Mind your own business

Have you ever lost someone so close to you, you feel like a part of you died as well? A loss so profound it has you realizing each and every day how lucky you are – to have what you do – the people around you, your health and the gift of more time with them? A loss that in many ways, also becomes a gift because it helps you realize you shouldn’t take a moment in this life for granted?

My mom passed away 13 years ago. She was just 56 years old. She died of lung cancer. I miss her terribly.

My mom

My mom

SO .. every year, on this day, I feel a bit of frustration. Not over her death. But over how apathetic we’ve grown to a day designed to do so much good for other families that could prevent the same fate my mother had, despite the fact my mother wasn’t a smoker.

Today is the Great American Smokeout. Did you even know that?

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Usually the response from anyone who still smokes to anyone expressing concern is often something along the lines of, “Mind your own damn business.” That’s a comment I’ve heard time and again – not necessarily to me but to others on countless occasions, especially as a reporter trying to do any sort of news coverage on this day.

So.. I’m not going to talk about smoking or quitting smoking. What you want to do to your own body is your own business. I get it. But seeing the meager news coverage today on the event, I feel compelled to say something. Because I miss my mom. And because lung cancer sucks. And because smokers, I want to remind you, if you’re blessed at all to have people around you that love you, it’s that you’re not the only one who gets sick, if and when you get sick. From smoking.

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Please do me a favor and if not for me, for those who love you: 

  • Smoker or not, know the signs, symptoms and risk factors for lung cancer.
  • Go to the doctor if you do smoke, have high radon levels in your home or if you’ve been taking in secondhand smoke much of your life.
  • What are the radon levels in your home? It’s the second leading cause of lung cancer. The test is cheap and easy, test your home.
  • Know that if you’ve quit smoking, even upwards of 20 years ago, you are still at risk. Those statistics that say you’ve magically recovered somehow from all of the damage done – throw them out the window when it comes to your lungs.
  • Get screened if possible for this disease if you know you’re at risk. Screenings are more available than they’ve ever been. Call the NCI designated cancer center nearest you and ask.
  • If you’re lucky enough to catch the disease early, don’t expect it to be as treatable as every other cancer having success right now. It’s a tough diagnosis. And while advancements are being made by some very caring, hard-working and dedicated researchers and physicians, there are few treatment options available that work for advanced stages of this disease.
  • Donate to lung cancer research. Any cancer research, actually, because advancements in one area are often translate anymore to other cancers. Just donate, to a reputable organization. And if you want it to go to research, do you homework. Ask how much of it goes to research. Because I bet if you started asking if what your donations are going to, they are often steered elsewhere unless you know to ask. If you want to be lung specific, two great options include the lung cancer program at the Carbone Cancer Center and the National Lung Cancer Partnership. I’ve worked with and for both organizations. They steward your dollars well.
  • If you’re a lung cancer survivor, share your story. Don’t hide in the shadows worrying if someone will ask you if you got it from smoking. Because, people just will. And then you ask them in return, “Why do you ask?” Think about the position that puts someone in then, to have to explain why they’re asking. No one deserves this disease. Would they do that to someone with heart disease? Type 2 diabetes? Not so much, I’m thinking. Stand up for yourself, talk about what is happening. You’d be amazed at how much support there is for you if only others knew.
  • If you’ve lost a loved one to lung cancer, become their voice. Nothing will change where the course of this disease or the prognosis until we unite our voices and the research dollars.
  • If you have the guts to confront what is before you, smokers, if you really want to quit – which statistics show many of you do – try this. Go fishing. Catch a live fish and watch it as it struggles to breathe until it dies. Understand that this is the position you’re putting your family in. Know that doesn’t have to be you. Or them. I’d never wish what my mother went through on anyone. Not that she could do a thing about it. She was among those that just got the disease, because. And she handled her life, disease and death with as much grace as one possibly can.

If you decide you ever want someone to butt in, to help you quit, there is help. There are resources. It doesn’t have to be today you take that first step. Any day is a good day to try.

“South Dakota doesn’t give a damn about its dumb reputation.”

I love Rock n’ Roll as much as the rest of us. And I am a pie-in-the-sky, think we can all hold hands and get along despite our differences kind of gal.

But, do I think the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association (along with many others who are not part of the Association but share the same point of view) is narrow-minded to question Joan Jett being the face of the state’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade float? Not at all. It seems simple marketing tactics to me.

I’m more surprised Macy’s, a commercial marketing powerhouse, wouldn’t have better thought through the process from the get-go if indeed, Macy’s Parade officials made that initial call.

Had the roles been reversed, would Macy’s have made the same initial decision? I can just hear it..

‘Hey, we’ve got a list of sponsors and, well, the ones Joan thought might work best aren’t available .. but here’s a good match! Let’s have Joan Jett’s float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade sponsored by the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association.’

Pretty sure there would have been some requests for a change there, too. Someone please remind me again, why is this such a big deal and why it has gotten to the point of grade-school like name calling?

While working on content for someone else today, I came across the following article and thought it worth a share. From Death and Taxes, http://bit.ly/1bytiZe

Could ranchers here and the state not have made a big deal about the outspoken PETA advocate and vegetarian riding on their float next week? Absolutely. Would it not have been a big deal and solely focused on the ‘entertainment value’ as many would like to think is all it is? Perhaps. Would it possibly make more sense from a marketing standpoint, that on a float that represents the state of Great Faces, Great Places and a largely agricultural community that puts foods in the mouths of Americans everyday, Americans that request it because not everyone is a vegetarian, that there is someone who isn’t vocally opposed to that way of life? I think it’s fair.

I’m not sure, however, that it means the people here are backwards, behind or that as Entertainment Reporter, Robyn Pennacchia so eloquently put it:

“The State of South Dakota doesn’t give a damn about its dumb reputation.” 

“GOOD JOB, SOUTH DAKOTA. Way to prove that you are nowhere near awesome enough to have Joan Jett on your parade float. Seriously.”

I am quite certain that if the Chicago area based reporter ever would like to visit the state and better understand the culture, community and people here, there would be many doors opened to her despite the comments made and tone of her article to help her better understand why questions were raised.

Many friends have occasionally made snide remarks or at least joked since I started dating the Cowboy about how backwards this state seems to be. It may be, in some ways. South Dakota may be years behind in other ways. I won’t argue with you there. While that can at times be incredibly frustrating, it at times can also be refreshing. As many in our society look for a simpler way of life, to unplug once in a while, to get back to the roots of slow cooking, time with their kids, living somewhere they feel safe enough to let their kids run freely outside without worrying what harm may come to them, working with the land, knowing who your neighbors are and the value of visiting with them (almost all urban infill projects have a focus on this right now) and knowing where your food comes from, South Dakota seems to be doing a lot of things right.

The invitation stands, Robyn.

The Roost

We were driving through town this morning on our way to pick up a friend of the kids for the day .. and on our way, we passed the old granary in town. It’s a cold, gray and rainy November day but love how it made this whole scene appear.

Pigeons atop one of the old granaries in downtown Flandreau.

Pigeons atop one of the old granaries in downtown Flandreau.

Heavy Frost

The start to winter here in South Dakota has been brutal. Deadly, as many of you know, in some parts.  The snow has been deep west river, the temperatures frigid and the legendary winds have been howling. But more often than not thus far, especially east of the Missouri, the sun has been shining and the weather overall, has been relatively mild.

Cows 2

I couldn’t resist going for a walk with the camera this morning. The sun was trying to break through a heavy frost. The cattle in the field across the way were just barely visible in the mix. Chances are, we won’t have too many more mornings like this.

It’s just beautiful here. While I miss the lakes, rolling hills and bluffs of Wisconsin and the majestic mountains of Montana, I have absolutely fallen in love with the prairie.

co-par·ent

The Cowboy teases me all the time, “You know how I knew I had found a good woman? I saw what kind of ex-wife you are.” 

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I’m not sure that my ex would agree with the above statement and I’m not trying to blow smoke up anyone’s #*s. Especially my own. I sincerely have tried, from the moment we realized we were going to become parents – to this day – 8 years post our divorce, to be the best possible co-parent that I can be. Which means doing my best to ensure we are both as involved as possibly in raising a healthy child. To always try and do right – by her.

Over the years that’s meant finding a better way when she struggled with direct transitions. To make sure when she’s with me she has the ability to talk with her dad every single night because, well just because if she wanted to she should be able to. To never talk bad about him in front of her or, ever at all if I can help it. Rethinking our 2-2-5 schedule and was that best for her as she got older. Attending school conferences and doctors appointments together so we would both (hopefully) hear the same challenges and accomplishments. Seeking together – advice from a jointly agreed upon 3rd party when we couldn’t agree on something. To make sure she feels safe to love us both equally. The list, as many of you know because you’re in the same boat, goes on.

I’m not saying I’ve always done it well. Or that he has either. In fact, we’ve struggled. A lot. But we try.

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Picking up where I left off the other night .. I would have thrown all this and the kitchen sink into that post about why co-parenting well through and after divorce is critical but I didn’t want it getting too long and it seemed it was already. And it seems perhaps we need to start with the basics because there appears a sincere lack of knowledge this word even exists in many families let alone the current family court system.

co-par·ent
kōˈpe(ə)rənt,-ˈpar-/
verb
gerund or present participle: coparenting
  1. 1.
    (esp. of a separated or unmarried couple) share the duties of parenting (a child).

Here’s the deal.

Co-parenting was most likely important to you in marriage (or family unit). You both had a role. The kids relied on you both to be there for them. If there is anything still worth doing in a family that’s being torn apart, it’s to let those kids have that same access to both parents, assuming both parents are fit, loving, willing and able. At a time when the two adults involved along with their extended families are most likely hurting the most – that is the most important time to try and make this work. It shouldn’t be a forced, last resort for those wanting to get back at any other party for whatever hurt you may be going through. Far too often, it seems, this is the case with little acknowledgement you’re not the only one somehow hurting in this situation. It’s not all about you.

Sharing as equal time possible as well as the decision making with your soon-to-be or long done and over ex, is collectively what most experts in the field will tell you is in a child’s emotional and physical best interest. Again, this is assuming most parents want to be as much a part of their children’s lives as possible and that you are both fit, loving, willing and able (especially in regard to distance). Sharing this model of parenting is increasingly is shown to trump any concerns about a child ‘living out of a suitcase.’

There are incredible resources out there for families going through divorce or struggling with any issues post divorce. Among them, is this really nice co-parenting how-to-perhaps-do-it-well-despite-wanting-to-poke-the-other-parents-eyes-out-with-a-sharp-stick checklist at helpguide.org

If you get a chance, read and seriously consider why co-parenting through divorce is increasingly what is recommended and just extremely important overall when and where possible. What taking that advice to heart could mean for you and your kids.

Other helpful resources (a mix of just a few that can easily be found online) and if you have any you might recommend, please share. Thanks for stopping in.

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/co-parenting-after-divorce

http://www.drphil.com/articles/article/534

http://ourfamilywizard.com/ofw/

Stayin’ Alive and Kitchen Table Discussions About Divorce

I’m sitting at the kitchen table, like most nights, with the Cowboy. To set the scene, he’s making fun of me because I’m in my ‘get stuff done mode’ – trying to get this written, have it make sense, not piss anyone off and have an ounce of valuable takeaway. Which I can’t be sure of if I don’t focus on this before I hit publish. It’s not all that p-c to tell you what he’s doing to get me to laugh .. I can tell you however, he’s been laughing at himself as he rocks out again tonight on his guitar to Stayin Alive. We are apparently in a Bee Gees phase.

Playing Guitar

I want to write about co-parenting, what it is and how some experts advise doing it well. Because, it’s a constant struggle to do well in divorce, if parents consider doing it at all. Because it’s an ongoing conversation in our home. Because we have children and we are challenged to always be doing things better for them. And because we see so many of our friends (and quite honestly complete strangers who share way too much with us at times, which is okay, don’t get me wrong) that struggle with it and often want advice. 

Having said that, I feel perhaps it’s important to start this conversation with the following information:

I have done my best over the past 13 years now, to be a good co-parent. My ex may argue with me, but I’ve tried. To me, that journey started well before our child was even born.  

My efforts didn’t stop with our divorce. I have always felt my daughter needed my ex husband as much as she needed me in her life. We both bring different personalities and traits and skill sets to the table. And, she loves us both. 

We have shared equal time – split absolutely down the middle, almost this entire journey post separating. We agreed to this in what’s called a collaborative divorce process where we sat down at the table together, with our attorneys and literally discussed how we would work together on everything – and never say anything negative about the other in her presence, because it was and is in the best interest of our only child. Equal time. Equal say. Equal rights. Equal everything for the most part. 

We’ve worked over the years on a weekly basis (every Monday), to email each other with any and all updates in regard to anything involving our daughter. It was recommended as a good model for contact and communication because we were struggling with our communication otherwise. 

Those emails weren’t perfect – on either side. We’ve had our share of other issues as well. Issues that, no matter how much love was behind the root cause, ultimately became detrimental for our daughter’s overall well being. 

But we’ve tried always to do what is right by her.  What does that mean though….  

Damned if you do ..

The Cowboy is standing at the sink, cleaning up after having just made us both some breakfast. We’ve both got busy days ahead. And we’re both already somewhat exhausted. Neither of us slept much last night, the dogs were out and barking incessantly for some reason until about sun-up this morning.

Further exhausting us, is a situation we both feel passionately about. One that we are confronted with on a daily basis through the eyes of so many others as well as our own situations; the healing of families after divorce and doing what is in the best interest of the children stuck in the middle of what can often be a tough situation.

The Cowboy is heading to a South Dakota Shared Parenting Rally here in just a bit, a group he’s quietly helped lead behind the scenes for a couple of years now. It’s a group he joined and quite honestly, helped to restart out of the pain of his own family’s situation. The mission since, has become far greater. I’m not overstating this – there isn’t a day when at least one person isn’t calling the Cowboy asking for advice, needing someone to understand where they’re at and asking why no one seems to care that their children have been ripped out of their lives other than four days a month for no apparent reason – a standard custody judgement in South Dakota no matter how good or fit both parents may be, no matter how close they may live, no matter that a growing amount of evidence shows it is best for children whenever possible to have as much time with both parents assuming they are both fit, willing, loving and able parents. 

“It’s a no win situation,” the Cowboy says to me, still standing at the sink, looking not at me but thoughtfully out the window. “All I want, all most people want that are in my situation, is more time with their kids. If you don’t fight for it, people say you don’t care. If you do fight for more time, you’re told you’re bitter and angry. You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

It’s not always about time, either. The concerns. There are so many other issues that surround children of divorce. And the parents, quite honestly. One parent badmouthing the other in front of the kids, phone calls or even standard visitation denied with no recourse for the offending parent, never any extra time given, important information about child development withheld, medical issues, the list goes on.

I’ve been cautious to post much of anything over the past year around the topic of our families for a number of reasons. These tough discussions permeate our everyday and are often the conversations the Cowboy and I have when we are alone. But I think there is an incredible amount we’ve learned and that we’ve learned through others that is worth sharing ..  discussions worth taking part in.

Information as simple as – does your state offer/promote collaborative divorce? There are so many I know of who look at me like, what are you talking about, when I ask if this is something they’ve considered.

Important questions to ask an attorney before you retain their services.

Important details to work through before you sign off on finalizing your divorce or custody arrangement.

Working out a communication plan in regard to the kids – if you have a tough time communicating in any way with your ex. What is a communication plan and what resources are available? And, do they work?

Divorce impacts over 50% of our society anymore, most often these couples have children. What states do divorce well? What can we learn from them? Where are there helpful resources for these families? How do you work with someone who doesn’t want to work with you but rather hurt you in a divorce/post divorce/through the kids? Is it possible?

What is happening legislatively across the nation when it comes to child custody arrangements, decisions and laws? Shared Parenting conversations and legislation are growing. But what does this mean?

The media, the family court system and our government like to talk about how big a problem fatherlessness is in our society, yet the system often seems stacked against men, especially. Why is this?

The less a non-custodial parent sees their kids, the more they’re required to pay in child support. May seem logical on some fronts and there are parents, countless parents tragically, who want nothing to do with their kids lives and be free of the financial burden. But I’m not sure that’s the norm. SO .. when you have a fit, loving, caring and genuine non-custodial parent asking for more time, not to get out of paying, but to genuinely have more time with their kids because it is what most likely best all around .. what incentive is there for a custodial parent to agree to any change the arrangement?

Deadbeat dads is another topic the media likes to latch on to and promote the heck out of, I know, I’ve worked in newsrooms that have done this. Let’s follow around the cop walking door to door with arrest warrants for those who haven’t paid up. That’s sexy ‘journalism’ to use the term loosely and is easy to promote, I can just hear the male announcer voice now booming 10 seconds of copy over how we have a society of deadbeat dads and how we can’t let them get away with it. While I will never think it is okay to walk away from your kids or the financial responsibility of them – I have now also seen firsthand why it would be easier for some dads, especially, (some moms too for the record) to walk away versus be put in the situation their ex spouses continually put them and their children in. I am amazed to even think I can now understand this. Not as easy a story to tell, but one equally worth sharing. Who’s got the guts (or quite honestly the time in a churn and burn world of media) to do it? Running stories that are deep and meaningful and true to both sides often bring out the Jerry Springer in many families. It’s a risky deal for news outlets and which side do you believe? Why perhaps the flip-side or even the front side often don’t get told. Stick to the facts of who hasn’t paid up and there’s your story.

What happens when two parents, both hurt by a marriage that didn’t work out for some reason, let go of the past and come together sincerely to move forward, work together, get along and operate in all honesty and do what is in the best interest of the child? What happens then? How does the child benefit/react/grow? What does this look like?

Where are there resources to help you learn to let go, get along? What are the warning signs your kids really aren’t handling the mess you’ve created well?

 

The system is broke in so many ways. How do you fix something so intimate as family and interpersonal relations? Can it be fixed? Who can help, if anyone? Who’s doing it well? I am not claiming to have any answers. But there are always others we can learn from.

I’m not saying I’m going to write about this everyday, but in light of some recent issues in our own family (positive and negative) and in a few conversations we’ve had with others in just the past week, I’m done being frustrated over saying nothing and the fear of saying anything. 

These conversations are happening, but they need to be happening on a broader scale than inside our own homes, or in isolated silos to friends who will listen and can empathize because they are in the same situation.

I’ve taken long enough to write this that the Cowboy has since left his perch at the sink where this whole conversation started, and has left for today’s Shared Parenting rally. Unsure if two people or two hundred people will turn out, he plans to be among them…

While others have told the Cowboy he’s an embarrassment for doing what he’s doing, I hope he knows how incredibly proud I am of what a good dad he is, of how much he cares about and for his kids, and that even if he can’t change his own situation, he’s doing what he can to create as positive a situation for other parents and children should they have to go down the same treacherous path.