On life, divorce, custody and Measure 6.

I’ve been trying to figure out what, if anything, I can write that might make a difference in the war being waged right now in North Dakota over the upcoming ballot measure on Shared Parenting. I don’t know that this is it. But it’s the first of several blogs I’ll probably post this week on the topic, because watching and reading some of the material that’s being perpetuated on the issue by opponents of shared parenting reform, is terribly sad and frustrating. And part of our daily conversations right now. And I can’t sit idle and watch anymore.

We’ve been following Measure 6 closely, as there is still a long way to go in shared parenting reform in most, if not all states. It has countless others across the nation watching as well as the discussion unfolds in North Dakota. Why?

Measure 6 really has the chance to do some things right. And do right, by our kids, should it pass.

Opponents (it appears this is most often lawyers, custodial parents themselves and women who just want to support other women who have custody of their kids because, according to so many of their comments, how could a man possibly care for a child nearly as well as a mother) would have you believe it’s the worst thing ever for any child. That Measure 6 will only hurt children who don’t deserve to be stuck in the middle. I hate to break it to you, but they already are. Can we at least agree to start there?

Measure 6 asks judges to consider before knowing anything else, that the best possible scenario for a child caught in the middle of a family separation or divorce, would be 50/50 time and placement when two fit parents are involved. The final ruling doesn’t need to be 50/50, but Measure 6 encourages judges to use it as a starting point. If 50/50  obviously won’t work for reasons of say, perhaps distance between homes, demanding jobs that require a lot of travel or time away from home or for any other logical and proven reason, that the child be offered the chance to maximize time with both parents, however that may look. Along with this, standards need to be met for both parents to be considered ‘fit’.

This law is asking North Dakota voters to agree to a different future for the children of that state and quite honestly for adults, attorneys and judges in the state’s family law system. It asks that everyone try and play better in the proverbial sandbox that more and more families find themselves in. And it also asks that there finally be some accountability for why good parents are otherwise, often completely or nearly completely, shut out of a child’s life.

Why would I care about a shared parenting measure in another state? Well, because important, relevant and universal issues know no boundaries. The conversations on any broad social issues don’t stop at the state line. (If so, you might want to gather those parenting magazines you have lying around the house offering advice and chuck ’em because chances are they weren’t written by anyone in ND.)

I also care because, our family is a prime example of how shared parenting can work, does work and could work even when parents don’t get along or live in different states. At least on the one side. On the other, is an ongoing reminder of why the system needs to change.

Here’s the deal. I’ve tried to limit the number of parenting/shared parenting/etc posts on this blog because, well, because I don’t want the issue to define our lives. But, I could write a post daily. Stories about the beauty of co-parenting. About the challenges along the way. About how we work through them, or not. About how easily 50/50 can work. And if not 50/50, as close to that as possible when it isn’t possible. About how important it is a child feel they’re able to equally love both parents. About, how when that is their norm, having that taken away from them is what tears them up versus starting from that unequal split and trying to reverse it. And what happens when none of the above is present. About the trials and hurt children face when shut out of one good parents life. About the questions they ask when one parent is minimized and how, as a parent, you struggle to find the right answer without putting the other parent down. About the gut wrenching hurt that’s visible in a good dad’s eyes because every attempt to help raise his children is met with a no, you’re not welcome here, but your money certainly is. (Check please!) And about how the only recourse you know you might have when you are consistently shut out or denied time or phone calls or holidays, is to go back to court, to be told once again there aren’t any issues here, mom is doing her best and oh by the way, because she’s such an upstanding parent and seems totally willing to offer you your six days a month and two phone calls per week, you should pay her attorneys fees.

Doesn’t apply to you? You’re lucky if it doesn’t. But chances are you, a family member, a friend, even one of your own children have gone through it on some level. If not, they will. And when that time comes, should you choose to ignore how flawed the current system is, you had better hope you’re on the right side of the current law if you ever want to see your kids or your grandkids. Especially .. especially if there is a vindictive, self-centered, egotistical, self-righteous or narcissistic custodial parent in the mix.

Measure 6 may not be perfect. Nothing ever is. But it follows the logic of what social science experts studying this issue for decades seem to feel is best for our kids. And given what we’ve seen personally, time and again and not just in our home but countless others – shared parenting can work and works well. Far better than the outcomes I’ve seen in families where there is a desire to equally parent but a hefty imbalance of time available for whichever parent it may be (most often, dads). But two parents have to be willing to be okay with it. And the process shouldn’t just get shut down because mom says, ‘I don’t want to’ or ‘this is terrible for our children’ without any proof that’s the case. When a shared parenting agreement is tough to work through initially, that is when parents need help and a voice of reason the most (chances are, you’re already in court for those who say the state should stay out of such decisions – oh, the irony), and that is where a law like this would step in and encourage what’s truly in the best interest of a child. Besides attorneys knowing that co-parenting reform often leads to less litigation (among the reasons the ND State Bar is fighting this measure tooth and nail whether you care to admit that or not), two adults agreeing to act like two adults in this situation appears the biggest hurdle of all.

#VoteYesOn6

The Cottage ..

Summer afternoon – summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language. – Henry James

the lake

I’m staying all week at a cottage on Lake Wisconsin, one that is home to me. Actually it is the summer home of my very best, oldest and dearest friends. Her family’s cottage. It just feels like home because I’ve been coming here since I was a child.

My girlfriend and I and all of her relatives and other friends we’ve grown up with, we all now bring our own children here. I pray that someday this sweet, totally old-school and full-of-charm little cottage still stands and that our children someday are reminiscing about their childhood summer days spent on the Wisconsin River. Like we do now. And that they bring their own children to this shore..

………

I hadn’t intended to be in town, back in the Madison, WI area all week but I’m here to both work and wrap up some family matters. Matters I thought might be easily resolved long ago. Some things will just never be easy.

Reflecting, amidst the chaos in one area of my life, on everything else that is so good in every other way. I am so incredibly grateful for this time at the cottage, for the reminders of all that is good about summer, of simpler times, of no television or internet when I don’t want it, some emotional peace and quiet, for a lifelong friendship .. and time here with my own daughter.

Mother-in-law ..

For years I had a handwritten poem on the front of my refrigerator from my former Mother-In-Law.  She had given it to us .. shortly after the birth of our daughter.

I love it.

And until then, I had never seen nor heard of it.

I saved that little handwritten note when I had to tear everything, photos, notes, etc off the fridge to ‘stage’ the  house when I put it on the market.  At the moment it is neatly tucked into a box in a folder in a storage unit.

But often, when I am bustling around trying to get everything in order as best I can .. I find myself saying ..

“Cooking and cleaning can wait til tomorrow
For babies grow up, I’ve learned to my sorrow.
So, settle down cobwebs, dust go to sleep.
I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.”

Since the day she wrote it down.. and I recall it vividly ..

Whenever I am able or think of that little note, I do what I can to bring my focus back around to what precious little time I have during any given day, with my daughter.  Even if it means watching her while she plays with someone else, or the dog, does her homework, fusses at me, goes off exploring ..

Or if it means I can just stay still for a few moments each morning and watch and listen to her breathe while she is still peacefully sleeping.  You know that moment.  There is nothing like it.

She may not be a baby anymore.  But it is a wonderful reminder for us in each God given day to slow down as best we can and appreciate the time we are given with those we love and hold dear.

…………….

As I was looking for who I might attribute the above words to, I found the following entire sweet poem:

Song for a Fifth Child

Mother, oh Mother, come shake out your cloth
empty the dustpan, poison the moth,
hang out the washing and butter the bread,
sew on a button and make up a bed.
Where is the mother whose house is so shocking?
She’s up in the nursery, blissfully rocking.

Oh, I’ve grown shiftless as Little Boy Blue
(lullaby, rockaby, lullaby loo).
Dishes are waiting and bills are past due
(pat-a-cake, darling, and peek, peekaboo).
The shopping’s not done and there’s nothing for stew
and out in the yard there’s a hullabaloo
but I’m playing Kanga and this is my Roo.
Look! Aren’t her eyes the most wonderful hue?
(lullaby, rockaby, lullaby loo).

The cleaning and scrubbing will wait till tomorrow,
for children grow up, as I’ve learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down, cobwebs. Dust go to sleep.
I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.

by Ruth Hulburt Hamilton

A good marriage …

The grass is not greener on the other side of the fence.  It is the greenest where nurtured and cared for.  If your grass is not green, what are you doing – or not doing – to have it that way?‘  –  Wedding Ceremony Sermon

…………….

The Cowboy and I had a wonderful weekend together .. filled with family and friends and more friends and family.

And some drama.

Fortunately, not between us.  But it was .. surrounding us.  And as we were caught between conversations (and this is just in one 48 hour period); 1) of a friend miserable in their marriage, wanting to know about a single friend 2) of a married couple we are close and spent time with but who were at each others throats 3) of a single friend over the phone wondering why the only people who want to date her are married 4) catching up with another couple who plans their week scheduling as much time apart as possible because its easier than being together and 5) of another couple in the midst of an affair and very open about it ..

The Cowboy asks me as we’re trying to navigate phone calls and how to respond to any of it, “Who do you know that really has a good marriage?”

I paused .. and when I went to answer, I paused again for a long time.

…………….

Thinking about the question posed, now almost a day later and as I write, I do know quite a few friends who are in wonderful marriages.  Not that any union is ever without its challenges.  But when challenges come, from what I have ever witnessed, they face them together, with respect, love for each other and a commitment to stick together.  And they have come through it stronger.

Far too many of us know …

… That’s not always possible.

Having been through divorce myself though, I get it.  I know the feeling of hopelessness. Years of it.  Of, no matter what you do, it’s not right.  Of defeat.  Of trying everything you can to save it.  Then being told its never enough.  Of counseling.  Finding hope.  Of a few months of things going well only to have the cycle reverse itself again.  Of knowing there is more to life than the misery it seems two people bring out of each other.  Seeing the pain in a child’s eyes of what the two of you are when you are together.  And imagining the sorrow and confusion in that same child’s eyes, of what it will be should you part.  Of wanting to run your car into a tree versus return home at night because it would be easier than making that decision.  Of knowing that’s not the answer.  And then, of getting to the point you know the pain of staying is worse than anything else you will have to go through to get to the other side.

My ex still says he wishes we had never married in the first place.  That it was the biggest mistake of his life and he should have known better.

While I don’t feel the same .. I get it.

And I’m not going to lie ..

There are so many reasons why one might choose the option of divorce over staying married.  Statistics show over half of our population now does.  While I was devastated to be the one to finally force that step we had both talked about for years, I have not regretted the decision to separate from my ex for one day.

But had there been any chance for us .. any .. to live in harmony and have the life we both wanted, I would have continued to try and make it work.

…………..

Marriage .. even just a committed long term relationship, is hard.  And as the Cowboy and I talk about where we go from this place we are at .. in life .. in location .. in any of this and we look at the challenges being faced by so many around us and the situations they are creating for themselves as well as having been in some of those places in one way or another ourselves, the question posed stumped us both.  At least momentarily.

We have something good.  But at one point, so did we with our -ex’s .. and so did all of these family and friends ..

How do you hold onto that, the good?  Or the great.  We have talked about this before.  Many times.

I asked the one married friend who was calling to ask about my single friend and if I thought they might have any chance to hook up with them .. first, I think I said, ‘Are you kidding?’  Second, I know I asked if they were willing to work on their own marriage.  Tend to the grass.  Work on making it green.  Had they even talked with their spouse about how devastated they were.

“No, not really,” they said.

“Wouldn’t that be an important first step?  Do you want to save your marriage or are you just done?  My ex and I went to counseling on and off for almost 8 years, you know that,” I said.

“I think I’m just done.  There is no love.  There hasn’t been for a long time,” this person replied.

……………

How .. how do you bring it back?

How do you make sure the grass is greener on your side of the fence than what it appears on the other.  And what can any of us do to regrow the lawn/a relationship when it seems so far gone?

Or are we just a throwaway society anymore and it doesn’t matter if there is still some life in the yard .. we just want to rip the whole thing apart, and start over with some fresh sod.  Because sometimes that is all you can do.

The Cowboy and I have been pondering all of this …

And they have been good, ongoing conversations for us, as we work to keep our own relationship strong and green and help others we love and care about through some pretty rough patches.

Something I need more time to think about .. before I write any more.  That will be tomorrow’s post.  Your thoughts in the meantime?

Staying put …

I was kind of sick to my stomach yesterday.. thinking about making a decision I knew was best to make for so many reasons.

But one that I just didn’t want to do.

We cold decide to stay put in South Dakota .. where we have settled in nicely these first few days of spring break.

Or .. we could head out, leaving the Cowboy’s like we had planned, for a few days in Montana.

……….

We go to Montana every year at least once if not twice. And that’s just the two of us. My 10 year old then goes one if not two more times with her father. I don’t ever feel I can speak on his behalf nor would I want to, but I’m pretty sure it’s safe to say, we all love it. The state. The state of mind. Being there moves me and I think all of us, like few other places.. something I never expected when I moved there so many years ago for my first job. It is where my ex and I met. I’m not sure a day has gone by that my ex doesn’t wish he had ever left. His entire family now lives there, without him. That’s a whole other story.

Regardless .. If we don’t go to visit family, we go to visit all the friends who are like family to us.

The annual roadtrip usually has us swinging a big loop to see friends in Big Sky country, The Bitterroot, Missoula, Ninemile, the Flathead Valley and back toward home .. it’s a lot of driving. And never enough time with any of them.

But this trip, I really wanted and quite honestly, felt I needed time with a woman who is like a second mom to me. The Hat Maker and her family. One stop. One stop I have been looking forward to for a very long time. We had scheduled three days there .. to fall in-between two very long, wonderful weekends at the Cowboy’s.

I didn’t want to back out… but my gut was telling me I should.

The Cowboy and I have had some much needed time together and conversations we just can’t seem to have in earnest otherwise .. since we have been here. All good things.

But until my daughter asked the other night.. “Mom, can’t we stay one more day here?” .. I hadn’t really considered simply staying put for an entire week.

Not only because I’d be changing loosely set plans .. (which I’m typically and all too often, good with)

Or missing out on an opportunity to spend time in a place and with people that feed my soul ..

But because it would mean I would actually stay put, in one place, with little to do other than rest .. regroup .. think .. and have absolute down time with people I love and adore and appreciate here as well. My daughter being one. The Cowboy another.

………..

Downtime is not something I give myself permission to have very often. And I hate to generalize but, I believe it’s actually something we, as a society have gotten so far away from. Many of us, anyway. The Cowboy has been good for me in that regard.

The Hat Maker agrees .. as she adores the Cowboy and what he’s meant for us. She told me on the phone as we were talking about the possible change of plans last night, that it was probably good for us to stay put for awhile. Stop running from here to there and everywhere inbetween because often it never gets us where we want to go anyway.

We woke this morning …

And instead of getting in the car for the twelve hour drive ..

We are enjoying staying put.. heading outside where there are two horses saddled, ready for my daughter and I to ride out in the South Dakota sun .. While we wait for the Cowboy to return home.

Setting fear aside ..

“I can’t believe she doesn’t know how to ride a bike..”

That is the reaction we would get from just about everyone who happened to come across the little tidbit of information that my 10 year old didn’t know how to ride a bike.  Not only did she not know, but she absolutely refused to learn.

“That’s just crazy,” they would say.  “Why doesn’t she want to learn?”

It’s been this way for years now.

She will go 40 mph down a mountainside on skiis despite having rammed head on into a tree when she was probably 4 years old.  No fear to get back up.  She will ride on a scooter.  A skateboard.  She will get on any horse and enjoys not just a leisurely walk.  But an all out run.

Yet she won’t get on a bike.

I don’t know if it was the 4th of July neighborhood parade incident years ago that scarred her when she fell and the decorative red, white and blue pipecleaner on the handlebar went clear through her hand ..

Or if she .. for some reason .. has just truly not wanted to learn.

“C’mon…” I used to say.  “Everyone knows how to ride a bike.  It’s just something you do.  It will be fun!  We can go together.  You have to learn.”

“Not me,” she would reply.  “Not unless it’s the law.  Is it a law?” she used to ask.

I was getting ready to call the Governor’s office.  Who I knew perpiherally through work and who used to live in our modest little neighborhood. I was certain would help me out.

“It is a law, my law.. ” and would say, laughing.  “Would it help to have a call from the Governor?”

“No.  I’m NOT RIDING A BIKE.

………..

The Cowboy and I were determined with some lovely downtime for us this week .. that she would learn.  And she’s been softening to the idea more and more .. especially since the handsome young boy she often hangs out with now and who lives next door to us rides his bike all the time.

“What do you want to do today,” we asked as she woke on Saturday.

“I want to ride,” she replied.

“Well, if you want to ride the horses later today, you’ve got to first try to ride a bike,” the Cowboy and I said, united.

“Ok.”

………

She didn’t want either of us to help, at least not at first.

The Cowboy tried.

She got off, came back to the porch and said, “I want to do this alone.”

“And two minutes.  I’m only going to try for two minutes.”

We left her alone.  For awhile.  Two minutes came and went and she was down at the end of the Cowboy’s gravel drive still trying.  I went to see if I could help.

We went down the road and back.  A couple times.  The dog in tow ..

“You can do this,” I said.  “You just need some momentum.  It’s hard to start from a dead stop.”

She actually listened.  Didn’t get mad.  Didn’t fuss.  She tried.  And after a few more attempts ..was up and pedaling.

For about 15 feet.

Next try, just a little bit more.  And a little bit more.  By this time, we were coming back up the drive and nearing the porch.

“Ok.”  I tried.  “Can we ride the horses now?”

………

The Cowboy asked if I could see the smile on her face.

I couldn’t.  But knowing that made my heart smile.

So did the fact that Sunday morning, when we came back in the house after returning from town, she wasn’t behind us.  The Cowboy looked out the window …

“She’s on the bike,” he said.

Help wanted: Someone who can …

There are about 10 topics I’d like to write about given the events of the past few days .. 9 of them serious, and one totally frivolous but life changing.  For women anyway.  I swear.  About shaving.  A fun fact my own mother never knew, but that I feel .. now that I have had the knowledge handed down to me, I should pass on .. especially as my own daughter starts to consider whether or not she has enough hair on her legs to start.

But I haven’t had time yet to really sit down and write about any of them.  The pace has been non-stop for days.  I think that’s what happens before you leave on vacation in general.  But it’s also because, it’s just been ridiculously busy.  Spring seems to be that way every year no matter what, doesn’t it?  I don’t know why.  Can’t put my finger on it.  But it is.  And I know I’m not alone in feeling this way ….

Regardless.

Because of how busy it has been, the overarching thought in my head the past 3 days has been:

Living on caffeine and out of my car too often ...

(sorry for inside glimpse of my coffee mug .. just painting the picture here)

I would really love a personal assistant.

…………..

I work in a business where you have to be incredibly self-sufficient to get done what you need to everyday.  Not always.  I am surrounded by great people who are hard workers and get a lot done that, I won’t lie, in turn, helps me look good each day.

Don’t most of us, really, in some capacity have that as our scenario?  We’re part of a team that comes together to produce whatever the product is for our business.  Each day.  That’s just what teams do, to be successful.

But like any profession, mine happens to be news… there’s a lot of individual responsibility.

I’ve always managed it.  Not as well as some others.  And far better than some others.  But I’ve managed.

When I look back, I have worked – hard – relying on my own performance since I was probably 12.  I delivered papers.  I mowed lawns.  I babysat.  I worked in a feed mill.  In a cornfield de-tassling.  Shearing Christmas trees.  Waitressed (much of my adult life) for years where I – at times – was the only server on the floor.  I know how to get a job done.  I can and will do what it takes to get a job done.  And I take pride in doing it well.

So when I left news for a few years, went into another profession and was given an assistant to work with ..

I had NO idea what to ask of this person.

………….

I went overnight from having only a reporters notebook, a desk phone, a computer, a small quarter cubicle wall big enough to maybe post a few snapshots in a tiny shared workspace, a deadline daily and people that shouted across the room to each other when they needed something to get done – and now .. to two beautiful, spacious offices, a long range multi-million dollar fundraising project, all of the electronic devices I might need to make that happen, access to some of the most influential people in the field I was trying to raise money for .. and, an assistant to make it all happen.

“What can I do to help you,” my awesome assistant (and he really was) would sincerely say.  Daily.

I had no idea what to tell him.

Ever.

Until …. that is, the day the lightbulb went on and I realized how much better two working together could be .. how much more I/we could get done .. how he could potentially help with the monumental tasks at hand .. behind the scenes .. taking care of the always important little details that I hate dealing with .. so that in turn, I could do what I think I do best and that is focus on the big picture… and that it was okay to ask for help.

But by then, he was gone.

He was working for others who did know how valuable he and the work he was capable of doing and loved to do .. was.  And still is.

And, while I am talking about all of this now in terms of the world of work..

At this particular moment in time .. again, I would give anything for a personal assistant.

…………..

Do people really do this?  Is there a niche career here?  Personal assistants?

Yes there is.  In fact .. I may give http://www.justaskchelsea.com/index.html a call tomorrow now that I’ve finally taken the time to google something I’ve been pondering for years.  Because I’m pretty sure me paying her for one hour .. even two to do something like .. run to the DMV for me would have been far less than the ticket I found on my windshield yesterday for expired plates.  Just one example of where I would sincerely appreciate some help.  A partner of sorts.

Many of you have them in the form of a spouse.

Know that I understand how pathetic it is I feel I could use an assistant.  To help me manage my time/life outside of work.  But I’ve gotten to the point I don’t really care what anyone else thinks in certain areas of my life.  It is what it is at this particular moment.  I am doing what I can to work toward more time with family and friends and less time with everything else.  But much like spring cleaning .. sometimes you have to make a bigger mess in the process .. to get to that cleaner house.  That’s kind of where I feel I am at in life.

Someone to help .. (the Cowboy and I .. I know, would do this for each other, if we actually lived closer to each other .. or in the same place) would not only make the chaos more manageable.  But also, more fun.

‘Want more fun and less stress?  Do less,’ you say.

If it were only that easy.

There is a huge market here.  Why are so few doing this?  Do running other people’s errands stress out those doing it for work, too?  Is there not enough money in the world someone could pay you to run errands because you have enough of your own?

Budding entrepreneurs – just a thought:  If you are looking to start your own business, have a clean driving record, can be trusted, are good with confidentiality, love kids, and are happy to work with people who might really appreciate your work..

Consider.  And please apply, within.