment will be favorable and that I will even be granted the time I want with my kids.  But in my heart I was counting on September 7, 2010 as the day I'd be exonerated and finally freed from the burden of this "mentally unstable" label my husband is using. 

I try not to dwell in how unfair it's been from the start, on how much injustice has been forced down my throat, and on how much fear drives so many of my choices on a daily basis - anger? maybe anger looks unfounded and irrational so I better not be angry! grief? maybe crying looks over sensitive and irrational and unstable so I better not cry! 

I try not to dwell on how, if experience were to be my guide, I maybe should plan on losing custody entirely, on being placed back on supervised visits, on being told I can't be with my children at all, or that we will have to postpone until November, or some other ridiculous date.

But it's hard.  It's so hard not to dwell in those places.  I keep moving forward one day at a time trying to adjust my expectations.  But it's hard.

However hard it is for me? Think how hard it is for my son who started high school the other day, or for my daughter who is right in the middle of really needing a mom for 'girl stuff' right now. 

Love, Mia

Saturday, August 28

Now (2)

We get in the car and drive into town for pizza.  They are both full of chatter, interrupting each other, talking over each other, and then bickering about it.  I am smiling and relieved and happy just to be with them, to hear their voices, but also bummed because now I have to run interference and one of them is going to be hurt or feel irritated and our time together is so short that I hate to have it marred by that.  Experience has shown that one of the two has the unfortunate tendancy to hold a grudge and be upset for hours at the merest slight.

But that is what a mom does, runs interference between siblings, reminds children of manners (even amongst their siblings!) and doesn't let a childs moodiness ruin a moment for everyone.  So I am the mom, and I hold up a hand, and I use my cowboy accent to call out a "hold up there a minute outlaws!" and tonight I am lucky because they laugh and we regroup and then we are pulling into the restaurant and everything is fine.

We bounce out of the car, the three of us, and collide in front of it.  My girl leans into me for a hug and there is such need and want and ache rolling off of her that I can feel it.  She closes her eyes and sighs deeply, a small curve of contentment on her lips as I wrap my arms around her and press my lips into her soft freckled cheek.  I wonder if she can feel my own need and want and ache rolling off of me?  My son stands, awkward and lanky, all gangly legs and arms right next to us, embarrassed that there is this hugging thing going on right in the parking lot and not wanting to be identified by anyone he knows.

We order and get drinks and find a table.  Seated, the chatter begins again.  My son had high school orientation and I drag the details out of him word by word - chatter about nothing is easy but to tell your parent about something they are asking about is teenage torture. 

He's entering high school.  He's grown and changed so much this year and I've missed so many of the tiny little moments that are normally taken for granted but matter in a foundational way.  I think the missing of those things hurts more than the missing of the big things.  He's taller than me, weighs more, shaves, has pimples, his voice sounds more like a mans voice now and I missed the journey that got him to this place.  When I left, when I thought it was just a couple of weeks until he'd be with me again, he was smaller, lighter, younger, smoother - still recognizable as my little boy in most ways. Now I see my little boy only in brief glimpses; the flash in his eye when he teases me, the sound of his laughter.

My girl sits close to me, nearly on me, nestled into my side, arm pressed into mine.  She too is different, having grown right into puberty full force, and the feel of her body is at odds with my memory of how she should feel, all pressed into me the way she is.  She is not yet taller than me but it won't be long.  She weighs more than me now though, is more solid and sturdy than a year ago. She is going to be such a lovely young woman.  Her eyes are so beautiful and I love the crazy wild freckles so abundant on her face.  She has skin that feels to me like I imagine a rain laden cloud might feel: full, warm, rich, comforting. 

We eat, laughing like crazy at the pre-schooler sitting at a table behind us and his determination to drink the salt from the saltshaker.  His mothers voice is hissing, "I said stop licking the salt shaker!" and we are doing that silent shaking laughter with the occasional snort or squeak.

It feels good. 

The bookstore and some mindless browsing.  I'm irritated but keep it hidden when my son is constantly texting with his friends.  This is MY time, and its so precious to me, but he is a teenager and he is normal and he is just doing what teenagers do.  He shouldn't have to spend every second focused on me just because I miss him so much.  I know he misses me too, but his friends ARE the essence of his life and he has to separate and become this independant soul and I want to honor that.  My daughter finds a book quickly but I am dismayed at the cost - I can't afford it - I am heartbroken at not being able to give her this gift, a book, something so reasonable.  I simply say I'm sorry but she will have to find one for about half of the cost.  She remembers that she has money at home and thinks maybe we can share the cost and I am thrilled to know I can do this.  I smile, she smiles, we are both content with this. My son finds a magazine, turns his nose up at every book suggestion I make, and I remember my oldest daughter doing this at the same age.  I am no less irritated though at the ridiculous snubbing of so many fabulous books I am offering to buy.  He calls his dad and makes a deal so his dad will buy his magazine for him and he is smug with me.  I have just been relegated to seriously unimportant and useless.  I sigh.  Oh buddy, I say.  He has the sense to look ashamed of his ploy.  We pay and I can't shake the little grief that has lodged again in my heart.

Driving home we chatter, tell jokes and stories, and plan for our next time together.  At their house, the one that is still mine but that I'm not allowed inside of, we hug.  And this time my son hugs me right there in the driveway, in public for anyone to see; he holds me for a while, lets me rub his back and smooth his hair and streeeetch up to kiss his cheek.  We hug several times while trying to say goodbye, and finally I shoo them into the house and I climb into my car.

On the way home I cry.

Thursday, August 26

After The First Part (2)

I drove-travelled for about 3 days.  I stopped when I wanted to, napped when I wanted to, ate when (and what) I wanted to.  I was 'doing' and 'being' just for ME.

Selfish? Maybe. Irresponsible? A little, in regards to my finances maybe, but since my kids were away with my 'husband' and I didn't have any other obligations so it didn't seem to really matter what I did or didn't do. Good for me? I don't know.  I think yes in some ways, the time of solitude and doing just for myself and not for anyone else; but no in some ways because of the solitude, the freedom which wasn't free-ing but empty and purposeless. 

I learned a lot in those few days.  I was brave, adventurous, challenged and victorious. I faced incredible fears and got through them, mostly, and learned a few limits as well.  I experienced things I've never experienced before, both good and bad.  And I did it on my own.  I found where my bottom line was and I was prepared for that with the phone number and address of a facility that professed to offer help.

When I went to stay at the place that promised to help me, I met an incredible doctor who listened to me, believed me, validated me.  I grieve that I only met her briefly and no longer can access her as a resource.  A partially retired occasional fill in on call when she wants to be kind of practitioner, I blossomed in courage while under her care.  She sent me home.  To my real home where he was, where my kids were.  She said I should reestablish my place there as was my right.  And I followed her advice.

With bravado, a bit of self righteous anger, a broken heart, and having had a respite, I left that place and drove to my home intending to live there until the divorce was finalized and spelled out the division of assets - as I was supposed to have done in the beginning but was too broken to do.

The result was him, coming home, late at night after I'd been there for awhile and unable to reach him.  The result was reaching him finally near midnight on the phone, and him arriving home to confront me.  It was an intense standoff of him barricading me in the guest room: all 6 foot 2 and 220 lbs of him in the doorway refusing to let me out while yelling and demanding to know where I'd been and why I was back.  The result was me, desperate to get out of that room, all 5 foot 4 and 110 lbs of me trying to dive inbetween the door frame and his arm.  The result was me on the floor on my back, him above me, a tangle of flailing arms and grabbing hands and me in a flight AND fight escape mode, grabbing the nearest body part (between his legs) and then scrambling, running, falling, scrambling, running, ahead was the kitchen door to the garage, his hands thrusting on my back, me flying through the air not touching the steps downward, landing on concrete, thinking my kids were inside the house terrified at what they were witnessing, desperate to get to them, rolling and turning and scrambling hands and knees back IN the house as his feet and hands kicking, pulling door shut on my head, yelling, and then sudden stopping of everything: a silence.  Him turning away, back inside, me pausing on hands and knees at the doorway, and hearing him using the phone to call the police.  "Hello? Yes, my wife is assaulting me and I want her arrested."  The result was knowing my kids weren't there, not knowing WHERE they were, the sound of sirens in the distance, the feel of stinging scrapes on my knees, palms, forearms.  The surreal wavery sensation of absolute disbelief that the man who had held me in his arms while I gave birth to our children, the man who held me in the middle of the night when my uncle died, the man whom I'd held when his mother died: this man had hurt me with his hands, and was calling the police.

I was handcuffed.  Escorted down my driveway and into a police car.  Driven to the station.  Photographed, fingerprinted, and put in a cell.  Me.  Stay at home mom, foster parent, girl scout leader, church-nursery attendent, church cleaning team member, teacher and facilitator, arrested.

I heard later that he tried to get them to release me but was told they couldn't.  I was told that he gave the bail money to the friend who came to pay for my release.  I was told that he drove my car a few blocks away so that I could retrieve it upon my release. 

I heard all that, but yet none of it stopped him from filing a restraining order declaring I was a significant threat to him and to the children and that I was to have NO contact whatsoever with them pending a hearing.  I was served with that order, after midnight, a full 24 hours afterward.  I can't even relay the extent of my devestation, shock, grief, bewilderment, disbelief, incomprehension at the events that had transpired in that 48 hours.  It was a Lifetime TV kind of moment.  A hokey B-movie kind of thing.  Yet it was real.

What now???

Today I am still here, and I am still the mom.  But I need to tell you what happened because even if you don't believe me, it all happened and it was as unbelievable to ME as it might be to you and I have to tell it to bring it to light.  I am the mom.  I always was, and always will be no matter what happened.  And that is only the beginning part...

Love, Mia

Wednesday, August 25

After The First Part (I)

I was in the hospital for just a few days.  He came every day and when I was discharged, I went with him, to our home.

The kids didn't know - they'd been with him out of state when I'd sent him the letter saying goodbye and they'd not yet been back when the police and ambulance that he'd sent came to get me.  While I was in the hospital I called them every day.

I was only home a day when he and I were fighting, when he was telling me how manipulative I was, how "sick" I was.  So I left. I went back to my lonely smelly miniscule apartment.

I spent two weeks going to a group program discussing feelings, boundaries, coping and self soothing techniques.  And I went to my job, and back to my empty apartment, and I saw the kids a few times.  I was exhausted, broke, and sad.  He was controlling and demanding and nothing was different.  By now I'd lost almost a full 25 lbs and I looked horrible. I refused anti-depressents because of how they made me feel actually crazy instead of just sad and hopeless.

He said if I didn't take them, and tell him, then I wouldn't be able to have the kids overnight.

It was a few days after our 14th anniversary, which we didn't celebrate obviously, when he again took the kids out of town with no notice, not asking if it was ok, and not allowing me the option for any time with them.  He'd already placed our 11 year old in a daycamp instead of letting her be with me, and he'd arranged to take our 13 year old to relatives to stay for a week.

I worked and supported myself, but it wasn't enough.  I saw the kids when he said I could, but I had no say in it, wasn't given the chance to actually parent them.  If I worked more, I saw the kids less.  If I worked less, I couldn't afford to see the kids more.  If I was sad and told him, he said I was "sick" and needed help.  If I was sad and didn't tell him, he said I wasn't "dealing" and could never be "healthy".  I figured, what the hell.  Nothing I did was right, there didn't seem to be a way to get ahead, and I was so broke I couldn't pay my bills or buy groceries for myself much less buy gas to visit with my kids.  He was taking them away, again, and since he'd told me I was irresponsible and unreliable, I decided I might as well really act that way.

I took a road trip all by myself.  I packed my car and got in and started driving.  I stopped by the library to load up on audio books, maps, and tourist books.  I packed my most important papers all together and brought with me.  I didn't know if I'd be coming back.  I researched mental health facilities in case I thought I needed one.  I drove.

It was lovely.  I called the kids every day.  He wanted to know what I was doing and where I was but I wouldn't tell him.  He was out of state and it didn't matter, nor did he have the right to know.  I drove thru the August sun.  I went to the beach.  I drove through the mountains.  I drove and drove and drove.  I went camping.

And then I stopped.

And I checked myself into a mental health "retreat" of sorts.

And would you believe that things got even worse after that??

Love, Mia

Tuesday, August 24

Now

He called as I was getting the kids organized to head out for the hour long drive back to their house. 

Back to the house that still bears my name on the mortgage.  The house that is in active foreclosure now.  The house I'm not "allowed" to go into without his permission.  His personal rule, not a legal rule.

He was out of state and informed me that I was to drop the kids off at the house where an aquaintance from church was going to be staying with them overnight and until he returned. I agreed, as usual automaticly responding without thought.  But by the time we were in the car, I was having serious second thoughts.

What kind of mom just drops her children off with someone she doesn't know well?  For an unknown length of time? Overnight no less.  And while their residential parent is out of state more than 3 hours away?  When she herself lives more than an hour away?  What if something happened to the other parent or to the kids?  Alarm bells. 

Ok. Be rational.  Kids are 14 and 12, old enough to tell someone if they are scared or hurt or being treated inappropriately. People who are to watch the kids are aquaintences with their own child - and are coming to the kids house to stay there with them.  But still - you know, it's unexpected for them and for me and I have some questions; I'm still the mom and I have some right to be informed and to have some say.  I know several other people with whom I'd feel more comfortable leaving the kids with and maybe we can find a compromise.

I call him back and leave a message saying that I have concerns, questions, and I am not comfortable. I say I'm not refusing to bring the kids home but want to talk about it with him before I do so.

My son is instantly upset.  He thinks I am going to get in trouble.  He doesn't want that.  I have to explain to him about A) my job as a mom, B) that I am still the mom, and C) that a mom does what is best for the kids regardless.  He is only slightly relieved. 

I call a friend who lives near the kids and tell her whats up, ask her opinion, ask her insight.  She understands and validates my concerns, is worried about legal implications however.  We talk about the logistics, the facts, the outsider view of what it looks like for me if I DO just blindly drop my kids off and if I DON'T.  We toss around some options.  He calls back.

I explain my concerns; I say very clearly, "I am not trying to cause trouble or make waves, but this is really important to me. Can we find another place for the kids that I am more comfortable with? Here are some options I can think of..." and I list the three or four I've come up with.

He says, "You have no rights.  I am the sole physical custodian and that means I get all say in where the kids go and who they go with. You don't have any choice in this. Your responsibility is to drop the kids AT THE HOUSE at the designated time and that's all. You do what you are legally told to do or you'll be in violation. Until you have proven that you are capable of responsibly following legal guidelines, that is how it will be and END OF STORY."

That is followed by some "discussion" if you will - me protesting and reminding him that we have joint legal custody, that I have spent a year following his every demand and order (and him interjecting that it wasn't true) and that it's reasonable to discuss this issue and consider some options blah blah blah.  His near screaming of, "YOU ARE NOT TO BE IN THE HOUSE - do you understand? do you? do you???" is the last of our conversation.

Now is not the moment to write about my heart, my pain, my distress. But it's there. 

I call my friend again and we come up with a solution that makes me feel better.  I will indeed drop the kids off at their house with these people, but I will stay the night at HER house (a few blocks away) so I am close by if the kids need anything.  That's the point you see - that a parent is within easy reach if the kids need something.  With him out of state, and me living an hour away, I was uncomfortable leaving the kids there alone.

Now it's over and done and I wait for the repercussions.  I wait to see if my actions will impact me negatively, if it will make things even worse for me, if it will make a judge think I am as incompetent and irresponsible and crazy as he keeps calmly stating that I am - and as is being evaluated. 

He wants it his way, all the time, in all ways, and with no arguement.  He wants 100% control of every single thing.  He did that our whole marraige and up until the year before I left, I always agreed and complied.  When I started putting up resistance is when things got very bitter and sour - and while I briefly believed that my opposing opinon was invalid, unreasonable, irrational and worthless, as was my own life, I no longer believe that. 

The problem is that every single action I initiate is suspect, up for review, subject to scrutiny with already tainted viewpoints.  Even if I did something obviously and grossly RIGHT, it would initially be suspicious.  The thing that I can't stop thinking about right now, right this minute, is that no matter what happens in court in a few weeks, he will always be this way.  No matter what rights and responsibilities are granted to me, no matter what considerations are allowed for me, he will insist on 100% control in every area he can.  This? This frightens me.  Immeasurably.

Tell someone.  Tell someone, on my behalf, that what is happening to me is not right, is backwards, is hurting my kids, is empowering his agenda for power and control.  Tell someone that I don't have resources and I need help.  Tell someone because the even scarier part is that I am not the only woman out there in this situation. 

Sunday, August 22

The First Part

In 2009, after well over a year, even longer really, of conflicted and frenzied emotional struggling, as my marriage slowly dissolved away under my feet and I helplessly watched my husband morphing into someone I couldn't recognize, I filed for divorce.

There is more to the story of course - the counseling, the blogging and journaling, the desperate pleas to my pastor and various friends and family (which came only after months of silent shame, fear, confusion, and frantic actions meant to salvage it all) but when it came down to that moment, the one moment when I looked around me and thought, "What do I do NOW?", all I could think of was to file for divorce.

The ensueing 3 months proved that things could always get worse.  Well, what had I thought they'd be? Better?  No, I don't suppose I believed that things would get better, but I didn't think they'd get worse.

Ultimately, I came to another pivotal moment where I was looking around at the carnage saying, "What do I do NOW?"

I think my biggest mistake (oh and I've made so many) was not looking ahead at what the ripple effect of my individual actions would be. Not looking far enough ahead and seeing only the one moment of chaos and crisis.
*see below, Note 1 

A second mistake was in that I was so bewildered by the man my husband had become that any of my automatic expectations about his reactions, fed by past experience, were always wrong.  I thought he would be honorable, honest, and do the right thing because that was how he'd always been. I thought he'd be thoughtful and devoted to open minded cooperation, giving benefit of doubt.  He was no longer that man though, and that was, and remains so, the hardest thing for me accept, understand and remember.

So I left my house, moved into my own apartment; having decided that I could no longer continue to let my kids slink around in that volatile tense frightening confusing environment; thinking that soon we would finalize everything, that soon my kids, age 11 and 13 then, would be out of school and we'd sell the house and share the parenting from two different homes; thinking that physical separation would ease the palpable tension, thinking that I didn't want to pull my kids from their bedrooms, their pets, their routines and small comforts when there was just a couple of weeks left of school anyway, thinking it would be ok.

I was wrong.

That wrongness? That slap in the face wrongness of it all was shattering.  I found myself financially broke - more than you might ever imagine and more than I could explain - with no legal representation and no means to gain any, with a bitter angry vindictive man holding my children hostage from me and asking me to jump through hoops of power plays and control with rules that changed randomly.  Things did what they'd come to do: they got worse.

I was told that I wasn't worth anything, that I'd abandoned my children, bailed out, jumped ship.  I was told I didn't have any rights. I was threatened with legal and police action if I argued about when I could have the kids or when I had to return them.  I so desperately wanted to keep my kids out of the mess, out of the middle, away from the conflict.  Desperate enough that I was easily manipulated. When threatened with police intervention if I didn't return my kids to my husband and the house I once lived in at a specific time (no, there was not any court order but I was trying to establish a cooperative flexible non-legal precedent that didn't scar the kids) I returned them because the thought of police showing up and frightening my kids went against everything I was trying for.
*See below: Note 2

Broke, broken down, defeated, harrassed and still under my husbands constant demand and orders in spite of not living together, still trying to meet those demands and orders, overwhelmed by loss and grief (I lost my marraige, my husband, my community, my church family, my life as I knew it, my role as a parent, my home...), tortured by missing my children and by seeing their own grief and confusion and wanting to help them understand while not hurting their love and respect for their daddy, I found myself holding onto that proverbial last straw.

I filed for divorce in March 2009. I moved into my own apartment just 3 months later in mid-June.  A few weeks after that, in July '09 my husband told me that he was taking the kids out of state to visit his family (in spite of the week off I'd taken to be with them - a week off I couldn't afford with no vacation time to use) and that he didn't care if I had taken time off because I didn't matter - and then he handed me HIS proposal for our divorce. 

His proposal included the following: he would allow me alternate weekend visits from Saturday to Sunday.  He would allow me a midweek dinner visit.  He would take my name off the mortgage (quit claim deed) in return for him assuming all the debt associated with our joint credit cards and home equity loan (we were, and are, in tremendous debt).  I was not to receive alimony, any percentage of retirement, mutual funds etc but would not have to pay child support.  I could have a one week vacation in the summer provided I give adequate notice of such by April of each year.  I wasn't to have custody, just visitation.

And that last straw fell.  I shattered completely.  I was so full of shame, so humiliated, so alone, so 'without', and so beaten down emotionally that I couldn't see anything other than what he showed me: unworthy, replaceable, bad, incompetent, unreliable. My kids were better off without me, he was perfectly fine parenting them on his own, after all, I'd left them behind anyway right?

What do I do now?

Back in March, several people gave me advice. People are good at giving advice when they can go home to their own homes and their own husbands and their own children and leave you and your broken life behind.  One person said something that was perhaps the most understanding comment I'd ever heard.  She said, "I know what I would do Mia, but you aren't ME and I would never expect you to do what I do because it isn't in your heart. You are different and so you have to do things your own way."  I loved her for saying that. 

She'd said that back then, before March,  but by July, she was no longer willing to be a part of my life in a way that supported me like I needed.  Like nearly everyone else, she didn't want to "take sides".  No one wanted to "get involved; create an uncomfortable situation; make it awkward".  People wanted," to stay neutral; just keep it open and light; to stay connected for the kids sake".  In theory, I get it.  It's all very PC and grown up and reasonable.  But in reality, by not defending me against a force I was unable to defend myself against, I was left defenseless and finally defeated.  As had been shown to me over the past few months, I knew that if I called someone and asked what to do they would have grimaced sympathetically, hugged me, wiped my tears, patted my hand, prayed for me or with me, felt very bad for me, but nothing else because, you know, they didn't want to take sides.
*See below: Note 3

So there I was - alone and defeated and at yet another moment when I didn't know what to do next.  The more I wondered what to do, the more I wondered why I should even do anything at all.  And the more I tried to find a reason for doing anything, the more I felt like there wasn't one.

With all that in my head, and my heart, I chose to - and these are difficult, ugly, painful words to write, words that I can't yet say out loud - kill myself. A suicide attempt - I felt so worthless that suicide seemed to be a valid action.

And I am here today to talk about it.

I am here because I Am Still The Mom.

Love,
Mia


*Note 1:   I have learned that a crisis will still be a crisis after a nights sleep, and chaos will remain until it's dealt with - no matter the emotions drowning me, no crisis or chaos I faced back then needed an immediate decision - no bleeding, physical danger, or loss of life was at hand. It felt as important maybe, I don't want to devalue the pain and fear, or the intense desire to fix something with just the right action, but I've learned now to sit on things a little more and a little longer, to try and map out the potential results of an action and weigh those all out to see the variations and their potential results.

*Note 2:  hindsight - with good solid parenting, when you already have good communication with your kids, it is worth it to allow some legal or police intervention to establish a record.  Nonaction based on fear will undermine every effort in the future.

*Note 3: I don't blame any one person or hold them at fault for or responsible for my life as it was at that time: devoid of support, defense, and validation; but the truth is that no one wanted to get involved in a way that backed me up, no one wanted to stand up to my husband and tell him to stop on my behalf, no one wanted to call him out, lift me up, or step outside themselves to speak up for me when I was speechless.  And a year later they still don't.  One 'friend' told me just today that whenever she sees my husband she wants to hit him, but she smiles instead and just avoids real eye contact if they speak.  Another friend, who remains an anchor even now, validated my circumstances back then when she remarked, "When someone abuses you emotionally, they make you think you are crazy - that's what they do, it's how they work. Hold on to what you know."  But it's hard to hold on when the only thing you know isn't honored or believed or validated by anyone outside.

Friday, August 20

Sweet Dreams, Sleep Tight, Don't Let The Bedbugs Bite

I sighed in exasperation as I peeked in the doorway to her bedroom.  20 years old and she still can't make her bed before she leaves for work in the morning.

I laugh sheepishly as I peek in my own bedroom doorway at my own unmade bed.  I shrug. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree says my friend Holly.  Hell, the apple ain't even OFF the tree!

I read another bloggers heartfelt post about her younger kids messily made beds and how she can choose to be irritated or sentimental about the lack of tight even corners and straight aligned edges on the beds they've made all by themselves.  And I think about how it's been a year now since I've had the opportunity to be either irritated OR sentimental about my own younger kids and their bed making talents.

I remember the mornings of "before" - when I would arrive home after driving my youngest to school and set about making beds, gathering laundry, folding, straightening, fluffing, piling; and inevitably sighing, griping, rolling my eyes as I did so - and on a good day weaving in a blessing and a prayer for each child as I did the scut work that is hand in hand with mothering.

Now - well, now is not "before", now is sooo very "now".  I try very hard to appreciate "now" because I know all too well the concept of Perspective and also the concept of Like Vs Like.  What I have is what I have and I could have less (like so many others) or I could have much more than some (comparatively) so I try to accept and bless and enjoy what IS, and what is NOW instead of dwelling on "before".  But it's hard.

Thinking about the simple act of making beds, and the lack of opportunity to do so leads to the bitter inescapable truth that I have also not had the opportunity to tuck my children in their beds.  In a year. 

A years worth of missed bedtimes: the loss of whispered secrets between my daughter and I, the loss of intimate moments of truth and discovery between my son and I, the lost moments of tenderness, tickling, teasing, teaching.  An entire year, and then some, of nights that can't be recovered - nights I didn't pull the blankets up tight to my childs chin, seeing their eyes bright and full of light peeking over the quilt edges in the sharp winter air... nights I didn't turn the fan on a notch higher, crack the window a little more, and kiss a warm flushed cheek in the humid summer stillness... nights I didn't return time and time again to lay a knowing palm on a fevered forehead, determining if it was time for fever reducing medicine or time to let it burn itself out still... nights I didn't come upon a wide eyed pre-teen consumed with some pre-teen trauma that needed deconstructing, listening, encouragement.  So many nights missed, so much growth stunted, so much loss. 

Not just for me - oh, my loss is as relatable as the mouth-watering-feet-running-in-place feeling you get when you bite the inside of your cheek while chewing your dinner; but their loss, my kids loss, which I can't even begin to try and imagine.  When I think about nights they cried and I wasn't there to hold them, nights they were scared and I wasn't there to chase away the fear, nights they were troubled and I wasn't there to shine a light - nights when they missed their momma and I wasn't there - it makes my stomach churn as if I were in serious trouble with the law, as if I were witnessing an act of brutality that others were laughing at, as if I were being held down forcibly while awaiting random acts of torture.  My stomach turns itself inside out when I think about what my children have gone through this past year.

And when I read about or listen to the tale of another momma who is feeling overwhelmed by the work involved in parenting - I feel so much more like reaching out and smacking them with a dose of harsh reality than smiling sympathetically and getting that warm fuzzy blog-sistah feeling.

I can still remember the way it felt to face another morning of unmade beds, socks stuffed under a pillow, and wet towels behind the closet door.  Before... but my current reality is the constant ache of missing my own heart, the emptiness inside of not having my full breath, the grief and loss of what is, essentially, the death of all I ever knew.  My reality now is getting up every day and smiling, laughing, loving - because while I have lost a full year of my children, there is still a future ahead of us and I am still, in spite of it all, The Mom.  I may have missed a year of bedtimes and bedmaking but I have had just enough to sustain me (and them) of laughing with my children, whispering secrets, getting through a disagreement, working through an angry moment, assigning a chore, sharing a private joke, having a memory of an event that is JUST ours to have, and other small but valid and important mommy moments.

Just... just, don't let the small things get you down and pass you by because what you have is what I would give up my eyesight for - what I would willingly and eagerly give a body part for - a bedtime, a morning of sighing over unmade beds, another load of dishes or mismatched socks, I would trade you my own internal organ just to have that as part of my life NOW.

Perspective.  You see?

And now, because I am still the mom, I have to go and set up a new bed, pull up the blankets over an empty mattress, and bless the space that is available.  A mom doesn't give up, doesn't give in, and doesn't let the dark still night steal her soul - even if she wants to - because her kids are still there, still waiting.  This mom won't be able to recover what is lost but she can create new moments out of potential.

I'm still the mom - a year later, I am still the mom. And you can't take that away from me.

Love, Mia

Monday, August 16

Little wisps of love

I finally talked to my kids. What a relief. Frankly, "relief" is such an understatement. There really is no identifiable emotion for what it felt like to hear the sweet cheery voice of my daughter after so many days. I could breathe again. That's what it was like.

Ever had to hold your breath for waaaaay too long? And then when you finally can let it out and inhale again you have that gasping choppy rapid breathing your body forces you to do so you can get all the air you NEED? It was like that - only with out the actual gasping choppy breathing but just the emotion of it.

I saw them for a date night - I'd promised a trip to the mall for some school clothes. It was a successful trip with each kid getting something exactly that they wanted. Now, let me clarify here that I am not a "disneyland parent" - that parent that doesn't have full time priveledges and so buys every trinket or big ticket item the kids desire to make up for it. I'm not that... I wouldn't be even if I could afford it but the truth is that I can't afford it at all. I can't afford anything for my kids in general other than food and it bothers me tremendously that my finances are that tight. Most of the time I actually have to plan out and ration money so carefully just so I'll have enough gas to drive out and see them or to drive them back and forth from their house to mine. It's a tight tight existence walking on a fine line with such a load of debt in one hand and the desire to be with my kids in the other. However, I have been pinching and stretching and saving for months now so that I could do this thing: I bought most of their school supplies (not all, but most) and decided that each kiddo could pick that one special thing they HAD to have for school this year: an $80 hoodie would be worth it because it would likely be worn daily for the first 6 month beginning in the Fall and extending through Spring.

I had the luck to hit a fabulous sale weekend and spent less than anticipated and each beloved kiddo was thrilled. It matters. Not that they have this greedy want list, but that I could provide this one thing that was important to their hearts and spirits. They aren't little kids wanting the newest toy - they are teens wanting to be accepted, socially appropriate, to be understood and supported. I know that feeling, remember it all too well, and every midnite shift I worked was worth being able to give them some kind of gift that lets them know I hear them. It's a wisp of love - just like when I sat and watched youtube videos with my son or when I play yahtzee with my daughter or when we play word games on our hour long drive - little wisps of love that I breath on them. This particular wisp will be tangible which is important also. Some actual "THING" that I could give them.

I dream of the day I will tuck them into bed at night and wake up to cook them breakfast in the morning - day after day after day. I dream of packing lunches, sighing over forgotten homework, and griping about unmade beds. I dream of it as vividly as if it were happening and by doing so I hope the universe gets the message and breathes a little wisp of love my way.

Love
Mia

Wednesday, August 11

Holding Pattern

My son's cell phone is mysteriously not working. He came back from camp and his phone won't take or make calls or texts.

Before I left the house last year in June, I'd gotten each kid a phone and put them on my plan. I wanted to make sure they had access to me at any time for any reason. I was inconsolable 6 months later in December when my account (and thus the kids) were shut off - I couldn't pay the outstanding balances nor even maintain the regular monthly payment.

For a brief period of time, I had very limited contact with the kids - only on the house phone which became a constant battle with their father who liked to refuse to let me talk to the kids unless I discussed certain issues with him first. Issues like: what hours was I working, what was the name of my doctor, whose name was on my credit card, how much money was I making. You know, important things he NEEDED to know if I was going to be allowed to speak to my kids. Several times I had to hang up without being able to talk to either of the kids. Then, he added them to HIS plan and they had phones again... so I could call them and they could call me and it was better. (I won't go into detail about how back in the summer my son kept saying that he didn't know I was calling him and I discovered that my number had been blocked from his phone - I showed him how to unblock it and then he was getting my calls again.)

Anyway, since I stopped speaking with my ex, stopped taking his calls etc, I've contacted the kids primarily on their own phones. My daughter lost hers so I just call my son's phone or they call me from his or from their house phone. Their house phone doesn't take messages though so when my son leaves his phone at a friends or if the battery dies, I can call the house phone but can't leave a message to let them know I've called. It's always a bit of a frustration but for the most part it works out ok.

Now though, his phone doesn't work at all. My only option is their house phone. For four days now I've had very very very little contact with my children. I know I'll see them in a few days, but I like to talk to them at least once a day - to stay connected, to keep the bond, to remind them of my love, my intention, my effort. It's actually been more than 24 hours since I've talked to them now. I've called. I've called numerous times at varied hours and I haven't even gotten a call back. I know they are fine, healthy, busy, etc but I miss them so desperately and I wonder why a parent can't be bothered to hand a phone to a child and say, "I see the caller ID and know your mom has called, you should call her back" or "have you spoken to your mom today? why don't you call her" or "I'll be at work today, you need to fold the laundry, sweep the kitchen, and don't forget to give your mom a call"

I miss my kids. I hope I'll get to talk to them today. I hope they know I love them, right now, right this very minute, and forever.

Love, Mia

Saturday, August 7

What A Mom Does

I'm still the mom. I know I am because even if I don't live at home with my kids, I do "mom stuff".

I took the day off work and drove 2 hours all so I could sit at a picnic table and eat a cafeteria style picnic lunch with my kids on their last day of camp. I couldn't just take them home, couldn't pack up their luggage and drive off with them, but I could be there, then, for that. I hugged them hello after their 2 week camp experience. I counted their bruises and inspected their injuries with my mom-evaluation, met their counselors and was introduced to their new friends. I heard the stories, laughed in all the right places even when I wanted to cringe, read the journals they offered up for me to read, and shared a meal with my children. And when their father showed up to take them home from camp, I hugged them, smiled, told them I'd see them soon, and I didn't cry. I wanted to cry, but I didn't because I'm the mom.

I picked the kids up from their fathers later on. They were clean, showered and in fresh clothes. I took them to my friends house where I stay on Friday nights that I see my children - and I fed them fried chicken, ice tea, ice cream. I cut their toenails, their fingernails, cleaned their ears. I shampooed my daughters hair because even though she'd done it already, she sometimes needs help with it and after two weeks of camp she REALLY needed some grownup assistance. I did all that because I'm the mom.

I sat in front of the computer with them and let them show me all the things they want to show me: I smiled through music videos that I didn't like, laughed through cartoon clips that weren't funny, let them tease me for MY ridiculous old fashioned and boring taste in music... and I sat for over an hour without twitching or sighing. I did it because I'm the mom.

I took them back to their fathers because right now he gets to tell me when, how long, how often. But that doesn't make me NOT the mom. I'm still the mom because the very next day I got to pick them up again.

I picked them up and took them back to my friends house again where I fed them breakfast: homemade hot chocolate, bagels and cream cheese, juice. I called and got them both appointments at the urgent care/Saturday clinic at their pediatricians office.

Last time they had physicals in early spring, I didn't know about it until it was over and done with, their father didn't share the information with me. I didn't get to approve of or even ask questions about immunizations they received. Shortly after that, my daughter was taken out to have her ears peirced without my knowledge - a very momndaughter activity that I wasn't even given any notice of. Then three weeks ago when I took her to buy her first real earrings after the initial ones were ready to be changed, I found that both peircings were infected - bloody, leaking pus, hot, swollen, sore. I had the earrings removed, bought swabs and alcohol and taught her to clean them. When I took her home to her father I told him what was happening, gave him the crusted over earrings we'd removed from her ears, gave him the supplies I'd bought, told him he should have her checked by the doctor. Instead he bought her new earrings.

When I saw my kids in the evening for dinner I saw that the peircings were still bloody, leaking, and sore. I saw that a skin condition my daughter has was no longer just an uncomfortable annoyance but was out of control and needing attention. My son had an unidentifiable rash also, which I'd noticed before camp had ever started but was still untreated. So I acted like a mom. I called the doctor and took them in.

I paid the copays. I explained, showed, listened, asked questions, and approved of treatments. Oral antibiotics for the peiring infections, topical medication for the skin condition and a referral to a dermatologist for my daughter, a physician-led lesson in hygiene for my son that he might follow since it isn't a 'mom-thing'. I paid for the prescriptions. I doled out the first dose and applied the first topical layer. I instructed them both in self care. I took them to my house then, finally, where they collapsed in gratitude in front of all the electronic equipment they've missed for the past two weeks of backwoods camping.

It's my only day off - I always take the day off when I have them with me - but I spent my time calling doctors, dragging kids in, paying for medications, and then applying it to reluctant teen/pre-teen bodies.

I miss them so much - I miss out on so much - and hate that I have to argue, order, demand, insist, and give 'the look' on our precious and limited time together but, see, the thing is, I am the mom: and that's what mom's do. So that's what I did.

Now I get to relax a little, and so do they. They are fed, medicated, playing and relaxing, feeling good - and so am I. All too soon I will have to herd them into the car for the hour long drive back to their fathers house. None of us look forward to that but for now, for this moment, all that matters is they are here with me, their mom.

Love,
Mia

Wednesday, August 4

Hope Reigns

I met with my attorney today.

He's representing me for free - I don't have a huge amount of faith in him, because nothing has gone my way even remotely in the past year, but it's better than not having an attorney at all (and I've been without one for some of the process so I know). But today felt a little different.

Several months ago he told me that it was highly unlikely that I'd ever be the primary parent again - nor was it likely I'd have a chance at being considered a 'residential' parent even if part time. My absolute frustration at that was a like a thick simmering bitterness always faintly bubbling under the surface; the main feeling around his statement was pure howling grief.

Now, some level of grief is what I've been feeling daily for the past year. It's what has me always afraid of drowning within it. Yet that moment, as I had to sit there calm and composed and accepting, that howling grief became something that fractured the last tenuous hold I had on the will to keep moving forward. Up until then I'd been broken, but I was still the mom. At that point, I was only broken.

Fortunately for me, I have a couple of truly supportive, encouraging, and listening girlfriends who rescued me with their love, their feirceness, and their anger on my behalf. I also have my writing, an adult daughter who came home to stay with me and remind me that I wasn't done being a mom yet, and the sweetest most loving dog who curls himself around my heart every day and loves it back to life.

I picked myself up, only stopping to howl and grieve and fall apart once in a while in private, and moved forward.

Today I met with him again to discuss some recent issues: my ex's ongoing claim that I am mentally unstable and a threat to my children, his continued lack of regard for the "joint custody" status and the way he decides on medications, ear peircing, and camp enrollment for our kids that he fails to inform me of or tells me about with no notice (hey, the kids are leaving in 4 days for two weeks of camp. period. end of discussion.), and to talk about what comes next while we wait for our next court date.

Our discussion wasn't exactly fruitful, but I think something elemental has changed.
Somehow I've moved, in my attorneys veiwpoint, from some charity pro bono case he got suckered into handling by a "can't say no to me octogenarian who made legal history and is a county wide legend" who took pity on me to a real actual client.
Somehow altered in his eyes from some "very likely crazy incompetent parent who I'm forced into defending by stupid unwritten lawyer code of brotherhood" into a mom who is getting totally shafted by a power and control abusing ex and whose kids are at the heart of it and who really really really wants just one person in power on her side.

I'm not sure what it was: was it all the medical records I gathered and forwarded to him? Was it all the letters of reccommendation from my friends, my doctor, and my adult daughter combined that I handed to him? Was it some discussion he had with my ex's attorney off record maybe? I don't know. All I know is that at some point in our conversation, his words went something along the line of this: "it's a ladder we are climbing and we are starting at the bottom rungs. We have to go up just like everyone else, rung by rung, and we move from more liberal time with your kids until you finally are in a place when your kids ARE WITH YOU full time..."

That's all I can hear now, resonating in my heart... "when your kids are with you full time"...

I have potential. I have hope. I am, yes, I am, still the mom.

Love, Mia

Wednesday, July 28

Parent Number One

Recently I took a few days and sorted through boxes of "stuff" I finally pulled from the attic storage room.

When I left my home originally, left my husband, I'd been secretly stashing things for quite awhile - a photo or frame in this box, a keepsake memento of a vacation in another box, a small stash of kids artwork in a file folder I took to work... and when it was finally suddenly time to go I just stuffed randomly as quickly as I could. It's good that I started slow and got the things I did because I haven't been allowed back in since that time.

There are things I missed of course, but I got a good deal of very important treasures. Those treasures have been all mixed up in boxes of varying sorts; rubbermaid containers, diaper boxes, sturdy cardboard boxes that paper comes in, and some office file boxes with lids. I've been needing to sort it for some time. As the first year of being gone, of having my life so changed is coming to a close I decided it was as good a time as any.

I opened all the boxes and began making piles on the floor. Each box was a disorganized mix of papers, photos, old christmas cards, childhood mementos, fragile china figurines from my mother, and even odds and ends of toiletries or music cd's. Once it was all laid out and categorized in a way that makes sense to me, I reboxed them.

This whole process took forever, and truthfully isn't even quite complete, because I kept getting sidetracked by my now teenagers old kindergarden artwork or their third grade "family history" booklets. And of course along with that, I got sidetracked by grief.

I was reading through my 14 year old son's kindergarden "All About Me" notebook. Some of it is in his teachers handwriting, some of it in an unknown 'helper' or 'aid' handwriting, and his own early attempts of scrawled words, and the rest is my own printing. There is a whole page of "family traditions" dictated by him but written out by me. Another page wherein we describe the events of a particular teddy bear that had come home with him for a weekend visit. Lists of his friends, his favorite things, his dreams. So tender, so innocent, and so full of a boy and his mommy working together. Daddy is mentioned of course, but daddy didn't write anywhere in that book. In all the papers for my 14 year old son, and for my 12 year old daughter, there is one constant thing. Report cards for all the years were signed by me. Some progress notes bear both my signature and dads, but always always mine. Both 100% correct papers and the papers full of red check marks bear my signature of acknowledgment. I look over old physicals and copies of enrollment forms, folders of letters from camp, notes from teachers, thank you cards from teams - all focused on "dear Mom" or "dear Mrs. Miaheart" or "To thisgirls Mom".

In all the official paperwork there is a Parent section where you list the parents name and address separate from the childs. There is a Parent Number One and Parent Number Two and then Child sections. In these accumulated papers from 14 years of parenting, the Parent Number One section is always me. The mom, me. In the Parent Number Two section all the papers list daddy's name but just have scrawled "same" for the address and phone. Because that's how it was. I was the primary parent and daddy was there and with us and part of it all but it was ME who was Parent Number One on every form.

This year my kids are away at a camp they've both been to every summer. I'm glad they are there and having fun but I didn't get to sit down and go over the brochure and collectively choose which programs they enrolled in. I didn't get to discuss the varying dates and choose which weeks worked best. I didn't get to scramble for copies of physicals and immunizations and extra socks and a replacement canteen for the one we couldn't find. I just got an email, 4 days before they left, telling me that they were going and when they'd be back. I had to call the camp to confirm the dates, their programs, their cabin assignments... and to see if my name and contact information were accurate on the paperwork.

My name was listed under Parent Number Two. Just my name. The city where I live and an illegible phone number were listed but that's all. I want to say that it was my imagination that the camp secretary was suspicious and cold, because I had been on a first name basis with her these past 4 years, but I don't think I imagined the indifferent offer of "oh, well, if you want us to have your number down I guess I can put it in for you" response she gave when I suggested that she place my correct phone number down in case of emergency. I hope she actually DID put my number down correctly. Even if it is under Parent Number Two, it will take another 14 years to erase the fact that in the beginning I was always the Parent Number One.

And in spite of my new status as Parent Number Two, I'm still the mom.

Love, Mia

Sunday, July 25

I'm Still The Mom

It's been a year since I left.

I thought that I'd be living in one of those condo's that are over by the golf course, and that maybe my ex would be living there too in another unit, maybe on a different floor. I thought that the kids would be moving back and forth between us, at will but with some standard of boundary or structure. I thought that my ex and I might not be necessarily friendly, but that we'd be polite and able to communicate. I thought I'd be still tucking my daughter into bed most nights, and sighing over my son's report card, and heaving my tired self off the couch to drive someone to some practice or rehearsal or friends house or sometimes saying, "dad said he'd pick you up and you can stay the night at his place tonight" interspersed with "you are with dad mostly this week so don't forget your backpack and your key ok?"

I never imagined, a year ago, that I'd be seeing my kids an average of 72 hours a MONTH... that is, 3 days a month.

It never once occurred to me, a mostly stay at home mom for 14 years, that I would go an entire year without tucking my daughter in to bed, without making a school lunch complete with silly note scribbled on a napkin, without being there when my son was hurt or sick. I would have laughed if you'd suggested it.

But it all happened.

Even 6 months ago I still thought it was all a mistake, a momentary "thing" and that it would sort itself all out and that by now, July, I'd be spending days and weeks at a time juggling the kids and their bickering and the laundry and veto-ing potato chips while giving 'the look' over a serving of broccoli.

It's been a year of being surprised, shocked, bewildered, broken. A year of loss, day by day and breath by breath. A year of days that wouldn't end, for God's sake they just wouldn't end, and nightmares that happen in broad daylight every day over and over again. And now, the realization, finally, that this year wasn't just a momentary "thing" but has become a precedent for the years that are to come.

What I've lost this year, what has been stolen from my children, is only the beginning of what is going to be more loss. And at the end of each day I remind myself that I Am Still The Mom.

This blog is for me, for my children, and it's for you and your children. It's for every parent who finds themselves empty but it's also for those parents who find themselves bitterly and angrily witholding, denying, and controlling. It's time to let go.