I Am My Mother’s Child

There is nothing that brings you to the reality of your life like a court ordered social study. If you read March 5, 2014 then you know that the ex husband decided to have me served. Somewhere along the way he decided he wanted 50/50 custody of the kids.

He remarried about three years ago. He moved into her house with her and her two children. No big deal right? Her house is 23 miles away from my house. The same house I intentionally selected because it was less than 7 miles from his door to my door. My goals in selecting a house were a good school district, a sense of community and not far from their dad. I never wanted him to feel like his children were to far away. But then he moved. Our youngest were attending a charter school that was in another city  about five miles from my house. I made the decision to move them to the zoned school in our district. He was not happy about my choice and he said I was moving them further from him so he hired an attorney and I was served.

Back to the social study. After several months of court dates, attorney’s fees and tension between us the judge ordered a social study as requested by the ex.

A social study is conducted by a social worker. They have you fill out pages and pages of documents listing everything that has happened in your life. It’s your autobiography. This document is scrutinized and judged by the social worker. They come to your house and interview everybody who lives there. They walk through your home taking notes on everything from the items on your refrigerator, safety of the neighborhood and overall opinion of your home. The social worker also interviews friend, doctors, teachers and family members.

The document… Geez… The document. It took me several days to fill out the document. For me, it was the equivalent of standing naked in front of strangers who had magnifying glasses and were intent on viewing every flaw. It was hard. As I said it was an autobiography of my life. The questions were invasive and at times difficult for me to answer. You see, I am like many of you, I have tucked the disappointments and heartaches of my childhood away in a place that I don’t like to visit. But here in this document I was asked about things I don’t like to discuss with close friends let alone a stranger.  But I answered honestly.

After a few weeks I received the results of the social study. This was the document she would present to the judge. The judge would use this document to assist with his final ruling. As I read her report I cried. I cried because here was a stranger summarizing my life in a 15-20 page document.

My life  started out as a potentially tragic story. I was born the youngest of three. My mother was about 21 when I was born and had birthed a total of three children in less than four years. She was the true definition of a single mom. My father was around but he wasn’t present. My mother worked very hard to provide for us but she wasn’t home with us. I was molested as a child. I started drinking as a teenager and drugs, although I did not partake, were readily available.

I continued to cry as I read the document. My ex husband’s life looks wonderful on paper. He grew up in a two parent household. He has one brother and they had a dog. His mom stayed home for the most part and his father was an engineer. He was raised in a Christian home. He and his new wife both had stellar up bringing. They are the ideal American family when you read about them. As I continued to read and cry, I was sure I had lost. How and why would anybody in their right mind select me over them? As I reached the last couple of pages I realized I had been holding my breathe. There were about ten numbered items. These were the things the judge wanted to know. This was her final assessment. This would affect the decision of the court

Why is this article titled as it is? Because after reading her summary of my life I went back and rewrote my life story. I needed to add in the side notes and I needed to understand my life from the view point of a young twenty something raising three kids on her own. I needed perspective. I needed to understand that the social worker’s summary was not the final say on my life. Through tears and fears I read my life story to three friends of mine. I felt the need to say the words out loud. In front of people who love me. We are often judged by our past. We judge others based upon their past. But I realized that I’m more than my childhood. Like my mother, I am an overcomer. Our stories don’t read the same but the common thread is do the best you can and overcome obstacles.

The social worker’s assessment was in my favor. My children are still with me the majority of the time and I changed their schools. I don’t hold a grudge with the ex.

Write your own story. Statistics and opinions do not have the final say. Write your own story and release  hope. I rewrote mine and am confidant when I say I’m an overcomer and my mother’s child.

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Are you hormonal?

How often are hormones blamed for a woman’s “attitudes”? How often do others mutter under their breathe, “she must be hormonal”? Depending on the stage of life our moods are attributed to PMS or the various stages of menopause. 

How often are men approach and asked if they’re hormonal? How often do you walk away from a conversation with them thinking, I’ll just avoid him for the next couple of days until the coast is clear? Never?!?! 

When a friend of mine decided we needed to have a heart to heart in which she danced around my new found freedom to speak my mind, her questions came back to, are you hormonally balanced? As I rolled my eyes and threw out some random justifications I reviewed the last five years of my life.

Divorced
Began working full-time after 10 years of being a stay at home mom
Moved twice
A year long custody battle
Incurred legal fees out of the wazoo
Although I’ve been working for the same company for five years I am in my third department
I have four active kids
Attended grad school for two years
I have a teenaged son (enough said)
My ex has been unemployed for about two of those five years (no financial support during that time)
I made some commitments to myself to become a better leader, mom and eventually partner. You see, I typically avoid confrontation but a few years ago I decided to stand my ground and express my opinions.

The answer to the question is maybe but why is that the first thing that comes to mind rather than reviewing my circumstances or just patting me on the back and saying, “congratulations on your personal growth and for not only surviving the last five years but excelling in school as well as work and coparenting four amazing children who are well rounded, funny, and intelligent, all while maintaining a healthy lifestyle and being a great friend to many”? 

I still wonder if I were a man would we have had the conversation at all?

Come Get Your Kids

“Come get your kids” is a phrase that anybody who has spent any amount of time with me has heard. It’s my mantra concerning the Fan4 regarding visitation with their dad. Soon after he and I divorced, I adopted this expression, I live by it and I whole heartedly mean what I say. Come get them, please. 

I love my children with all of me. They receive more of my time, energy, effort and money than anything else in my life including me. But that’s nothing new. We, as mothers, tend to sacrifice everything for our children and we have a sense of ownership when it comes to them. We put ourselves in a position of dictatorship and determine we have absolute control regarding the children. After all “mother knows best” right? 

For some mothers “best” is never seeing their fathers. Oh they have a litany of reasons and excuses. When they begin sharing their list they sound very convincing. The father of their children is a terrible person and should never have access to the children. That’s right! Keep your children safe and sound from the monster who broke your heart, left you for another woman, doesn’t dress the correctly, never combs your daughter’s hair just right, wants to bring that woman around, lives with his mother, lives in a neighborhood you don’t approve of, doesn’t pay child support, refuses to get back with you, doesn’t consistently show up for visitation, has other children, is a terrible cook, has them sleeping on the floor, only has a one bedroom apartment, refuses to buy organic, gives them sugary sweets… You get my point. It doesn’t take much for the tzarina to pull the plug on visitation. 

If the guy actually has any knowledge of his rights and refuses to bow down to her then she adjusts her tactic and becomes combative. When he shows up she’s gone because she forgot he was coming over. She refuses to open the door. She complains about everything he does or doesn’t do. She tells him he can only have his visitation  with the children at her house for a limited amount of time. She teaches the children to fear and or distrust their father. She encourages them to disrespect him. Her intent is to sabotage the relationship between father and child. After all, she is constantly making sacrifices on the alter of motherhood and everyone must bow down to acknowledge her supremacy, control and fear. Yes, fear is one of the driving factors, a broken heart / rejection is  another. He was the reason their family is no longer in tact. It’s always his fault. 

I was talking to the mother of a male toddler not long ago when she went through her well rehearsed list of why her son would not be allowed to spend time with his father. One of the many reasons  she listed was he’s incompetent and doesn’t know how to be a father. So I asked her, why did you marry and create a baby with a man like him? I informed her, from my perspective, marrying him was a reflection of her character and decision making ability. 

Can I be honest? I mean really honest? I don’t believe that a woman has the ability to be mother and father. I refuse to say Happy Father’s Day to any woman. It doesn’t matter if she’s  widowed, divorced or never married she cannot be a father to her child(ren). There is a different dynamic and perspective that men bring to the relationship. Women don’t have the ability to duplicate a male’s thoughts or actions. I try to temper my offense when people wish me Happy Father’s Day. I’m not a man. On my very best day and his very worst day, my ex is still more of man than I’ll ever be. 

I’ve heard people say they didn’t have the same set of circumstances as I do with my ex. I work hard at this, very hard. I make sacrifices. I negotiate. I keep my opinions to myself at times. I ask him for his input. We make some decisions together. When it comes to extracurricular activities, we have a conversation about them because it requires both of us to commit to games, practices, camps, tryouts etc. 

Am I able to do life with the Fan4 without their father? Heck yes! Do I want to? No! I like having time to myself. I’m not sure I would have began a master’s program. Juggling four children is a lot of work. Knowing that they would go to their father’s house every 1st, 3rd and 5th weekend from Thursday until Monday gave me the time I needed to study and complete projects. Having them gone gives me time with friends. I can’t tell you how many things I do when they’re gone. I would have missed out on a lot of events I attend out of state because I would not have been able to fly all of us and I refuse to drive more than 9 hours with them. See how I made visitation about me? Come get your kids!! Free childcare!! Yes, sign me up. Do they always want to go? No. Do I care? No. He’s providing their basic necessities in the form of food, clothing and shelter. Do I cringe when I see them with uncombed hair, in dress clothes that are wrinkled, wearing clothes that are too little and with ashy knees and elbows? Yes! On my gosh yes. But I get over it each time. 

The Fan4 come back home today after spending two weeks with their dad. I have come to appreciate and even look forward to summer visitation. They are gone for a total of 30 days. I know some of you just choked on the air you’re breathing. I’ve loved every minute of the time they were gone. I haven’t cooked more than four meals, my grocery bill was nonexistent and I didn’t have to wonder about them. I know they are safe with their father. 

When you change your mindset you change your actions. When you change your actions you change your outcome. A change in your outcome is a change in your child’s present and future. 

The betrayal

Something was not right. Her intuition’s sirens had been blaring for a few weeks. She kept silencing the alarms. She could easily tune them out while focusing on the kids. But as soon as there was some semblance of silence the alarms would sound again. Louder. More determined. Warning!!!

They had been married for almost a decade. They had five children together. The youngest was a baby. They took on traditional roles in the home. She was a stay at home mom and he worked outside the home. She did all of the cooking and most of the cleaning. He gave her a much needed break from the chaos of five active kids when he arrived home.

Some things changed. They were subtle. If wasn’t for the insistent alarms she might have missed them. He started working out. Consistently. No big deal. It happens all the time. People make commitments towards better health every day. He began leaving for work earlier than normal. Shrug. He could have had a major project he was working on. That’s not uncommon. He stopped answering her calls or they had abbreviated phone conversations even while he was driving home. Okay. He decided one day that he needed to start working from a coffee shop rather than at home after the kids and she went to bed. Why?

If you look at each of the incidents separately you find yourself asking, what’s the big deal? But the alarms. The alarms were telling her something was not right.

One day she decided to do what she had never done in the near decade they had been husband and wife, she signed on to their carrier’s website and checked his cell phone records. The alarms went silent. There was the confirmation of the feeling that had plagued her for weeks. Every morning on the commute to work, every evening on the way home, late at night when the household was quiet the same phone number was there. The number had taken up residence on the phone bill and owned more real estate on the pages than hers. She didn’t cry. She didn’t get angry, initially. She called him at work and asked who she was. He denied it at first. Cheating man rule #1 deny, deny, deny. Then he finally confessed. It was infatuation. He would leave her alone. But he didn’t. Things were normal for about a week. Then the alarm sounded again. This time she was angry. She wasn’t thinking logically. Maybe she was. She went to their closet and gathered up his clothes hanging the the closet and began tossing them in the front yard. Next were his shoes. After that she pulled the drawers out of the dresser and tossed those in the yard as well. (Perhaps she had seen Waiting to Exhale one to many times) After a quick trip to the hardware store boom bam bop, the locks were changed on the doors. She manually locked the garage door. Then she called him.

Come get your %#&! out of my yard before I turn the sprinklers on!! He talked to the other woman on the way home. She watched through the window as he filled his van with his belongs. Her anger subsided but her heart was broken. That day they began a journey down a path that was filled with twists, turns, forgiveness, and repeated betrayal. They would eventually come to a fork in the road and choose separate paths. They would no longer walk as one.

Five Years Ago

Five years ago this month I moved out of the house I selected and we purchased in 2001. I remember being pregnant with my Honeygirl and she was born in 2002. She will be 13 this year. The divorce, that drug on for two years, was final in March but I was given 60 days to move out. Yes, we lived together for most of that time. 

The search

I have always been very budget conscience. I knew how much I could afford to pay in rent and I was determined not to pay more. Finding a place, in a decent neighborhood, zoned for good schools, that was relatively close to my job (less than a 30 minute commute) and near a good daycare was definitely a challenge. It doesn’t sound difficult but believe me it was. I wanted three bedrooms but had seriously considered a two bedroom apartment. 

That’s when I met this guy. He was tall, dark, handsome, single, he worked out, ate healthy, he was driven, determined and best of all he was a real estate agent. If you’re going to spend hours at a time looking at houses with someone it doesn’t hurt if they’re attractive. He told me I had too many children to even think about living in a two bedroom apartment and took on the challenge of finding a place for us. We had a very limited amount of time so we looked almost every night. I was running out of time. It was May. Then one day we were driving around and I saw some townhouses I had been interested in but could not afford. One of them was for lease. We walked in to look around but another agent and client were there and they were on the phone with the leasing agent making plans. My agent looked at me, as we walked out and said, “maybe there’s another one.” I told him, “no, this one is mine.” You see, when we pulled up I took note of the name of the leasing agent’s name that was on the sign in the yard, Mary Ann Turner. That name may not mean anything to you but to me it meant the townhouse was mine. My family and her family had been friends for years. I had dinned at her table. I had attended celebrations at her house. Her niece had been my best friend during high school. I got Mary Ann’s personal phone number from my mother and I called her. After explaining my situation and how quickly I needed to move she put everything in warp speed. I moved out before that agreed upon date. 

The move

I did what most of us do when it’s time to move. I rented a truck and recruited some people to help. When it came time to move the recruits were avoiding my phone call. I put out an SOS to some friends of mine on a moms group that I participate in online. These moms and I had seen each other through lots of moments in time. Besides, if you need something handled who do you call? A mom of course. After a couple of phone conversations and a few hours later my new moving crew was on the scene. My eyes still water up when I think back on that day. There were several families that showed up later that day to help me move. It was a beautiful thing. My good friend from high school came with her mom who had an oxygen tank. She moved things like pillows and supervised the little children when she was resting on the sofa. (We miss you!) By the end of the day I was moved, beds setup, kitchen unpacked and settled in to our new home. 4moms rock!!

Summer visitation

Five year ago my children were ten, seven, four and three. I had been a stay at home mom until two years before when I started working a part-time job on the second shift. February of 2010 I began working my current job. All of that was to say, I had never been away from my children for a significant amount of time. I remember spending one weekend with Yvonne in Missouri. But that’s it. The way summer visitation works for us is the ex has the option of splitting up his visitation into two time periods that equal 30 days or he can have 30 days in July. He selected 30 days in July. Oh. My. Gosh. Thirty days without my babies. Thirty days without their momma. So many tears were shed during those 30 days. He would not allow me to talk to them or see them during that time frame. I had to get creative. I went to their church. My sister in law went with me as my backup and support. I had never seen my babies look so lost and dejected. When they saw me they were timid. The younger two cried as they hugged me. The pastor’s wife told me they missed me and were struggling. I broke down. This was the hardest time of my life. Another time I cut up a watermelon and showed up at his house while he was gone. His girlfriend let the kids come outside while she watched me through the window of the house I had picked out. During that month, I was allowed to have the kids for a weekend. I selected Little Dude’s fifth birthday weekend. I invited some friends over and we partied in the pool. A few days later they came home and we sat on the sofa and cried together. They were tears of relief. Tears of sadness. Tears of joy. Tears upon tears upon tears. My babies were home. 

Today

That was the first and last summer of him taking them for 30 days. School is about to end and summer visitation is about to begin. We no longer cry. Their summers are filled with volunteering summer camps and vacation bible school. I can’t say they look forward to the extended visits but they no longer dread them. This has been a tough year for me. I have to admit I’m looking forward to the silence and the reduction in my grocery bill. We’ve come a long way. 

I Am Not a Single Mother

I feel better already. Just typing that and saying that makes me feel great. I typed those words long ago and a couple of ladies were immediately offended. They were single moms. I can’t join their club. I don’t live the same life. I don’t have the same struggles. I would be a member of a group to whom I’m not paying dues. 

I grew up in a single parent household. My mother worked a mid shift and we ran amuck. She would get home around midnight after working long hours. When she arrived home we were snug in our beds, self tucked. Oh but the adventures we or rather they, my two older brothers, sought and enjoyed. My adventures were mild in comparison. 

There were no breaks for my mom. No weekend visitations. It was us all the time. We were always there but she wasn’t. Her days off? Sunday and Monday. There were no dinners around the table talking about our day. My alarm clock woke me up and my books put me to sleep. 

I’m not a single mom. To say so would negate the weeks, days and hours my children spend with their father. They see him weekly. He picks them up for youth, coaches their teams, attends concerts, recitals, school parties, field trips and even joined the PTA. They have extended visitation. From Thursday to Monday I’m child free on his weekends. It’s a great time of refreshing for me. 

We are coparenting. We live in different houses, cities and counties. We don’t always agree but who does? We approach life differently but who doesn’t. What we do agree on is raising our children to the best of our abilities. We’ve also agreed on mediation instead of court should we come to an impass. It happens. 

I’m not a single parent. I don’t fit in that category. My struggle is not the same. To say otherwise is a disservice to real single moms and dads who are doing life with their kids without the assistance of another parent. 

If I may be perfectly honest with you, the biggest difference from being a stay at home mom and now is I get every other weekends to myself whereas before I only had three hour breaks about once a month. 

Until You Do Right By Me

Have you ever cursed somebody? I’m not talking about calling them names and using profane language. I am talking about cursing the ground they walk on or wishing they would grow a third eye or hoping their children are born with flat feet or something along those line. I have wished a many of things on people over the years. Some of you may say, “I would never curse anyone!” Well, maybe you give underhanded blessings. I sure hope the Lord blesses you with a child who acts just like you or God will surely give them what they deserve.

One of my favorite movies is The Color Purple. If you have ever seen it then you know the scene where Ms. Celie curses Mister. She told him, “Until you do right by me everything you think about is gonna crumble!” That’s deep. If you want to see the clip, play the video below.

If I were to curse somebody today I would say something like, may you end up spending years in family court with an attorney who has questionable ethics never files anything on time charges you exorbitant fees per hour and insists on making unnecessary calls charging in 15 minute increments even if they only called some random person and left them a 30 second voicemail and wastes valuable meeting time drawing a court room on the whiteboard and telling you about their jazz band while charging those excessive fees then recommends an expensive and unnecessary expert to testify at your hearing then charges you for trips to the court-house including travel and those ridiculous fees even though they could file paperwork online and only charge you for 15 minutes instead of 3 hours!

Our legal system makes me weary. Everything in America is regulated and has a ridiculous amount of over site except for the legal system. They graduate from law school, take the bar exam, get some CEUs under their belt,  start a practice then charge $250 and up PER HOUR. But they are kind enough to charge you in 15 minute increments. Oohhhh they also require a down payment for their services. They don’t call it a down payment but it is. I know, I know they are in law school for several years studying torts and whatnot so they’ve earned the right to charge hundreds of dollars in fees.

In my quest to find an attorney in ten days to provide a response to the legal notice I was served, I asked several friends for references. One friend of a friend offered me their discounted rate of $650 per hour. What?!? I went with a firm that had been labeled the Cadillac of law firms. Well, I wanted someone really good. I didn’t want to make the mistake I had made with my divorce attorney who made lots of mistakes and could be credited with my current situation for leaving out important verbiage in my divorce decree. I ended up with a Geo Metro pretending to be a Cadillac. The office was swanky, I met one of the partners who was impressive as well as knowledgable and very polished. They said I would be represented by the firm not just one person. They failed to mention the charge I would incur if any of them so much as looked at my file. The person they assigned to me and I parted ways three months and several thousand dollars later after I questioned excessive billing and did some minor research to see he charged me for a trip to the court-house when he was there for another case. What he did for me could have been handled by a phone call. Let the online records search at your local county court-house be your friend. You are able to search records by party or attorney. (You’re welcome)

The whole process is a waste of time, money and effort. Why clear the court’s dockets of cases that could be handled in mediation? I mean why would we want to use the courts’ resources to process criminal cases faster when you can take up valuable time with family law cases? The way my county works is if you can’t successfully negotiate between the attorney you go to mediation then the case comes before the judge when you’ve exhausted those options. But you spend months attending hearings and waiting on the attorney to discuss your demands or wants or points of contention. Remember they are charging you $250+ for these conversations between you, the other attorney, court clerks, paralegals and whoever else they can add to the monthly billing. Unless you are able to locate someone who charges a set fee to handle your case you could rack up thousands and thousands of dollars in fees. I don’t know about you but I don’t have thousands and thousands of dollars to spare.

You wanna hear my suggestions? Go to mediation first. Skip all the other nonsense and use a reputable mediator to help resolve the issue. The drawback? The attorneys don’t line their pockets at your expense and they might be able to help more people cause they aren’t spending a year or three on one case.

One year, two attorneys, a social study, mediation and I don’t know how many court dates later, it’s still not officially over. But we are close. I hope.