First time for everything ..

I wake to find the Cowboy sitting at the keyboard, once again.

“I did my first tweet,” he laughs.  “I tweeted.”

We are both back at the computer, me to check on a few things, look for story ideas and share some thoughts here before I hopefully squeeze in a run before work today.

Him, to continue gathering information and thoughts before his trip back home and to Pierre this Thursday morning.

The Cowboy has been at the computer a lot lately.

In fact, he told me yesterday, he hasn’t worked this much on the computer since college.

If you haven’t read a couple of my earlier posts that would explain what any of this is about.. It’s all in preparation of testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee this week.

The Cowboy plans to testify along with some others, about why he feels the South Dakota state legislature should support a law allowing both parents in a divorce to have time and placement with their children.  There are two options.  One would be a step above current law.  The other (below) would be a tremendous step forward.

http://legis.state.sd.us/sessions/2012/Bills/SB60P.pdf

Current statute in South Dakota dictates it is in the best interest of a child to live almost exclusively with one parent.

http://www.sdjudicial.com/uploads/forms/ProSeDivorceForms/UJS%20302%20-%20South%20Dakota%20Visitation%20Guidelines.pdf

And it has torn countless families apart, we’re learning.  The Cowboy has been taking an increasing number of calls from other parents who want to help raise their kids, but who, through divorce have been deliberately alienated from their children.

The Cowboy, by the way, has tried calling his kids everyday – once a day since seeing them last.  He gets a few hours after school with them each Wednesday.  Just one phone call has been allowed.  That was on Thursday this past week.  He hasn’t been allowed to speak to his children since.

We’re just never sure why that is.  Especially when the kids ask him to call more often.

It’s sad he is left in this scenario with two choices;  tell them he does call but for some reason their mother doesn’t answer .. or tell them they’re right, he should call more often leaving them to believe their dad doesn’t care or want to be more a part of their lives.  No one wins here.  Including the kids.

Which is why .. the Cowboy sits at the computer again today.  Making sure he’s maximizing awareness these two shared parenting bills are coming up for debate.

Given the lack of publicity, the Cowboy felt a bit defeated this weekend, that no one really cares.

I remind him, it’s enough that he does.  Because there are many, many others out there who like him, aren’t sure what to do about their own devastating situation.  Someone needs to be their voice.

Tweet, testimony, or otherwise.  I’m pretty sure he feels good to be doing ‘something’ to work toward positive change.  If not in his own situation, hopefully for others.

What I do know for certain, is that he’s looking forward to the day twitter is no longer in his vocabulary, he can get back shoeing horses (winter fortunately is a slow time of year for work) and the work he enjoys most.

That is being a dad.

Serving up breakfast

Drinks .. a good question .. and the gift of time.

We are enjoying a rare moment with some friends that I adore but rarely get a chance to see,  tonight..

As we’re gathering up our things and sorting out the bill, one of them asks the Cowboy, “How many horses do you have?”

“Oh, 8 head right now,” says the Cowboy.

“Why do they call it ‘head of horse’, versus just horse?” they ask .. “Do some have more than one head?”  We all laugh.

I don’t know that I had ever thought to ask that question.

“Because you count heads when you count livestock,” replies the cowboy, with a chuckle.  “That’s just the way they do it.”

We are all capping off our respective days of work, meetings, appointments and the days challenges .. with a cocktail.  Down time with friends and family is wonderful, isn’t it?  I don’t have, or I should say, I don’t make room for it often enough.  I really don’t.  I try on a daily basis to not feel like a horrible person for it and make room wherever I can.  But somehow, I can never seem to find the time to talk with everyone I want in my day-to-day.

The Cowboy reminds me daily not necessarily through words, but his actions, of how much better at it I could be.

Today, it was the phone call back home to South Dakota, first thing this morning.

“Happy Birthday, mom!” he says.  I can hear his mothers voice on the other end of the line,  sounding so happy to hear from him.  “You made it there okay last night?” she asks.  “I did.  It was pretty foggy, but I made pretty good time.”

“I saw that,” she says.

“What?” says the Cowboy.

“That it was foggy.. I read the blog.” she replies.

Both the Cowboy and I chuckle a bit .. to know his mom is reading any of this.  But at the same time, I’m flattered.  I adore her.  She is a good, hard working woman who loves all her boys and their families a ton from everything I have seen thus far.  She, like most moms, may not be perfect.  (I say that because the boys all fuss at her on occasion.)  But she tries to be there for any/all of them as best she can; the Cowboy’s dad, he and his two brothers and their families.

Right now I believe the Cowboys mom just wants to do anything she can to help the four of them.  The fallout from the divorce has been tough on their whole family.  It is for most.

I remind him to tell her he loves her.

I would give anything to hear my own mothers voice on the other end of the line.  She’s been gone now 10 years.  But this reminds me, and he reminds me, to try and be better about staying in touch with the family and friends still here.

Tonight was wonderful .. the time with friends .. (6 head if you count ’em like livestock), capped off a beautiful day.  A day where I spent some extra time with my daughter.  And, that started with a sweet phone call home to the Cowboys mom.

“I love you too,” she says and adds one more time, “I’m glad you made it there okay,” …

The drop off …

Some parents would love nothing more than to hand over their kids for a few hours .. even a few days ..

Hand them over to another adult they know will take good care of them.

Sometimes another mess, another whine, another errand, another argument with you or between siblings, another load of laundry .. any or all of it can be enough to push some parents to the brink.  A few moments, a few days perhaps of solitude, is a wonderful opportunity to regroup and come back at it.

Quite honestly, even if its just a date night .. psychologists will tell you, (and I say this after the thousands of dollars of couples therapy that my ex and I went through, apparently a wee bit too late – so please let me just share one very important tidbit I learned) get a babysitter and go out.  Step away from the children for just a few hours.  It is healthy for them and for you.

Sincerely.  Once a week.  If at all possible,  do it.  Prescription straight from a marriage counselor.  Fit it into your schedule and do it.  (Just to clarify, I’m not saying like, do it do it.. but do the date night thing.  You know what I mean.  On some level though, I guess either reference would be appropriate in this context.)

Back to the point I was going to make..

Some parents would give anything for that break.  For a few days to regroup and then have their children back, feeling all refreshed and ready for the beautiful chaos that they are.

But for parents who’ve gone through or who are going through a divorce and who want more time with their children than the are told they can have, nights .. like tonight at the ranch, are brutal.

A weekend of not much of anything but hanging out and loving on each other at some point has to end.

It’s time to go back to mom.

A warm weekend indoors

It’s been almost three days now of running around inside, staying out of that cold South Dakota wind, chasing each other, playing hard and chilling out.  But the silence that starts to creep back in around 6pm every other Sunday at the ranch is almost deafening.  The stress of the drop off starts to sink in once again, with the twins and their big sister.

The Cowboy I know does his best to keep his composure as he starts helping them pack ..

Not easy because almost always, there is crying.  And there are questions.  More and more, his daughter says, ‘Why can’t we spend more time with you, daddy?”  They are words that sting deeper each time they are asked, because there is no good answer.

One of the boys lies on the floor .. lifeless, with tears streaming down his cheeks saying he doesn’t want to go.  The other ambles along through the house this weekend as if nothing is happening.  Usually he’s the one clinging to dad screaming.

“The drop off sucks,” says the Cowboy.  “Especially because it is essentially two weeks now until I get any more real time with them…”

Let me just say this.

No matter how much any child loves a mom or dad, leaving one to go home to the other can be heartbreaking, especially when they’re young.  It does go both ways, for those who think the kids only have a hard time on their particular end.  The Cowboy knows this.  Still, it is hard.

Hot cocoa

They don’t understand.  I’m fairly certain they feel guilt leaving one parent for the other.  And if they don’t feel it, they feel like they should.  So they act accordingly.  That is just my own observation.  Take that for what its worth.  But from everything I have witnessed and heard, with my own daughter, with friends, with other family and the Cowboy, kids feel torn leaving either parent.

I don’t know what a child truly feels however, because I was not put through that hell when I was a child.  I feared it.  My parents struggled just like everyone else.  But I was blessed in that they stuck it out.  After 36 years it was cancer that finally tore them apart.  Its crazy to think of how rare divorce was back when we were kids compared to now.  In 2012, its more rare a child’s parents are still together.

Marriage is never easy.  Divorce is just as hard.  And its incredibly tough on kids.

There are ways to minimize the pain.  Experts will tell you, avoid direct parent-to-parent drop offs if at all possible.  That helps the kids.  School for instance, is a great way to do that.  Whoever has them for the weekend will usually drop them off at school/daycare the following Monday.  The other parent them picks them up.  Voila.

I’m not just saying this because it might help the Cowboy and his kiddos.  I’m saying it because I’ve seen it work.  And, because my ex and I were asked to do the same .. after both of us grew increasingly concerned, I think, that someone might call the cops thinking one of us was abducting our own daughter during direct drop-offs.  Her blood curdling screams and crying tore our hearts out.

The rub here is.. both parents have to be willing.  Willing and able to remember through the muddy hate filled haze that can be divorce, to always try and do what’s in the best interest of the kids.  Thankfully, no matter how tough my own divorce was, my ex and I tried our best to frame each situation with, ‘What is best for our daughter?’

Too many of us know that can’t always happen.  Or if it does, its down the road and so much damage has already been done.

I don’t know why I felt compelled to write about this today.  It’s not a fun topic.  And the Cowboy worries its a bit too heavy.  He wants me to write about something a bit more lighthearted tomorrow, if that’s ok.

But its just what struck me as important to talk about.  Because so many of us face this moment.  The moment we say goodbye to our kids .. and wish with everything we have, that we had more time with them.  Each day.  Each week.  The good, the bad, the arguments, the accomplishments .. even the mundane.

Back to moms

While time alone to regroup is a gift – to come back at parenting refreshed, renewed and ready to tackle anything a 4, 7 or 10 year old could throw at us (literally and figuratively) ..

How we would give anything for the frustrations of the everyday.    

(p.s.  Don’t think I don’t know – some of you right now are saying, then you should have stuck it out in your marriage.  I wish it were that simple an answer.)

11 Reasons Why ..

“Mom!” my daughter says…

She had just picked up the phone.  I was calling to talk as I was still in South Dakota earlier this week.

“Where are you?” she asks.  “Are you still at the Cowboy’s?”

“I am, honey!  How are you?” I replied.

“Mom..” she says, rather breathlessly .. “OK.  I have 11 reasons why I would want to move to South Dakota.. and 11 reasons why I don’t.  And .. why are you still there?  I want you to come home.”

While she loves the Cowboy, his kids, their lifestyle and I believe wants nothing more than to live on a ranch where there is every opportunity to have all the animals she’s ever desired, especially horses..

We’re (and by saying ‘we’, I mean ‘she’ .. ) very stressed at the moment, about what might be happening later this year and where we might be going to school.

My daughter is 10.

She met the Cowboy before I even had a chance to introduce the two this past summer.  The scene:  we were out at the barn where we keep our horse.  The owner, thrilled to have someone around who really spoke her language (horses), she  swooped him up for almost an hour, showing him around while I went and rode.  I came back to where everyone was standing after a brief ride.. and my daughter was hamming it up.   As soon as he started talking to another person standing with us all, she grabbed me by the arm and whispered loudly, “Mom.. He’s so nice!  He’s cuuuuuute!  And, he’s a real cowboy, Mom!”

She’s told me herself on many occasions over the past 8 months, since the Cowboy and I met, that she thinks he’s the one, if there ever were another one for me.  She adores him and she knows I do as well.  (Understatement of the year)  But, if we do take life and this love a step further, what does that mean?

How do we all live together, us, the kids, the ex’s?  Same geographic area, I’m speaking?  OR do we not?  Do we keep two separate homes in two separate states and keep driving between?  Or do we find what we want somehow, and that is time, all together, everyday.  If so, where would we live?  Where would she go to school?  Would she get her own room and her own horse?  That’s what she wants to know.


But she also wants me to know as one of the 11 reasons she doesn’t want to move to South Dakota, that she’ll never consider the Cowboy family.  (Mind you this comes within months of saying she can’t wait to have brothers and a sister and the Cowboy would make a great step-dad and asking if we could please move there because the west ‘is where her heart just is‘.  She can’t describe it, she used to tell me.  I get that, I really do.)

Until now, my ex and I have stayed put, not wanting to ever have this discussion.  I’m not sure either of us does now.  But life and I truly feel God’s plans for me/us are bringing it all to a head.  How do parents make these decisions?  These….. gut wrenching, heart breaking, tough, life altering decisions?  Seriously?  We can’t all regroup and fall in love again in the exact same location we often feel trapped by divorce.

I am feeling like a horrible mother for even thinking – what if there is a split in the coming year or years between states.  Her father has despised his time in Wisconsin since the day he moved here and would love nothing more than to leave.  But, he’s not interested in South Dakota, he’s told me.  What if, she spends summers with one and the school year with another?  How awful will it feel to be the one left with less time to love her in person, raise her, guide her and be present?  Or, will she be okay either way?

My daughter would be going to a new school in her current district this next school year anyway, but she’d still be with the friends she’s made the past few years.  She is petrified we might send her to a new school within if not the district, another town or even a new state.

I keep saying that to her, please don’t worry right now .. there isn’t one of us adults at the moment, certain of what is to come.  What we do know, is we love her.  And we are all working toward the best possible solutions with that in mind.  And in the meantime, we pray.

Maybe I need to make a list myself…

11 reasons why it will all work out.  Somehow…..

“I’d love to argue with you later”.. she says, laughing.

The Cowboy and I are still chuckling a bit over my last conversation of the day yesterday at the South Dakota statehouse.. with the likes of Ms. Joni Cutler http://tiny.cc/l2x37.

Now, I don’t want to do anything to ruffle anyone’s feathers.  We are all entitled to our own opinions.  And if I am ever looking for work in South Dakota, I need to watch inserting my opinions anywhere.

However..

What is fair to share with you, is the exchange.

Ms. Cutler was one of the last to come out of the Senate Chambers yesterday afternoon ..  Fortunately, we were still there, waiting on the House to dismiss.

Far from the ranch

We were scheduled to talk with one of Senate Bill 60’s strongest supporters, Representative Melissa Magstadt.

The Cowboy was off talking with Rep. Mitch Fargen.

Others, who had been making sure we talked with everyone possible where it might make a difference .. knew I wanted to speak with Cutler despite the fact she is adamantly opposed to any update/advance in shared parenting legislation.

They said, there she is.  And then they bolted.

I watched as she leisurely stopped and talked with various colleagues on her way out the door .. often stopping, turning back around, joking with a few folks, and taking a few steps back toward the door.

Finally she walked out.

I said, “Ms. Cutler, my name is ….  I am here with a gentleman by the name of .. (the Cowboy) today.”  She smiled and said, “Nice to meet you.”  She seemed quite relaxed and in no hurry.

“We’re here today to talk about Senate Bill 60 and the need for improved shared parenting legislation,” I said.

She cut me off, saying “I’m not interested.”

“I understand that,” I explained.  I made sure to be looking her in the eye when I said, “I’m just curious if you can explain to me why.”

She stopped, searching, I believe for the right words.  Any words actually.  And then she replied, “We feel judges should have all of the information and room possible to make the best decision and not mandate them to have to give couples in a divorce equal custody.”

“Why wouldn’t SB60 allow them that same room for judgement?” I asked.

“If it would, why wouldn’t it already be in place?” she replied loudly.  “Ask yourself that..”

“I have,” I said.  “And that is why we are here today to talk with you and some others.”

I probably said it with a smirk, I have to admit, but that’s what I said, very calmly.  Because at this point, she had gathered herself up and was walking away.  Which is what I had expected.

As she rounded the corner and was about out of sight.. she threw in, laughing, “I’d love to argue with you later, but I have to go.”

I replied “I’m not sure we need to argue, but I was hoping we might discuss.”

Arguing is currently, I hate to say it, what the current law fosters.  And there is nothing more detrimental to a family, children especially of parents who can’t get along, than arguing and being at each others throats through the lengthy, very sad process that is often divorce.

But it is a process currently, that any family law attorney such as Ms. Cutler and the State Bar … now I’m only guessing here … would stand to benefit from, as parents who argue over anything through a divorce and custody battle, typically argue through an attorney.  Sorry, just thinking out loud as to why Ms. Cutler might support the status quo in this situation.

Senate Bill 60, we believe, will bring families back to a middle ground where everyone is encouraged to get along for the sake of the children.  And when there is conflict, an unobjective third party is brought in to help with resolution.  Can someone please explain to me why this is a bad idea?  That is all I was hoping Cutler might help explain to me.  Why she feels this is such a bad idea.

For those of you wanting more on SB60 and why the Cowboy and I were there yesterday,  if you can glance at yesterday’s post, it’ll give you an idea.

For those of you who just want to be lazy and not look (which I get) .. Here’s a link to the bill.  😉  http://legis.state.sd.us/sessions/2012/Bills/SB60P.pdf

We’re not sure why there are still people out there who need to be convinced it is a child’s best interest, in most circumstances, to have both parents equally in their lives after a divorce, or for both parents to be treated and viewed equally through a divorce assuming both adults are loving, caring parents.  It seems a bit silly.  But, apparently there is a need to try and get the word out.  And having talked with countless other parents, mostly dads in South Dakota, who after years of hoping someone will listen to them and gave up, we felt it was our turn to pick up the fight.

Time with the kids - precious.

The Cowboy has been on the phone since leaving Pierre yesterday talking with family, friends and people he hasn’t heard from in ages.  Old friends who have their own story to share and who say they’ll do whatever it takes to support him.  And the bill.  And that is exactly what is needed.

http://legis.state.sd.us/who/index.aspx

This bill needs attention now.  If support isn’t strong before an upcoming hearing and testimony during the hearing, chances are it won’t even get out of committee.  It was scheduled to start this time around, in the most likely place it would get killed.  Because everyone we spoke with who’d like to see this pass is tired of working hard to see it fail, again.

One of the Cowboy’s good friends, who could lose her job for supporting this bill, is taking a stand and plans to testify.  She this morning, posted this on her fb page:

If you believe parents should have joint custody of their children, please contact your Senators and Represenative in Pierre and urge them to support Senate Bill 60. This bill will be voted on Thursday, February 9th at 7:45 a.m. during Judiciary Committee at the State Capital in Pierre… This bill is SO IMPORTANT!!! 

Even if you are not from South Dakota … (we’ve gotten emails today from folks in other state) but support moms and dads anywhere being encouraged to be good co-parents, to come to the table with equal parenting rights and responsibilities and allowing both parents to help raise their child .. especially if you are a judge, or an attorney and have seen 50/50 work.. Magstadt asked me just this morning to have you ..

Please contact either Senator Tim Begalka http://legis.state.sd.us/sessions/2012/MemberDetail.aspx?Member=151

Or, Representative Melissa Magstadt.  http://legis.state.sd.us/sessions/2012/MemberDetail.aspx?Member=159 

The Cowboy .. says thank you.  Because he doesn’t plan to walk away .. from the discussion.  Especially if it means, he might somehow get the opportunity to be more of the dad he wants to be.

Senate Bill 60…

I have been referring the past few posts to Pierre and a trip the Cowboy and I have been planning on taking to the capitol.. versus what was supposed to have been a weekend in Arizona with friends.

We stayed home because the Cowboy, devastated by the ongoing trials he is being confronted with in regard to any time with his children .. we would like to say, have to stop. But there are few resources it seems available, if any, besides an attorney. And even that, for decades, we’ve learned has gotten father’s (and some mothers) like the Cowboy, who simply want to care for, help raise, love, support and be a part of their children’s lives after divorce, nowhere. In fact, its been so disheartening, many have dropped the fight.

But could there be hope?

There is a lot of discussion right now happening around a bill scheduled to be reintroduced into the South Dakota state legislature. But perhaps not enough discussion..

http://legis.state.sd.us/sessions/2012/Bills/SB60P.pdf

The fight for shared parenting and legislation to support it, has gone on now for years here in the Mount Rushmore state. Judges, attorneys and the like here .. have maintained for generations that what is in the best interest of the children of divorce, is majority time with one parent, leaving the other with little to say, little time to do anything with their kids and little recourse.

But elsewhere, even in my own home state of Wisconsin where joint legal custody is the norm, the Cowboy would have had at least a chance to fight.

South Dakota’s shared parenting legislation is lagging behind approximately 38 other state’s who have long adopted the principal that parents going through divorce come to the table on even ground. That equal time with both parents is in the best interest of the child (other than in cases where there is abuse). And that the burden of proof for any arrangement otherwise lies with the parent filing for majority custody.

Somehow those ideals just don’t seem right to those representing people like the Cowboy. Or at least it seems that used to be the case. We’re hoping the times baby, they are a changin’.

South Dakota State Capitol

The Cowboy hopes by sharing his story.. legislators in his home state may finally reverse some of the pain he and his children have been put through .. and if not for them, for the other fathers (and mothers) that will inevitably follow in his footsteps.

It’s been a couple years since the Cowboy was last in Pierre. He often will rope in the Fourth of July Rodeo. And he’s won it several times.

We’re hoping today is a win too..

20120124-141804.jpg

Finding time … and patience.

At some point, if you stick with me long enough.. you’ll most likely hear something about the challenges my ex and I have had the past seven years or so as we went through our divorce.  And, recovery.

Our marriage was a struggle from the start for many, many reasons let alone the break-up.  It has taken all we have, I believe, to try and do what is best for our daughter and somehow get along.  Or at the very least appear to try.

I’ve wished throughout the past ten years, that I had been better about journaling because so many lessons were learned through both the good times and the bad.  Lessons I would love to reflect on as well as pass along to my daughter.  Perhaps though, the following is why it struck me this past week, to finally get at.  To start writing.  I just felt some big things were coming my way.  I wanted record.  And pretty sure my intuition was right.

Just this week, the ex and I sat down and for the first time since our divorce and apologized.  For everything.

I’m not going to lie.  It was and is weird.  But I’m trusting its also genuine.  The ex said to me, “I don’t expect after so many years of treating you poorly (word changed there – family show!) that you’ll believe I’ve changed.  I know I need to earn your trust again.  But I’m going to try.”

While I believe I may still be in shock, I am looking forward to seeing how we might all heal and as well, where we go from here.

Getting along..  Successfully co-parenting post divorce, I’m going to just assume, is never easy.  But what I do know for certain, is that some try.  And, try to co-parent far better than others.

Before I go any further with my journal, let me just establish a few important facts:

1.  I know there are two sides to every story.

2.  The last thing I ever want or try to do is run another person down.

3.  This blog/journal, again, is about our day to day and the issues the Cowboy and I face.  But they are issues many of you face as well.  I want your thoughts, actions, solutions or experiences to share.  Because I know I and most of my friends going through these same issues are exhausted and broke spending upwards of $200/hr for therapy or their attorney.

4.  My focus will almost always be on how to improve a situation.  Not just complain about it.

There.  Back to the journal.

The Cowboy wants more time with his kids.  And I think its safe to say, anyone would find it tough to withstand the games a vindictive – for reasons no one seems to be able to understand – games an ex, his ex if we want to get specific, can play.  (Again, I know there are two sides to every story but its though to argue with facts, words in writing and actions.)

The Cowboy will tell you he’s not perfect.  I would agree.  But none of us are.  He lets the kids play in the mud, eat too many sweets, often stay up past bedtime the weekends he has them .. he lets them make mistakes in the hopes they learn from them and takes them for ice cream during the 3 hours he gets to see them each week.  He knows he has a lot to learn about parenting, about himself, about relationships and about life.  But he’s also the most open person I know to the lessons.

Strong hands and a tender heart help place a winter hat on son.

The Cowboy loves his kids.  And he does his best to show them in the ridiculously small amount of time he’s been granted each week – for reasons even the judge can’t explain.

The Cowboy is a great dad.  And it breaks my heart to know that he or any parent who deserves equal time with their kids, doesn’t get it.  No matter how much my ex and I couldn’t see eye to eye, even we felt equal time with our daughter was a non-negotiable.

So, we pray everyday for grace, for strength to get through this and the wisdom to understand why any of this is happening…

In the meantime, we also are praying for as much time as possible with the kids… and I asked earlier to give me one word to describe what he needed most to get through this.

He said patience.  Patience things will work out.  That the kids will be ok.  That the time with them will come.  And to know God is somehow through this, working on us all.

But hours later and having had some time now to decompress on a very lonely stretch of highway between SD and WI…

The Cowboy called and said, “Faith may be a better word.  I think faith is maybe patience in action.  Faith I believe, is knowing that doing the right thing will prevail.”

Afternoon ride