Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Promises X Can't Keep

I told the girls that their dad was in jail again. Sylvia blurted out, through tears, "but he promised!" X had actually promised Sylvia that he'd never go to jail again. Along with his other problems, apparently he's delusional. She also wanted to know if she could tell her best friend. I told her it was completely up to her.

The next week, I was in Riley's kindergarten class - I went once a week to do their reading time. An older girl was being a helper there, and she pulled me aside to tell me that the day before, there'd been quite a large drama at the playground that involved Sylvia. She'd been crying hysterically, apparently, and shouting at everyone to leave her alone, and her best friend had pulled her away from a crowd.

Sylvia told me, after I asked, that she'd told some of her friends that her dad was in jail. One of them told her that he'd probably get the electric chair this time (they knew he'd been in jail before).

Once again, I was beside myself. I was heartbroken that she hadn't told me about it, I was furious at the school for not telling me about it, and at a loss as to how to handle it.

Thankfully, my therapist saw children as well, and so I told Sylvia that we were going to see a "feelings doctor." While I was humbled by the thought of having my 8-year-old in therapy, I knew it was the right thing to do.

X was sentenced to six months. I wanted to celebrate - we would be free of X drama for six whole months - but I also knew that probably wasn't going to be how Sylvia saw it. Our therapist and I worked together to deal with it.

Through those sessions, we learned that after the last time, X - while promising not to go to jail again - had also made Sylvia promise not to tell her friends if he did (apparently, there had been issues before with her telling friends at school, but I didn't know about it). Setting aside the dichotomy of those two promises, I was furious that he felt he had any right whatsoever to tell her how to handle it. After all, HE wasn't around to deal with any of the consequences of those promises. No, that was left for me, of course.

I don't know how I would've gotten through all of this without our therapist. When we first told the girls that he was in jail, we explained as much as we knew about the situation. That he had been accused of stealing a check (which we had to explain was like money), and that X was saying he didn't do it - but that people don't usually get arrested for things for no reason, and X probably had done it. When we knew he'd been sentenced to six months, we told the girls that X had been given the "consequence" of 6 months in jail for his wrong-doing, Sylvia's response was, "I'm just happy that Daddy told the judge the truth."

Both of the girls went to the feelings doctor sometimes, but mostly Sylvia and I went - separately. Sylvia would have a session, and then I would go the next day, and the therapist would tell me how to cope with Sylvia at home.

The hardest part was figuring out when Sylvia was using my empathy for her against me to get away with things, but also allowing her to feel her emotions. That balancing thing again.

Slowly but surely, we were getting through it.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The X gets the apartment building

X got out before we could move. Which just happened to be right before the holidays.

By this point, I was noticing the pattern. X tends to fall apart the most around that time of year. It's part of what makes me believe that his problems are not just drug-related, but seriously deep-rooted psychological problems.

My therapist (as I was going quite regularly during this time) told me to think of him as I would a disabled person. That I wouldn't expect a paraplegic, for instance, to be able to use their arms and legs, and of course, I wouldn't get frustrated with them for their inabilities. It's a great concept, and probably pretty accurate, but it doesn't always work.

I had to go through my sent emails from an old account to get a better picture of how things went down from here.

I found an email I'd sent to his family, pleading with them to tell X (because he didn't have a phone number) to stay away from our apartment building. He'd already promised me he would, but I heard from others in the building that they'd seen him around. Our home just no longer felt like home to me anymore.

So our apartment manager helped me find a new place in another building of the same owners. I was most excited that we went from a 1-bedroom to a 2-bedroom and I could have my own room! The girls weren't crazy about moving, nor did they know why and that probably didn't help, but I couldn't very well tell them the whole story. They also didn't like the fact that I said X couldn't visit us anymore, and I couldn't really explain that one, either.

Wow. I hadn't really realized until just now how confusing that must have been for them. But I don't know how I could've avoided that. They couldn't know the truth about my fears with the 'veiled threat', and I wouldn't lie to them.

I just tried to sound really excited about it and they probably saw it all as a very selfish move on my part - that we moved just so I could have my own room, and to not allow X to see them as much.

But moving wasn't all great stuff for me, either. The hike in rent put me in a really scary position. So much so, in fact, that I started working a second job (as well as going to college part-time). Most of the job could be done from home so it helped.

I also got the most fabulous news at the beginning of February (2006). I was finally, officially, legally divorced! Because he never filed a single paper, I got everything I'd petitioned for - sole legal and physical custody, and all of my stipulations to visitation. After a lunch with my boss to celebrate, my dad and I got to work on my will so that if something happened to me, X would not get custody of the girls.

A week after that, I was on the phone with my sister. She asked if there was any X news, and I realized it had been a while since we'd last heard from him. On a whim, I decided to check the LA Sheriff's website - I believe this was on Valentine's Day. Sure enough, he was listed as incarcerated. I had to laugh!

But my laughter stopped when another unknown person called, per X's request, to inform me. He knew how furious I had been about the whole 'veiled threat' incident, and yet he was still giving out my phone number to his acquaintances. I felt better knowing that they didn't know where I lived, at least, but it still bothered me. Not to mention, of course, that I now had the fun task of deciding whether or not to inform the girls.

I told his family so they could find out more about what was going on. We found out it would be at least a few weeks until his court date, even, as he had pleaded not guilty. (Whatever.) At that point, I was fairly certain the girls had to know.

Friday, September 26, 2008

X Meets the Neighbors

Once again, we went back to visits with me chaperoning. Most of the time, he would just come by the complex, and hang out with the girls outside in the courtyard. Sometimes they walked to the store next door and pick up some pastries.

Then he became friends with my neighbors. Not the good neighbors. The more questionable ones. The ones below me who were really, really loud. (Isn't it usually the upstairs neighbors that are the problem? I could hear conversations through my floor!)

X started showing up more often to see his new buddies. Sometimes, the girls saw him, sometimes they didn't. It was starting to get bad. I was beginning to feel less and less comfortable in our apartment. I never knew when he'd be there. One time, he came in without my knowing it and scared the crap out of me. After that, I was checking the lock constantly. Another morning, I went outside our front door and he was out in the hallway. I don't know how long he'd been there.

Soon after that, I got a call that X had been arrested. Part of me was relieved. He'd be out of my hair for a while. The other part of me wondered how the girls would take it.

I know that some of you will question whether or not I should be telling the girls. I have come to accept my decision. There were problems associated with it, of course.

After the first time I told them, I heard later that there was quite a scene at the school when Sylvia told some friends. However, when he would call from jail, it showed up on the caller i.d. as "LA Prison" so they would've found out somehow.

Meanwhile, my neighbors started talking to me about him. They knew about his arrest - he had been with a friend of theirs. They started talking about money he owed them, and how he was doing too many drugs. They didn't seem to get that this was why I was divorcing him. It was just all getting really weird.

And then I got another call. From someone who claimed X owed him money. And that he knew X had kids. It wasn't so much a direct threat exactly, but it was all very creepy. And I totally started freaking out.

I knew this guy had to have gotten my number from one of the neighbors, and I let her know that this was totally unacceptable, that they are to leave my kids out of it.

And I started looking for a new place to live.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


The other problem with X being in jail at this time was that we had also planned for the girls to go with him to Northern California to visit his side of the family for Thanksgiving. The tickets had already been bought.

X ended up getting X-tradited to Northern California for an outstanding warrant out there. X's sister was told he'd be in for 2 months. Definitely into the Thanksgiving holiday.

But we decided it wasn't fair to the girls - or to the rest of the family - to have the trip aborted because of X. So X's family paid the name-change fee for me to fly up with the girls instead, and even booked a hotel for me. The girls would stay with the family and I would get a little vacation.

Just days before our scheduled flight, X showed up at his mother's house. He'd been let out.

We decided to go ahead with our plan.

X was there with his sister to meet us at the airport. I ended up joining X's family for Thanksgiving dinner...which was really strange in how strange it wasn't. It was kind of good to see everyone again. They were so welcoming to me. They knew X. They knew the issues. They were grateful that I'd let the girls come up anyway, as they were anxious to spend time with them. The girls were thrilled, too.

After dinner, I checked into my hotel room and had a really nice 3 days all to myself. I got some uninterrupted time to work on my college papers and the like, saw a few friends from when we'd lived up there, but for the most part, just enjoyed the quiet. The girls would call me every day and I knew they were having so much fun. I knew X's family was making sure that they were safe.

At some point, X promised me money. As we were driving to the airport (I was driving the car his family had loaned me), he hands me a check.

I'd told him long ago, after the last check had bounced, that I would never accept checks from him again. He acted like I was being unreasonable. It got ugly.

I hated for the girls to see us, no me, like this. He's so damned good at pushing all my buttons, at bringing out the absolute worst in me. We both apologized, but I know that wasn't good enough. And I know I'm mostly to blame. I was mad at myself for trusting him. I knew better. I knew better than to expect him to do what he said he was going to do. This one was all on me.

The good news was that he was staying up in Northern California. We could back to it just being the three of us, and he could be the weekend-calling dad.

But wouldn't you know, not weeks later, he decided to move back down here again.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Mid-Week Wrap-Up

I fear I'm losing all my readers with the X Chronicles. I think it's still important to do, though, but I'll take breaks from it in hopes not to lose everyone!

This weekend, the girls and I volunteered at Jane Goodall's Roots & Shoots event. Sadly, Jane wasn't there this year, but we still had a lot of fun. The girls were excited to be in the parade again. Riley was a frog this year:

And Sylvia was a tree - I think she's the first one.

And I won a raffle prize of a luncheon cruise! My sister and I are looking forward to going next month.

You may note my newest image for the No on Prop 8 - even if you don't live in CA, feel free to donate. This will protect same-sex marriage.

Now, I've previously written my anti-marriage post, and I stand by that, but until marriage is no longer an institution, then there should be equal opportunity for all couples to suffer the consequences!

Okay, now I'm losing all my conservative readers. Pretty soon, all I'll have left is Kori.

Well, Kori already knows this news: Sylvia made the cheer squad!

I'm both thrilled for her and worried at the same time. I'm worried that the commitment will be more than I can handle as a single mom. I'm worried that Sylvia will lose her pleasant disposition. I'm worried that Riley will get jealous of the special privileges, like me picking Sylvia up from school on practice days. I'm not hugely concerned that Sylvia will break bones, but I am thinking of upping my flexible spending account this year just in case. I just hope that it ends up being a positive experience, and that next year, she picks Band as her extracurricular activity.

We've had school events galore lately. Tonight we had Family Fun Night at Sylvia's school, and Thursday, we have Back to School Night at Riley's school.

I've learned a valuable lesson. I can never shop for clothes at the local Target again. At our first meeting at Sylvia's school, I was wearing the exact same shirt as another mother. Last week, at Sylvia's Back to School Night, I saw another mother wearing that same shirt. Tonight, I saw another shirt that I bought at Target (in another color this time) at Sylvia's school on another mother.

But hey, if these are my biggest problems, then things must be going pretty well, right? While I try to remain watchful so not to be caught off-guard, as I write the X Chronicles, and then go to work, make the dinner, help the girls with homework, and pay my bills, I see how far we have come in these past 5 years. I know it's not a perfect life, and certainly not the life I envisioned for me or for the girls, but it's pretty darn good.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Birthday Party Episode

Luckily, Riley didn't seem to notice his lack of calling on her actual birthday, and I let the day go without saying anything to them. But I knew I had to tell them. I knew I had to tell Sylvia before the party.

I met with my therapist, and we talked about how much to tell them. I did not want to lie for him, but how much truth could they handle? Not to mention, the actual charges were still unclear to me.

We decided that I would tell them that X was in jail, that he'd broken the law, and now he had to face his consequence for that.

Sylvia cried and yelled and professed his innocence. I said that most of the time, people don't get arrested unless they did something wrong. She continued to cry and yell and profess his innocence.

Riley stayed quiet and didn't cry. She asked a few questions, but mainly just repeated what I'd said. She looked more upset that her sister was so upset than anything. She hugged me.

Sylvia finally calmed down and went to bed. It was a night that we were all glad to have over.

The next day, I went shopping for the goody bags. Amazing how life keeps going forward sometimes.

At their birthday party, as much fun as they were having, every time the door opened, Sylvia turned and looked for her dad.

It was so hard to be the hostess that day. Thankfully, the party was at Under the Sea, where everything is pretty much run for you. I don't think I could've handled thinking that day. Watching Sylvia broke my heart.

On the way home, I asked them if they had a good time. Yes, they said, "but Daddy didn't come," Sylvia added. All I could say was, "I know, honey. I know."

Monday, September 22, 2008

Xhausting Visits

For those of you wishing me well, thank you. The X Chronicles started 5 years ago, so this is all stuff that is, thankfully, in the past. (Not to say that there won't be more drama in the future. Until X is in jail for 10 years or more, or dead, there's always a chance of "new episodes.") Also, this may not all be in exactly chronological order. Some of it starts to blur together after a while.

I'm getting to the part of my story (which I've decided to name The X Chronicles - and will someday have all of the links available in one spot) where my experiences would be more like a list of what not to do.

I thought about having someone I trust act as a chaperone. I thought about getting the court to assign a chaperone, yet my divorce was already taking way longer than I wanted, and I feared holding it up for any reason. I'd just learned that a single mom friend's wages were being garnished by a creditor that had given up looking for it from her ex, but could legally take it from my friend because they were legally married at the time. She ended up having to file bankruptcy. It remains one of my biggest nightmares that the same will happen to me one day, only the bankruptcy laws have changed since then and it might not be an option for me.

I decided I didn't dislike any of my friends enough to ask them to be a chaperone - I was the one who married him, after all, so I'd have to continue to suffer the consequences.

There were some great benefits of separating from my X: no more hiding cash, no more holding my breath at the ATM, no more burnt spoons, no more thinking that someone was in this with me and waiting for him to step up.

But I wasn't prepared for some of the realities of divorce: if you have children together, they're never out of your life. There are certain things that divorce doesn't change.

So I wracked my brains for ways that the girls could see their father, without jeopardizing their safety.

Sometimes, we'd meet at a park, where the girls could play and I would go grocery shopping (grocery shopping by myself is still an unattainable dreams most of the time). He would come to our apartment complex, and they would play outside while I did stuff around the house.

But Sylvia always wanted to draw me in. She had not yet given up on the idea of our family living happily ever after. So I would end up spending time with the 3 of them.

I don't know what was worse: when we would get along, which would get X to start talking about trying again, or when we wouldn't, and the visit would end badly.

When we got along, it was nice to have some validation for staying with him so long, but it also made me sad. If only he could be like that all the time, then this wouldn't have had to happen. But I couldn't talk about that with friends without them getting worried that I would go back. That wasn't a consideration, but it seems I couldn't say a nice word about him, or talk about missing the good times without someone thinking that. I suppose I deserved that for going back so many times before, but I wished I could talk to someone about that part of it. Instead, I had to wait until the girls were in bed and just cry about it by myself.

The amount of times he was late, or wanted to change plans, or canceled altogether certainly kept my resolve about the divorce, too. He didn't seem to understand that kids aren't as flexible about changes. He thought it was just me being a pain.

X once sent me flowers at work. That just ticked me off. A huge friggin' bouquet of flowers but no child support payments.

And someone asked me, "wouldn't it be better for the kids if you got back together?"

I just answered simply, "no." I kept in the tirade that was boiling in my lungs.

The one that said, "NO, it would be AWFUL for the kids if we got back together! The man steals! Money, checks, Vicodin...whatever he can get his hands on!

And hello?!? Do you think I left him lightly? Do you think I didn't try for years - years longer than I should have - to make this work? Do you really think a friggin' bouquet of flowers can undo all the damage? And how shallow do you think I am?!?"

Nope. Didn't say any of that.

I knew this person wasn't clued in on what caused the divorce, but I would think that one wouldn't have to understand all the reasons, and just respect my decision.

We went on like this for a while. His visits were inconsistent, and afterward, inevitably, Sylvia would be a mess.

I had friends with divorced parents tell me that this was normal, that they remembered working so hard to be good with the parent they didn't see often that when they got back in their comfortable environment, they'd let it all hang out. It was a compliment that she trusted me enough to be this emotional with me. I'm sure that's all true. Still doesn't make it much easier to bear in the moment.

And how much of it was based on that versus testing me? How much was I supposed to allow her to get away with? Was it really healthy for her, or was it teaching her the wrong methods of coping?

Constant questions.

But we all just kept going. It only occurred one weekend a month, I'd say, on average. But there was nothing consistent about it.

Soon, their birthdays were coming up. The girls have their birthdays 6 days apart, so we usually have the birthday party in between. Sylvia had, of course, invited X. None of my family were looking forward to seeing him there, but they all understood that it was what the girls wanted.

And then, on Riley's 5th birthday, I got a call that X had been arrested.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Bring on the Morphine

When we left off, April was on her way to the hospital...

But wait, there's more. Beyond my need to overuse old TV cliches, I realize I've somehow jumped ahead by about a year.

The girls and I lived in our own apartment in L.A. for about a year before X moved out here. During the summer, I got bored. Well, not bored, exactly, but I felt I had a hang of the whole single motherhood thing (ha ha ha - it's just a lull in the drama. This is one of the reasons I believe in seeing the glass as half-empty), and not only that, but I was freaking out about how I was going to keep up with the financial obligations. Beyond the day care for Riley and the usual household expenses, there was all the money for school activities (in a public school - but that's another rant for another day). School pictures, school plays, buying cookie dough and gift wrap for the school fundraisers, buying cookie dough and gift wrap for all my colleagues' kids' school fundraisers to thank them for all the cookie dough and gift wrap they'd bought for Sylvia's, buying thank-you presents for teachers, and birthday gifts for Sylvia's friends' bday parties...the list was endless.

I realized that while I was a good assistant, there was only so much money in that. Not only that, but I had no other marketable skills, really. My years of singing, dancing, acting, producing, directing, and teaching meant nothing in the real world. After I got over my depression about that, I knew I had to do something. I started Antioch that fall.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled post:

So the whole weekend the girls were gone, I was in pain on and off. I even called an ambulance at one point, but of course, by the time they got there, I was feeling fine again. They recommended I go in to emergency care, but can you think of anything less fun than a Saturday night in an ER?

In my infinite wisdom, I chose denial. Monday after work, I happened to be watching two other kids in our apt. complex. The only comparable pain I've experienced is labor. And I'd say the two were a toss-up. In fact, labor's better because you get a baby at the end of it.

I called my dad, who recognized the pain as most likely being gall stones. We passed the neighborhood kids off to another neighbor, my mom took the girls to their place, and my dad and I headed for the ER. Only a two hour wait on a Monday night.

I was checked in and my dad said they'd watch the girls as long as necessary.

I spent the next four days in bliss on my morphine. This drug rocked! I slept like I haven't slept in years. It was a little annoying when I attempted to talk to the girls when my parents brought them every night, but other than that, I couldn't imagine a better vacation from single parenthood. (Well, except for the upcoming cruise. 127 days...)

But, of course, by the end of it, I was ready to get the heck out of the hospital. I was lucid more and more, and being sober in a hospital pretty much sucks.

We decided to surprise the girls on Friday by having me in the car when we went to pick them up. Oh, were they thrilled to see me!

It became clear in the days and weeks that followed how scared the girls had been of losing me. Much like what Kori and Hannah went through with CSG (if you don't know what I'm talking about - well, you should really be reading Kori's blog by now!) It was an event that made them think about what their lives would be without me.

Yet another unfair reality they had to face at young ages (I think they were 7 & 9 at the time).

The silver lining was that Sylvia stopped giving me such a hard time about X. But I would've taken that over the fear that it instilled in them.

X also claimed to have been scared straight. A week later, I let him babysit the girls at our place while I went to see "Wicked" (for the first time). I'd been let out of the hospital with a prescription for Vicodin. There were about 27 of 30 pills in the bottle when I left for the show. When I came back, there were 3.

Now I had to figure out how to let the girls have a relationship with their father that didn't include babysitting at my place, or any opportunity for him to break any laws. This was going to be tough.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Weekend Visitation

From here on out, the ex will be referred to as "X."

When X moved out to L.A., I really really wanted him to be able to meet the conditions for visitation. I wanted him to get what parenthood was really like. Me and my constant need for validation, I wanted him to understand what it was I was dealing with on a daily basis. I wanted the girls to have two parents. Not under the same roof, but two parents nonetheless.

In CA, once you've filed the divorce papers, there is a temporary order in place to keep things as they are - in this case, it meant sole custody for me. I'd conditioned his visitation upon (a) being able to pass a drug test, (b) having a driver's license and (c) residing in L.A. County.

He took care of (c) first. But (a) and (b) were harder.

I was suffering from "must keep the bond between the girls and their father" syndrome. I had read all the articles and heard all the sound advice about how to do the right things by your kids in a divorce. Sylvia and Riley loved their dad. They deserved to have a relationship with him.

The trouble was, as was when we were together, having a relationship with them wasn't a top priority for X.

He had all kinds of excuses of why he couldn't get a driver's license, or take the drug test. I think my favorite was, when I met him at his friend's house (where he was staying), he couldn't go to the bathroom. I was angry and frustrated, but I still went over there again - and he passed. (Still don't know how he managed that one.)

Sylvia asked constantly about seeing her father. I was anxious to make that happen for her.

I'd quit wanting for the normal, happy family. Instead, I just wanted the normal, divorced family - where the kids went to their dad's every other weekend. Where the dad paid child support, and helped out every now and then with the big ticket items. Even though I was making it, I was definitely living paycheck to paycheck - and my dad was paying my car insurance. My fellow single mom colleague and I checked our bank balances every single day. We had no room for error.

X was still trying to get under my skin again, but since he was rarely giving me child support or meeting the other conditions, it was easier for me to hold my resolve. Not easy - just easier.

While I'd stopped wanting for the normal, happy family, I was still in mourning for the loss of that dream. School events were the absolute worst.

So when X passed the drug test, I thought we'd made some progress, and I could bend a little. I said they could stay at his friend's place (I knew X's friend from long ago, and knew him to be a good, trustworthy person) for the weekend, so long as he didn't drive them anywhere.

I found out after their weekend with him that not only had he driven them somewhere, he did it without car seats! (Of course, he tried to blame that on me for not giving him the car seats but he wasn't to be driving them anywhere in the first place!!) And it gets worse. When he saw a cop, he told them to duck so that the cop wouldn't see them.

Needless to say, that was their first and last weekend visitation with their father.

The day after that, I ended up in the hospital with gall stones.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Ex Communication

My ex talked to the girls on a daily basis when we first moved out here. He talked to me, too. As I mentioned before, he knew how to find my vulnerable spots, and he was trying to get me agree to a reconciliation.

I finally presented a put up or shut up solution. If he wanted us back, then he had 6 months to get it together. I knew I couldn't file for divorce until I had been a CA resident for at least 6 months, so in that time, he had to pay child support, get a job, get out to L.A., and find a place to live before I would consider it.

I knew, in the back of my mind that this would never happen. I also knew that, if by some miracle it happened, I would go back because it would show he had changed and grown and was ready to be a husband and father. But it never did happen.

I got a call that he was in jail. Underneath the thoughts of, "well, what the heck am I supposed to do about that?" and "whatever" was the question, "what do I tell the girls?"

At 3 & 6, I knew I couldn't tell them their dad wasn't calling because he was in jail. But what could I say? What excuse could I make for him? I told him he was on tour (something he'd done before) and wouldn't be able to call for a while. A few days later, he was out and he called. And told them he'd been sick. Sylvia tells me, "you were wrong, Mommy." At that moment, I vowed I would never lie for him again. And I never have.

The phone calls came more intermittently after that. At one point, I asked him to just call on the weekends because Sylvia was back in school and needed her weeknights for homework, but he'd call whenever he felt like it, and I let him talk to them whenever it was for Sylvia.

He moved to Denver (probably running from the law, but who knows), where his parents were living at the time . He still couldn't call on a regular schedule.

His not calling would cause Sylvia to be emotional. His calling would put her emotions in overdrive.

I was so angry at him for putting me in this position. She saw me as the bad guy who took her nice daddy away, and I was still protecting him for her! It sucked.

But I knew I couldn't badmouth him, as it would just drive a wedge further between me and Sylvia. I knew I just had to suck it up and deal. My friends and family reassured me that in time, she would get it. The problem with that is I relate too much to Carrie Fisher's line: instant gratification takes too long. Still, I knew they were probably right. I just had to hang in there and keep going.

And then things really got interesting. My ex came to live in Los Angeles.

To be continued...

Monday, September 15, 2008

To My Fellow Single Mothers

(particularly those dealing with deadbeat and/or loser exes)

You'll have to forgive me if I get behind on reading blogs again, but I had to stop because I realized, after reading some of my single mom friends that are struggling right now with handling the kids, that most of you don't know much about my own trials and tribs with the girls since I left my ex 5 years ago. I know I've said more than once, "it will get better." That's because I've lived it. (This will be a multiple-part series.)

I previously wrote this post - but that was before I had very many readers! Not to mention, it doesn't deal with many of the matters of the heart.

We first moved here from Rochester with pretty much nothing. I had no job, no car, and the last check my ex gave me bounced and closed out my checking account. We lived with my parents at first so I could get a semblance of a life together.

My parents helped me find day cares for the girls (as it was summer - I'd waited to leave until after Sylvia completed kindergarten). They would turn 3 and 6 in the fall. I applied for food stamps, but stopped short before I would accept cash, knowing that I would have to accept any job offer that came along, instead of the one that would give me the salary I needed to do this on my own. I felt like a complete and utter, miserable failure. And very, very scared.

Sylvia was a mess. Just a total mess. She missed her father terribly (she knew and loved him as the fun one; not around a lot, but when he was, always willing to play games - not much into discipline), and blamed me for moving away from him. Riley was more watchful, uncertain of what was going on, and for the most part, she clung to me.

My parents knew I was miserable, but I couldn't really talk to them about it. I had this idea that I needed to do as much as possible by myself, that I was already depending on them for too much. My sister helped me more with the emotional aspect, as well as K.

Still, there were many nights where I just cried myself to sleep - after staying awake for too long, trying to make sense of it all. Or trying to block it out. Or surfing online for a job.

As with most other times when I had been out of work and looking, I signed up for a temp agency. After two other assignments at the company, my last was an open-ended one that led to a permanent position in my current department.

Thankfully, there was another single mother there. As we got closer, we learned how much of the "ex" story we both shared. Another colleague thrives on being a maternal figure, and nurtured me. Together, they helped me find our first apartment. The entire department, along with other friends in the wing, helped me furnish the place by giving me cast-offs, buying me grocery cards, and making our family the one they acted as Secret Santa for that year.

The job and that first apartment were the beginning for me. That sense of accomplishment and independence were vital to me feeling like I could do this.

But I'd also learned something that is still hard for me, yet makes all the difference. I'd learned to ask for and accept help.

I'd learned that we single moms do it alone enough; when someone else can help, we should gracefully accept it. They're happy to do it, and we (mothers and children) are better off for it.

In reading this, it's not much about the girls, but to tell you the truth, those first few months are a blur - and they were then, too. I was just a bundle of nerves, of fear and anger and sadness. It was all about just getting from one minute to the next without losing it completely. I'd say I succeeded 3 out of 4 times.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Weekend Wrap-Up

I've been playing too many games of Freecell, trying to figure out how to write this post without sounding too much like a Pollyanna. I showed RadDude my post about him, and he said he threw up in his mouth a little. Truth be told, someone too happy can annoy the crap out of me. Those who know me in real life, and Kori, will know exactly who I mean!

But I must face it. I am happy at the moment.

Miss Riley had more publicity, we learned. She's on the brochure for this year's Say No to Drugs race that we go to every year with my parents:

And their episode of Clean House Comes Clean was on again this weekend. Now, at least, I have it on a videotape.

Sylvia had her own big moment, too. She went to her first middle school dance last night.

I barely got this pic, as she hated it when I started getting all sentimental about her first dance, but she indulged me.

Oddly enough, her behavior for most of the day leading up to it was more immature than I've seen in a while, but I guess that's par for the course as she struggles to accept her own developmental growth. I did get her to clean their room first, at least.

For the most part, I think I'm handling her growing up pretty well, if I say so myself! She also wants to try out for cheerleading. I'm a little scared, frankly, but I do think it's good for her to get involved with something and this is the first thing that's come along. I'm very very nervous about the cost, though. The uniform costs $400.

But back to the dance.

I told her before we left that I was letting her go because she'd earned my trust that she wouldn't do anything that she shouldn't, and I trust that she will not break that trust. I made sure she had money and her cell phone. She reluctantly let me help pick her outfit.

As we were driving up, she was getting nervous because most of the girls she saw (1) she didn't know, and (2) were wearing shorts or pants, not dresses or skirts. We'd agreed that I'd pick her up at nine (even though the dance lasted until 9:50 - she was the one who said nine), but I'd told her she could call me at any time if she wanted to leave early. I was glad to see a cop there.

I reminded her as she was getting out of the car that she could call and I'd get her early. She said, with a dry tone, "can I call you now?" But she got out of the car, and made her way in. I checked my phone about a dozen times every ten minutes. I remembered that fear of first walking in the door, all by yourself, hoping to see a familiar face and soon! She must've found one, I guessed, since my phone stayed silent.

When we came back just a few minutes before nine, they wouldn't let parents in, but I could see a large crowd dancing. I knew she was somewhere in the middle of it all, having the time of her life. I tried calling and texting, all the while knowing it wouldn't do any good. As Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone" started to play, all of the girls flocked to the dance floor, and soon all the 6th, 7th and 8th graders in Burbank could be heard screeching out the chorus. Another mom and I laughed.

Eventually, she made her way off the dance floor, and when she saw me, I was pleased to see she was ready to go, without protesting at all. As we got in the car, she started talking about how she couldn't wait to go to bed! I started wishing there were middle school dances every night.

I'm so impressed with the young lady she's becoming. Today, she's been a pleasure to be around; both to me and her sister.

We went to a "musical petting zoo" this afternoon, upon Riley's request. The local music store has a clinic where they let the kids try out the instruments. Sylvia tried the flute, and Riley tried the sax. Then they both tried the cello, violin, and Sylvia tried her hand at the viola. Finally (after another family bogarded the brass section for about a half-hour - not that I'm bitter or anything), they tried the trombone and trumpet. I was most impressed by Riley. She got all of the instruments to sound like something. Sylvia looked like her head was going to explode trying the trumpet!

I'd warned Riley that I wasn't going to be able to buy anything today so she brought her journal and made notes of all the instruments she liked. Needless to say, she liked them all. A previous teacher had recommended the violin for Riley (and she'd taken some Suzuki violin in kindergarten) so I'm going to try and steer her in that direction.

Oh, and one last bit of news. I hope she doesn't mind me sharing this, but it's because I'm so excited. Florinda and I are going to see 9 to 5 the Musical together! She will be the first bloggy friend I meet IRL and I can't wait. But, alas, I have to wait a couple more weeks now. Still, it should be a fun night.

Wow, this is really really long. Sorry 'bout that.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Happy Blogiversary to Me!

It's my 1-year blogiversary! How do I celebrate?

I was going to write a sappy post about how much I love you guys, which you know I do right, but instead this little factoid has been brought to my attention, and I must write a rant instead.

So I don't know how many of you have heard the story about Wasilla's rape victims having to pay for their own rape kits under Palin's watch, but it gets worse. Apparently, this didn't just happen in Wasilla (although that was the only city in Alaska where it was happening).

I am so appalled by this. Would homeowners ever be charged for the police to come and investigate a burglary? Would murder victims' families ever have to pay for an investigation? Of course, it's a crime against mainly women where the victim has to pay a price. Let alone, the other problems she may have - disease, pregnancy - not to mention, the emotional trauma. Really? We're going to foot her with a bill that can cost up to $1200, too? Why are we adding yet another deterrent to keep women from reporting the crime in the first place?

I'm trying to understand why it took this long for someone to do anything about it. (That someone, btw? Joe Biden. He made it a condition of states' ability to get federal funding for the Violence Against Women Act that they do not charge rape victims for the kits.) Besides the gender imbalance, why did it take a federal law to change some states' (and Wasilla's) behavior.

The only other thing I can think of is that involves the third parties of hospitals and the labs. Even with that, why did no one think to have it covered under Medicare?

This whole thing makes me almost (but not quite) speechless.

I know, it takes me out of my Palin-free zone to talk about it, but I couldn't not talk about this at least a little bit. It's why I blog.

And now we get to the sappy part.

The difference that blogging has made in my life has been immeasurable. I have a community now. I have people I can turn to for almost anything. I learn from reading your posts and comments to mine. I feel the virtual hugs you send my way. I have a voice.

Thank you for being there for me for this past year. Thank you for allowing me into your lives. I hope that this year, I get to meet some of you in person. I hope none of you quit blogging yourselves. I hope you know, you have someone here for you. (Um, I mean me, of course!)

Kori gave me this award a while back.

Thank you, Kori.

I give this to all of you because all of you are a perfect blend of friendship. I'm not sure how many of you noticed my new tag line: "We knew we were natural resources long before anyone decided to tap us." It's written about uncommon women, but it's true of all of my bloggy friends - gender aside.

I hope this blogiversary is the first of many to come.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Riley and the Rad Dude

Riley's teacher called me about the note. It turns out this is her first year teaching 3rd grade, and the homework assignments were not her own, but her "mentor" teacher. Setting aside the concern that this comes from her mentor, she will be giving her own homework assignments starting next week, and she assured me they will contain more active work than just copying spelling words. Plus, she made some homework this week optional, so it's made it a little easier.

Last night, I did my new parent tea at Riley's school, followed by a meeting at Sylvia's school. The new parent tea wasn't exactly what I was expecting. It was being hosted by the PTA, not the school, but the Principal was there, so I got some of my questions answered.

It turns out that it's illegal to make uniforms mandatory in public schools here in CA. Let's just contemplate that for a moment, shall we?

Moving on.

Things are going a little better. And I've learned, if I avoid morning news shows, it really helps my mood for the rest of the day. Call it a Palin-free zone.

Even more ironically, one of my best friends at work, who has asked to be referred to as RadDude here on the blog, came into work today in a very foul mood. Because he wasn't living in a Palin-free zone. It's funny because I'm usually the one ranting and raving, and while he agrees with me, he usually stays emotionally uninvolved. He was REALLY fired up today.

I've written about some very important friends in my life: Kori, Nancy, K, my sister, but I've only referred to RadDude in passing here before. But he is one of my rocks.

He started working in our department just a few months after me. We first bonded over the fact that our girls were around the same age. After his wife gave birth to twin boys, he could then relate to being outnumbered. RadDude loves the stories about my ex - he finds them so amusing. And, during all the drama that happened when my ex was living down here, he was the one I could always count on to make me laugh about it somehow. RadDude doesn't mind my man-hating bitch rants; he understands where they come from. I tease him that he makes me sick sometimes with his perfect little family and his perfect little life. Of course, I know it's not perfect, but pretty darn close! He does appreciate it, too. He loves his wife, loves his kids, coaches his daughter's soccer team, and cooks dinner and does the grocery shopping. He is a daily reminder that good ones still exist. He's also been a huge help to me in transitioning into my promotion. He knows his stuff, explains it in a way that makes sense, and really supports me.

But I probably most appreciate him when we have lunch together - which is every day that neither of us have plans. Well, we go to get lunch together and take it back to our desks. But while we're there, we make catty remarks about the others around us. More times than not, we come back, laughing and lamenting, "we're awful, awful people."

He makes fun of me for blogging and my bloggy friends, but he does get it, too.

Today, someone joked that he went somewhere without me. I said, "it better be to go get us Red Vines!" Sure enough, RadDude returned with Red Vines. Now, there's a friend.

RadDude is like the best big brother I could ever have.

Just a few housekeeping notes: sorry I haven't been around much lately. I'll catch up, I will. I'm getting my groove back. I think/hope.

And...drumroll, please...Friday is my 1-year blogiversary!! Starbucks gift cards can be sent all year long.

Oh, oh! That reminds me. I can't believe I almost forgot!

So today, Riley was in the local newspaper. Michael Phelps came to the Boys & Girls Club on Monday, and they had a picture in the paper with Riley. Someone at her school recognized her, but the copy was bad. So we went on a hunt tonight for it, and I could NOT find it. I went to two convenience stores, the grocery store, and then decided we'd check Starbucks before we gave up. We rummaged through all of the papers that were lying around from the day. And we found it! Yay! I told the girls, yet another reason for me to love Starbucks.

She's on the far left.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Weekend Wrap-Up

Okay, so I'm a little late with the Weekend Wrap-Up...and certainly behind on my Reader as well.

What can I say? It's been that kind of month.

It wasn't all terrible. I took the girls to see Wicked on Friday night. Sylvia had seen it twice before, but this was Riley's first time, and she loved it. She's heard the cast recording at least a hundred times, so she enjoyed seeing what happens during those numbers, and how they all connect. She got a little tired and restless towards the end of the first act (which is kinda long), so I got them both buzzed with soda and candy at intermission and their sugar high got us through the rest of the show.

The show is still great. I'd still see it again. Sylvia enjoyed it just as much this time as the previous.

Riley may be turning a corner. Maybe. She had a good cry tonight, and that may be just what she needed to get all those icky feelings out once and for all.

We talked over the weekend about the waves of an emotion. We talked about things they might like to do to help them reach the shore when they're feeling the wave at its peak. Then they started fighting, and calming down was the last thing they wanted to do. We still need to work on how to get over that peak.

I've also been reading Yardsticks, a recommendation made by the former principal at KIPP (still a dear friend of ours). It is helping me understand their development a bit more so that I can know just where it is they're coming from. Yet another example of knowledge really being powerful.

I'm still in my own funk these days. A combination of nothing really going right, but I'm not beating myself over it anymore. I'm not fighting it, I'm not letting it take complete control. It's just there. It will pass. I've been through it enough to know that. And I know my own emotions/depression/general funkiness is probably not helping matters with the girls any. Riley is especially sympathetic, and is feeding off of me. But I cannot beat myself over it anymore as it'll just make things worse. I just have to let it be to a certain degree.

As I told a colleague this morning, "I got the girls to school on time. That, in itself, is an accomplishment. One thing at a time."

The only place I really do feel okay these days is in my work. Not like I'm perfect at my job yet, but I'm pleased with my progress thus far, and my colleagues seem to be pleased with it as well. Also, I've always loved to learn and there's still so much to learn that it keeps me stimulated.

Speaking of "love of learning," I just sent an email to Riley's teacher (which came back as undeliverable because she's not really an email person so didn't give me the right address, but which I've printed and will send with Riley to school tomorrow) about the homework and my concerns. I'll copy and paste the pertinent paragraphs:

I'm concerned about the amount of homework being given. Riley does as much as she can at the Boys & Girls Club after school, but still does not have enough time to finish while she's there. After work, dinner and baths, there's only so much time left for homework, and still allow for a good night's sleep.

I've read from numerous sources that the appropriate amount of homework should be 10 minutes per grade level. The reading alone is that much. I'm concerned that the true value being lost by piling on the homework is our children's love of learning.

I also have seen, from my older daughter, that more active homework for spelling/vocabulary - such as word searches, finding the proper word to go in a sentence, rhyming exercises - better prepares them to spell and use the words correctly than rote memorization or copying the word 10 - 50 times per week.

It's been a constant struggle for Riley to get her homework done, which wasn't the case in years past. While I realize that some of this is due to the transition period, I also fear that it's the homework itself that may be the problem.

I hope it's not too bitchy, but it's a battle worth fighting, I think. I've even seen studies (sorry, can't remember the links) that say that homework has no positive effect whatsoever, and can even have negative consequences. I don't know if I would go that far, but it seems to me that the homework should reinforce learning and give the teachers a chance to see where they are, and what they're understanding, rather than just writing ten spelling words five times, and 10 vocabulary words plus their definitions.

I'm sure my educator commenters will have much to say about this, and I look forward to reading it. As I said, I love to learn, and I'm anxious to hear varying points of view on this subject.

One last Riley note: she was on TV again - but just in passing. Michael Phelps went to visit the Burbank Boys & Girls Club today, and spoke to the kids. It made the news. Sylvia, poor thing, got there too late to see him. She was the one most looking forward to it (and the one that had my camera - so no pics either).

And one very last note: you may have noticed my new Obama avatar. I realize a few of you may disagree, and some of you agree wholeheartedly. It's not an attempt to change your vote, but I do want to say proudly where I stand. And I encourage everyone to do your own research. Please do not let conventions or pundits decide this campaign for you. Their voting records are readily available on the Senate website. Another great non-partisan resource (cited by Republicans and Dems alike) is FactCheck. It's easier and easier to get information these days, and really, it's the least we can do.

Okay, I'll get off my soapbox now. Your turn! Your comments always inspire and enlighten me - I could use that about now!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

I Need a Countdown Ticker

I'm planning a vacation. Me and two of my girlfriends. We're going on a booze cruise, and I cannot wait! I have to wait, though. We're not going until Jan. *sigh* But I need to be able to look forward to that.

This school year is knocking me out cold so far. Riley is still not transitioning very well. She is going back to the therapist for a while (or, as we call her, the "feelings doctor"). She was so thrilled to go, and I'm very grateful that we've had this particular therapist in our lives for quite a few years now. It's clear to me that she really likes the girls, and the girls like her. She's always helped before, so I'm quite confident that she'll able to help this time as well.

This was what I feared back when I knew we had to move. Poor Riley - she's changed schools every single year of her education. Not to mention, moving yet again. She's having a rough time with all those adjustments. We had a great weekend, but as soon as the reality of having to go back to school started to hit, she started to fall apart on me all over again. Things got bad. I knew something had to be done.

So she went today. She was so excited to go. While they were in their appointment, I was blackberrying about my vacation. It got me through.

These two particular friends, L and J, are around my age, yet we enjoy regressing back to about high school when we're together (when we can). J is the one who actually helped me find this apt., and I met her through L, a colleague of mine. J is also a single mom so she gets it. L has spent enough time with J and I to get it as well. We take advantage of any and every opportunity we have to re-connect with our inner child when we're together.

So we found a 4-day cruise to Mexico for less than $300. J and I have made our child care arrangements and we are booking tomorrow. I cannot wait to have those days without worrying about children, about homework, about work work, about driving, about laundry and just...cruising and drinking. I may not even get off the boat in Mexico. Okay, I may have to get off to call home and make sure the girls are okay. But after that, I'm getting right back on, and the bartender better have my drink ready. I will drink "Sex on the Beach" for 3 days. I will lounge until my feet fall asleep. I will laugh until my sides hurt. I may even make up a cruise name for myself. (Suggestions welcome.)

And that will get me through for now. That will get me through as I tell Riley for the hundredth time tonight, "homework!" That will get me through as I lay out their clothes for tomorrow. That will get me through when I rush to tomorrow's Outdoor Science Parent Night (which takes place in the auditorium). That will get me through next Tuesday night when I go from the new parent tea at 6 at Riley's school to the band parent meeting at Sylvia's school at 7.

Even the girls had to admit, Mommy deserves a vacation, too!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Free Again!

Phew! I couldn't figure out what was stifling me, closing me off from being able to write. And then it came to me.
About a week ago, I had the oh-so-brilliant idea to upload my blog posts into Facebook. Bad idea. Very, very bad idea.
I'm not a complete idiot. I know anyone can find my blog if they want. I know anyone can read what I write here. But it's still a choice for people to do so. Allowing it to come up like that...I don't know. It was changing everything for me.
Like any self-respecting blogger, I want people to read my blog. At the same time, I want people to want to read it. I don't want them to just read it because it happens to be right in front of them.
I don't know. I don't know if any of this is making sense, but it makes sense to me anyway.
It's not that I'm scared to be me. I don't think. I just didn't like feeling as vulnerable as that one little action was making me feel.
So now I'm back to feeling like this space is mine again.
We had a nice 3-day. We spent most of it at home, listening to music, watching Lost, cleaning (oh yeah, that...) and generally relaxing.
Yesterday, we were out and about. My parents and I took the girls to see Mamma Mia again; this time, the sing-along version. Riley loved it. Sylvia, on the other hand, was embarrassed because we were singing at a sing-along. Yeah, whatever, you tween!
Afterward, we headed to Bubba Gump Shrimp in Santa Monica. My parents had shown them Forrest Gump when they were on vacation, so the girls were anxious to try it. Sylvia kicked some serious butt on the waitress' trivia quiz. Not only has she inherited my love of useless entertainment trivia, I think she's actually taken my memory since I have none anymore.
They've also started a new saying. You know how people say, "seriously" or "actually?" Well, they've started using "literally." I'm trying to teach them the proper meaning, but of course, Miss Sylvia is having none of that. I'm just exasperating her.
So we'll see how this week goes.
I've got another school incident in the works, but I'll wait to blog about that until after tomorrow night at our 6th grade parents meeting.
To all of you just starting your school year...well, I wish you all the best!

Weekend Wrap-Up

Hope everyone had a great long weekend!

I can't figure out what to write about anymore. I feel like my head is completely empty of anything of value to say.

Here are some pics instead.