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.

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Mr. Hyman ..

I was walking the other day out of an event, one of my favorite of the year .. with a few dear friends.  We were some of the last to leave, having helped clean everything up and putting the place, a camp for kids with disabilities, back to semi-normal.

One:  A wise friend and mentor to us all and one of the programs biggest supporters .. who has been married to one of the most wonderful women now, for 40 plus years.

The other two:  A sweet young couple I have gotten to know well and who I just love.  And who at some point, I fully expect these two will get married.  Sooner than later if my girlfriend has anything to say about it.  She can’t hint to her rockstar boyfriend enough she is ready for the ring.

…………..

“I hear you’re getting married!” he says to me, seeming genuinely excited and sincere about it all.  “That’s just great .. ” he adds, among a few other wonderful thoughts and observations.  I have known this gentleman a very long time. His company was one of the first I went to work for long ago just out of high school .. we have remained friends ever since, having many mutual close friends, colleagues and causes that are important to us.

“If I can offer you one piece of advice, because I really do want things to work out for you with this one … ” he says .. which had I been drinking coffee or any sort of beverage, I would have spit it out laughing.  For as sweet as I know he was being with that comment, it just struck me as funny.

He continued.  “Something my wife and I have been blessed to have always done.  Don’t ever go to bed upset with one another.”

Agreed.   Not going to bed angry is a goal I have always strived for.  I think we all do.  But, we also all know it’s not always easy .. is it.  Sometimes circumstance and personalities get in the way no matter how much you may try to hit that goal.

This dear friend continued to share a story about one of the most important lessons he learned from one of his High School teachers way back when he was a ‘young buck’, Mr. Hyman.  “Hyman,” I asked?  I had to chuckle.  Hyman, he confirmed.  Know it’s spelled differently but for a teacher that name had to be tough.  Anyway ..

Mr. Hyman had apparently told his class long ago when our friend was a student, ‘Marriage is a lot of work.  And you may think each of you needs to give 50/50 to make it work.  But it’s not.  One person always end up putting in 90% of the effort.  And the other person, also needs to put in 90% of the effort.  And somewhere in there you hope it adds up to 100%.”

Lessons we learn firsthand being in a marriage.

Being out of one as well.  That’s a lesson that can apply to many things in life.

………………….

Going back into another union of hearts, dreams, families and all that goes along with that is a conversation the Cowboy and I have had on countless occasions.  Not wanting to repeat past mistakes.  Taking care to not take for granted what the other does or contributes.  Knowing there is always work the other is doing or energy being put in that shouldn’t be taken for granted.  Communication that needs to happen about life, with each other, to each other that doesn’t involve bills, the kids, the ex’s and problems.  Dreams always need to be shared.  Dates always need to be had.  Respect for each other and who we are as individuals as well as together is the goal.  Acknowledging that’s a lot of hard work, but deciding it’s worth it because the reward of a family that cares about each other, supports each other, is kind to one another, roots their day and actions in their faith, talks happiness, works only for the best and expects only the best of each other and delights in the good in the world around them sure beats the alternative.

Plus it’s no fun going to bed mad each night.

And my eyes always get puffy from crying so it’s just not pretty either.

It was only a few years after sharing his marriage insights in class, Mr. Hyman got divorced.  Successful outcome of the marriage or not, it is still a good reminder that while it may not always look like both parties in a marriage or a job or any relationship are putting in all they can and more, often they are.  And while we can always work harder and give more, we hope that in giving all we’ve got, no matter the ratio, it adds up to a beautiful life.  Even when its not always pretty.

Just One Upside to a Life ..

.. That Has Not Gone ‘According to Plan’.

When you’re young .. you can’t wait to grow up.  When you ‘grow up’.. we’re taught you go to school.  Find a job.  Find ‘the one’.  Get a dog.  Get married.  Buy a house.  Have children.  Save for retirement/college educations/and the little things.  Grow old together and live happily ever after.

It is a wonderful picture painted .. a great thing to strive for and would probably be a beautiful life.

I know and am close to a number of families who are older, who have had this life and have great stories to tell .. or who are currently living it out well.

On the flip side, I probably know more who are challenged to ‘live the dream.’  To follow, for so many reasons, the path that has long been considered our ‘societal norm.’

What is the norm anymore?  Kind of scary to think sometimes.  While it may not always be what we want or were hoping for .. while we may be disappointed we didn’t do better .. wished we had made better choices .. or done things differently ..

Relishing where we are at, is also one of the best things we can do in the face of adversity and change and disappointment over not being ‘where we are supposed to be’ at any given time in our adult lives.

For instance …

I had a house.  I loved my house.  I loved both my/our houses, actually.  The first one my ex and I lost to toxic mold, which meant we spent two years in and out of temporary residences with a newborn who knew nothing different and could handle it far better than perhaps her parents did.  But we made it through.  And then we bought a second home, far more home than we should have bought, but after a catastrophic loss on the first, insurance dictated what kind of second home we could buy and where it had to be located.  And we did the best we could, given the restrictions.  But it was tough.  And that was before the divorce.  In the divorce, I kept the house because I wanted to do what I could to give our daughter stability through what was another tough time for us all.  But it sank me, financially.

Don’t sell yet.  Don’t sell yet, friends and acquaintances in the real estate industry would tell me.  Let the market recover.  But little did we know, the recession was about to hit.  All I could do was try and work more, work harder, to make ends meet.  I was home less and less.  My gardens became overgrown.  The dogs had to entertain themselves while I was away.  And rarely did I see or have the chance to spend a few minutes chatting over the back fence with a neighbor.

………………..

A year and a half after selling the house, we find ourselves in a tiny two bedroom apartment.  We sold many of our things and I can’t wait yet to give away/sell more.  I’m tired of stuff.  I don’t want things.  I want time.  With my daughter.  With family, friends and others I love.  More savings.  Less debt.  Less house to clean.   Yard work, but only as much as I want.  And time to hang out with the neighbors.

Which for the first time in I would say most of my adult life, most of these things, I’m finding I am able to do either for the first time, or again.

I am loving the upsides of us downsizing.  And the things I’m rediscovering about life or myself or what’s important, I’m not sure I would have learned, not this quickly anyway, had everything just gone along according to society’s ‘master plan.’

Last night after my daughter and the ten year old next door took the dog for a walk, which they do most every night, I got to walk into their apartment to say, it’s time to come home and get ready for bed.  They were totally just hanging out, like I did with neighbors when I was a kid.

The adults spend time chatting out back, over a beer at the end of the day or the garden beds the landlord allowed to be built and who’s growing what.

We were talking about getting a whiffle ball game going some night.  A ‘community yard sale’.  A badmitton net put up.  The hula hoops were out.

The kids were learning some skateboard moves from one of the guys upstairs.  He’s a researcher in genetics.  His girlfriend a nurse.  Their roommate a chef.  Our other neighbor, a professor.  A teacher and nursing assistant live next door.  We’ve met and spent time with some of their families .. last night the woman who’s apartment I moved into, came downstairs from her now 3rd floor apartment and introduced us to her sister, who is deaf.  She may now give my daughter and the boy next door lessons in sign language.

Conversations I was rarely able to find time to have with my neighbors when I would come home each night to my actual home.

“Can we grab the dog,” is the text I find on my phone now almost daily from the neighbors in the apartment next door, knowing I’m still at work.  Then comes another, in jest, I think:  “We just looooooovvvvee her, you might not get her back.  Do not call the police.”

“What are you doing for dinner, we have extra food, come on up!”

“Grab a seat, stay!”

“Can I help you with that?”

“When’s the Cowboy coming back?” 🙂

“Do you want us to put something on the grill for you?  It’s hot ..”

I miss my old neighborhood (and neighbors), which isn’t too far from where I’m at in terms of physical location.  But while .. where I’m at in life isn’t necessarily where I’m supposed to be if you look at ‘the plan’ .. I couldn’t be in a better place.

“May your regrets be …”

As I look at a text this morning from a friend ..

A phone call from late last night I need to return ..

And knowing and having to deal with the situations a few others close to me are in right now, I went looking this morning for a quote that might help each of them today find even an ounce of strength in .. some small piece of insight .. or wisdom.

Instead of a quote, I found the following passage from the book, What I Wish For You by Patti Digh .. which I feel can apply universally for so many of the circumstances we find ourselves in, in life ..

They are also thoughts that I just simply love, and words that capture much of how I try to live my own life and hope as well, for my daughter as she grows.

May your regrets be from loving too much

Do not be afraid to love.  Open your heart wide.  Throw back the curtains.  Let the sun in.  Prop the front door open, make a pitcher of lemonade, invite the world!  You never know whom you might meet.  Don’t be afraid to fall in love with ideas, with places, with subjects, with people.  You’ll fall in and out of love many times, but this is how we figure it out.  This is how we learn what we love, this is how we recognize what we want, this is how we know what we need and , maybe just as important, what we do not need.  But if we don’t immerse ourselves in this crazy life in the first place, we never get the chance.

Sometimes it will seem easier not to throw yourself into the fray.  You could get disappointed.  You could be rejected.  You could get hurt.  Better to be the one doing the disappointing, the rejecting, the hurting.  That’s the easier way, it seems.  But my most poignant regrets are of the times I could have rushed head long into love – into life! – and did not, out of fear.

If you take a chance on love, you might regret it.  But maybe we can only hope to end up with the right regrets.  Ideas, places, and (especially) people will disappoint you.  They will wound you.  They will not live up to your standards.  But they will also astonish you.  They will amaze you.  They will bring you more joy than you could imagine.  I wish you as much luck and love as possible, with a few regrets as possible.  But if they happen (and they probably will), may your regrets be from loving too much instead of not enough.

– contributed by Gabrielle Kaasa

One last note – I found “What I Wish For You” and “Gratitude” at one of my favorite local stores.  If you’re ever down on State Street and stop in:

http://www.danebuylocal.com/directory/gifts-kids-pets-home/driftless-studio-nature-gallery-gifts.html

Tell Anne ‘Conversations with a Cowboy’ says hello and that I sent ya.

Cowgirl Hall of Fame ..

I was assigned a story my first summer working as a reporter in Missoula, Montana:

Head to an area about 3 1/2  hours southeast of town, called the Big Hole Valley and catch up with a group of riders on that particular year’s leg of the Chief Joseph trail ride.

Courtesy:  West Yellowstone News

http://www.westyellowstonenews.com/news/article_2a8c9da8-cc3b-11e0-8016-001cc4c002e0.html  (Photo above courtesy:  West Yellowstone News)

And since I was going that far away, yet it was still in our viewing area, I was to come up with a couple additional stories to film while there.

…………………

“I’m looking for Sheila,” I called and asked for the woman I had been reading about was a famous hatter from that area.

http://montanahats.com/category/newsworthy/

“Hang on just a minute,” I remember a woman’s voice on the other end of the line.  I heard the woman call for her.

“This is Sheila,” I’ll never forget the deep, slow and deliberate, sweet yet strong voice that answered a few moments later.

“Sheila, my name is .. ” and I went on to explain who I was and that I was coming to her area to film another series of stories.  I knew she had made the Cowgirl Hall of Fame for her cowboy hat making.  Would she allow me to film a piece on her?  She happily obliged. We agreed on a time and day to meet.  And I believe from the moment I walked in the door to the hat shop that day, we have been friends.

Courtesy: Seattle Ray

Well, actually it was probably more over beer later that night and some dancing at the Antler Saloon..

But friends.

And then it somehow, quickly become more than that.  She and her husband at the time, and her daughters took me in, as family.  Not uncommon for Sheila.  The woman has wrapped her arms around many besides her own children, and made them feel like one of her own. We have visited as often as possible, since.  Spending a lot of weeks and weekends together, a few holidays, moves, weddings, deaths, a graduation, nights around the fire, new babies, a divorce, another wedding ..

You know what I mean, just life.

A lot of life.

And while I’m not sure what Sheila has ever gleaned from me ..  I have at times, besides just enjoying every single moment I’m able to spend with her, leaned on her hard.  Even lately.  She has always been there for me, usually giving me the straight shoot, calling me out on anything necessary, helping me set upright again and always move forward with a better perspective for having spent any time with her.  Teaching me new things.  And some old things I need to be reminded of, like, sometimes it’s important to slow down and appreciate this life.  I tell her, usually in-between laughs, I try and appreciate it too much, which is why I’m always so busy.

She also let’s me know when she thinks I’m doing a few things right. And she’s been telling me since meeting him last fall when we were in town for a visit and the 4H Rodeo ..

.. that the Cowboy in our lives is one of those things.  And, she mentioned she’s been saving up for a trip she hopes (and now knows), is coming soon.

Even when my own mother was still alive, I was so incredibly grateful for Sheila in our lives… but over the years, I have grown to appreciate the woman she is, the examples she sets and the time and love extended us all the more.

It all comes back to .. (finishing some thoughts)

“Sometimes the best thing you can do as a parent, is keep your mouth shut.  My mother just listened .. and let me talk.  What a gift that was.” – Diane Keaton this morning, on the Today Show

……………….

What are the most important lessons your mother taught you?

……………….

I have seen the topic quite a bit recently in the news .. especially as we approach Mother’s Day.  I’ve been asked that particular question by friends recently as well.  And, it is a question I have been pondering myself, always have, but more and more as I work to navigate the ever changing waters that are motherhood.

Especially through divorce.

I have been trying to write for the past week, without much success, about some of the challenges facing us at the moment.

Much of it is relatively small in the grand scheme of things ..

 .. like making sure we’re out the door each morning in time to get to school on time.  Or .. navigating the increasing mood swings she’s having as she heads toward her tween years.  (This will be fun to write about).  Responding – or not to the occasional tantrum (of which we have not had one since that dreadful first night of spring break).  Listening to her constant push for a later bedtime as she gets older and balancing that with her need to get enough sleep.  Listening to her ask for anything that means more responsibility.  Yet struggling with how some of the most basic things she needs to do and is reminded of, she can’t somehow seem to get done.  Her being upset with me as I ask her to leave the cats alone and instead focus on her homework.  Not allowing any talking back and providing appropriate consequences when she does.  Keeping track of my jewelry, clothes or shoes ..as she can now fit into most of them… stuff like that.

I realized only this morning, just how similar a size we now are .. when I grabbed her rainboots to run out to the car.

And they fit.

As she grows and things are changing rapidly, some of these conversations and reflections will be easy and somewhat fun to write about.  And for her to have to reflect upon.

The problem is ..

There are bigger issues and conversations happening behind the scenes right now that are tough.  And are very big picture.  And that should stay behind the scenes, for now.

Especially because, we all know, that even in marriage parents don’t see eye to eye.

So what do you do, what is best to do, when it comes to divorce.  And your child’s future.  When you have two separate homes.  And two very strong, well meaning opinions that can’t quite merge.

…………….

Going back to the original question above, one many seem to be asking in their lives at this particular moment:

I believe the best advice I ever got from my own mother .. that I am relying on to get me through some of the smaller challenges of the day to day and of raising a child .. never came through actual words.

It came through her smile.  And her laughter.  Her ability to do both in the face of chaos.  And as Diane Keaton so eloquently stated this morning about her own mother, it was my mom’s ability to listen and respond in a way that, even if it was unintentional at the time, would ultimately help me take responsibility for my own actions and grow.

I’m not sure laughter and a smile are going to help on some of what is before us ..

I’m hoping there will be occasions however, where it won’t hurt either.  And in the meantime, I look forward to always working on my listening skills.

 

It all comes back to being a mom ..

It’s been kind of a rough week on the home front for a few reasons.

One, I’m pretty hard on myself when I don’t feel like I’ve been the best mom I can be.

Two, sometimes so are others.  Hard on you, that is.  Certain that – if put in your shoes they could live your life and do the job better.

Three, it’s been an insanely busy week.  One where I’ve had much more on my plate than usual.  And usual is already ridiculous by most people’s standards.  On top of it, I haven’t felt well.  I do believe my nose is bleeding at the moment from blowing it so much, darn this cold/sinus infection/whatever it is.  So I’m sure I’m looking good to boot.

I sincerely don’t mean in any way to complain.

Everyone around me is sick.  Busy and hard on themselves I think at times, knowing if they had more time to do it all, they could do any of it better.  Some, I know are far more sick and challenged than I am at the moment so I try to rise everyday thanking the good Lord for whatever level of health I do have.

Just stating the facts.

But, everything this week:  event-wise, situation-wise, health-wise and otherwise, has come back to the whole issue of parenting for me and what I want for myself and my (and my ex’s) daughter.

Big picture stuff.

And big picture can be tough when you and your spouse or ex or whoever else might be in the picture .. can’t seem to ever get on the same page when it comes to even the little things.

(It sure is interesting, though trying to get it all worked out.  Thoughts to be shared perhaps, later.  For now, the Cowboy and I are off to solve the world’s problems over beer and a fish fry.  Isn’t that where all good problems are solved?)