Posts Tagged ‘Parenting’

I Am Not the Father

June 19, 2011

Lately, it’s become fashionable to wish single mothers Happy Father’s Day.

Miss me with that.

I am a single mother raising two kids alone. I do it by necessity, since my kids’ father has chosen, for the most part, to be absent from their lives since our divorce.

I also do it a little bit by choice. Some women in my shoes would have initiated a search for Mr. Stepdad a long time ago. Marrying a man for the sole purpose of providing my kids with a replacement father does not interest me in the least.

Being a single mother does not also make me a single father. Or some type of mother-father hybrid. I am a woman, and I can only approach parenting from a woman’s perspective. I grew up with my father and mother, but my mother was the more dominant influence in our home. For better or worse, I adopted her style of parenting even when I was married.

The notion that a woman raising children by herself is acting as both mother and father is misguided and harmful. It does a disservice to all of the fathers – including the single fathers – who are also working hard, every day, to raise their children. We single mothers enjoy the appreciation, but on Father’s Day, fathers, not mothers, deserve all the love.

My kids do benefit from positive male influences. Unfortunately, their father isn’t one. I don’t live near my family, so my children don’t have uncles and older male cousins who take the place of their absent father in providing this influence. They do have teachers. coaches, their friends’ fathers, and my significant other.

None of them can take the place of a loving, caring father, but my ex-husband is not a loving, caring father. They wouldn’t have a nuturing dad in their lives even if their dad were still around. A psychotherapist told me recently, if the absent parent does substantial damage to the child when he or she is present, it is better for that parent to remain absent. My children are not better off without a father, but they are better off without a father who is still so hurt from his own childhood that he inflicts pain upon his own children almost without knowing.

I am not a hero. I am not “holding it down.” I’m doing what I have to do. I take care of my children because I’m supposed to.

I take care of my kids because I love them and I need them and they need me. I do it alone because their father is unwilling and unable to participate. That doesn’t mean I fill both roles.

I am a mother. That’s more than enough.

So while I appreciate the acknowledgment of single mothers on Father’s Day, don’t wish me a Happy Father’s Day. I am a lot of things to my kids, but a father is most certainly not one of them.

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When Negative Is Positive

April 8, 2011

First of all, the good news: my biopsy results were fine. “Your results were fine, no problems, everything looks ok,” the radiologist told me when I called.

I thought about ending this post there.

But I still have a bandage on my breast. I still have the image of watching a needle poke into some weird thing inside my breast seared into my brain.

So let me describe the procedure.

I arrived at the Women’s Imaging Center at Weill Cornell Medical Center on time for my 9 am appointment. Outwardly, I was calm. My efforts to think positive thoughts had convinced me that this was some kind of divine comedic error, yet another example of God’s Monty Python-like sense of humor.

Things happened quickly. Within 15 minutes of my arrival, I was lying on my back in a hospital gown on a table in the ultrasound room.

In the two weeks since my mammogram, an odd thing had happened: I was no longer able to feel the lump. I had convinced myself, therefore, that the thing – whatever it was – had disappeared.

I mentioned to the ultrasound tech that I could no longer feel the lump. She nodded and applied the gel to the ultrasound wand, and began moving it around on my breast. I was about to ask her, “What happens if you can’t see it anymore?” when she said,

“Oh! There it is. I definitely see it. And these pictures look exactly like the ones that __________ got last time.”

So much for it disappearing.

And then I got scared.

During my last visit, I had peeked at the ultrasound screen, but none of what I saw made sense. I was reminded of my pregnancy ultrasounds, where I could discern the baby’s head, spine and heartbeat, but not much else.

This time, I saw it clearly.

The it, the thing, the lump that was causing all this trouble appeared on the ultrasound screen as a gelatinous bubble, like the movie The Blob. I had a Blob inside me. Of course, in the movie, the Blob consumed whatever was in its path.

I reminded myself that The Blob was a silly movie about killer Jello. But I couldn’t take my eyes off that screen.

The procedure I had is called an ultrasound-guided needle biopsy. A nurse and a doctor soon joined the ultrasound technician. While the ultrasound technician showed the doctor the pictures she had captured on screen, the nurse cleaned my breast for the procedure.

Everyone – doctors, nurse, ultrasound technician – was great about explaining to me what was happening, in terms that were simple but not dumbed down. I watched the doctor use a long, fine needle to fill my breast with Lidocaine so I wouldn’t feel any pain during the biopsy. I watched her insert a second thicker, hollow needle into my breast. She showed me the needle’s spring mechanism and explained that she would be activating the needle with a loud pop! sound to collect tissue samples, a process that would be repeated 5 times.

To my surprise, the doctor also announced that she would implant a small titanium clip into my breast to mark the location of the mass, since it was so subtle and not easy to detect, for the benefit of future radiologists. I didn’t like the idea of a titanium anything in my breast, but I gave my consent.

And then I turned my attention to the ultrasound screen.

I watched the needle probing and poking the blob. I saw the needle tip penetrate the mass. Even before the doctor gave me the “one-two-three” warning that she was about to activate the spring-loaded mechanism, I held my breath in anticipation.

I didn’t flinch.

“You’re doing great,” I was reassured, over and over again.

Inside, I wasn’t doing so great. I was overwhelmed by the odd and unsettling miracle of watching a needle enter my breast and cut away tiny pieces of some unidentifiable thing inside my breast.

It dawned on me that, no matter who you are in life, at some point, you will wind up in one of these hospital gowns, submitting your body to some procedure or another, hoping to discover that for you, life continues.

I couldn’t conceive of any other result. My children have no one but me. Their father is, um, unreliable. Their grandmother is gone. The family they know is in Michigan, where my children don’t want to be. They barely know their relatives in Philadelphia. And I am no longer as close as I once was to the women who were their godmothers.

The radiologist commended me for being so “good” throughout the procedure. I thought only about not orphaning my children.

My breast was a bit sore after the anesthesia wore off, but physically I was fine. Mentally and emotionally, though, the three-day wait for results was torture. I kept myself busy to keep from dwelling on it, but the bandage on my breast reminded me that, in the words of Madeline’s Miss Clavel, something was “not right.”

And now I know. The negative result is positive. I am relieved.

OK and fine do not, however, mean everything is back to “normal.”

For me, there is a new “normal.”

From now on, I will have a titanium clip in my breast. I will need to be diligent and consistent about getting annual mammograms. The breast biopsy joins the growing list of procedures and surgeries I have had recently, a list that replaces the “none” or “N/A” I used to routinely tick off on medical history questionnaires.

But still – I’m fine.

I’ll take it.

An Incivil Action: Child Custody Litigation

May 14, 2010

Writer Debra Dickerson shocked many when she revealed recently that, as a result of a five-and-a-half year custody battle with her ex-husband, she and her children are now homeless.

Dickerson and I crossed paths briefly at Harvard Law School: I was a 3L when she was a 1L.  I knew of her, though I can’t really say I knew her.  Dickerson chose not to practice law and became a writer instead.  I chose not to be poor and unable to repay $90,000 in law school debt, so I went on to practice, although the desire to write never left (hence, this blog).

I empathize with Dickerson, not because we have HLS in common, but because of my own experiences with never-ending child custody, visitation and support court battles.  I, too, had a lengthy and expensive divorce.  I, too, spent over $100,000 in legal fees — most of them in an unnecessarily protracted custody fight.  I contend my ex never really wanted custody, but included it among his demands to gain settlement leverage.   And unfortunately, because divorce = litigation, we had to fight it out. 

Child custody contests are indeed battles, ones in which the most forceful weapons are the children.  In litigation, someone has to win, and someone has to lose.  And when kids are used as weapons, whether intentionally or unintentionally, they’re the ones who get hurt.

I’m still in the midst of visitation issues with my ex.  And although I admire the professionals who are involved in my case, the process is completely illogical.  I strongly believe that child custody–and divorce, for that matter–should not be determined through litigation.  In New York, it is possible to avoid litigation if the parties negotiate a separation agreement (which they file with the court), remain separated for at least a year, and then file for a judgment of divorce based on the separation agreement.  But this approach will not work for everyone.

Negotiating a separation agreement can be a very expensive process.  A separation agreement is, in essence, a settlement agreement, and settlement negotiations are still quite adversarial.  Unlike a regular contract negotiation, a settlement negotiation involves two parties who would otherwise be suing each other, attempting to resolve their conflict by contract.  Therefore, the parties and their lawyers are often positional rather than conciliatory in approach, and unreasonable demands made out of anger and hurt can derail the process as easily as as in court.  In most cases, however, people who decide to divorce by separation agreement generally are motivated to agree and avoid litigation.

The underlying motivation is a key reason why separation agreements do not work in every divorce.  If one party wants to settle and move on, and the other party wants to fight to the death, trying to negotiate a separation agreement would be a colossal waste of time and money. 

I believe every divorcing party should be required to undergo counseling, and custody matters should be resolved through mediation. Mandatory counseling and mediation would create an atmosphere of resolution and agreement, not war.  A mediated child custody settlement, assisted by counselors skilled in navigating high conflict divorces, could keep both parties focused on the children’s best interests, since neither side would benefit from making false or overblown allegations.  The goal would be to reduce the number of pointless, endless custody and visitation battles that hurt everyone, especially the children involved.

The particulars of Dickerson’s situation do not matter to me.  I don’t want to know, nor do I care, which party is “at fault” or who has done or said what to whom in the last 5.5 years.  I’m sure, in 5.5 years, there’s probably plenty of blame to spread around.  But I feel compassion for the pain and suffering her family has endured and continues to endure.  I hope that, as news of her plight spreads, the court intervenes to force the parties to settle this lawsuit and resolve their differences in a way that allows for co-parenting and healing. 

I don’t know if my mediation and counseling proposal is workable in practice.  I do know that the current system is broken.  We need a better process for deciding custody cases.

Fighting Christmas Depression

December 12, 2009

Used under license from FreeFoto.com

I wrote this on December 21, 2008.  A lot has changed in a year.

Everyone always says that Christmas is not — or shouldn’t be — about giving, but receiving. Over the years, people have offered me wonderful, well-meaning suggestions for raising children who want to spend Christmas serving others instead of being served, children who are more excited about giving than they are about receiving.

I have not met the children of these well-meaning folks. I am sure their children are terrific. But in my experience, young children are terrifically selfish and self-centered. I don’t think it’s realistic to expect them not to want stuff. A lot of it.

I tried out a few of those suggestions on Cami. Earlier today, I said, “Hey, how about next year, we stay home for Christmas and serve at a soup kitchen?”

“You’re kidding, right?”

“No, I’m not kidding. Why would I kid about something like that?”

“Ummm . . . then no.”

“Why not?”

“Because – eww – I don’t want to spend my Christmas serving at a soup kitchen! Christmas is MY day! Christmas break is the longest break of the year. I don’t want to spend it serving other people. Let other people serve other people.”

“Well, Cami, if everyone said let someone else do it, then no one would do it.”

She looked at me. “Seriously, Mom, you don’t want to go to a soup kitchen, either. Where is this coming from, anyway?”

I knew better than to ask Randy.

My children are not, at this stage in their lives and development, interested in giving. They don’t even buy me a gift for Christmas. My children want stuff. A lot of it. And they’re not shy about demanding it.

I also wanted stuff at Christmastime when I was a kid, but I knew not to expect it. My father was a Ford auto worker. My mother worked only occasionally outside the home, typically in low-paying service jobs. And I am the youngest of six. Even in years where there were no worries about union strikes or company layoffs, big Christmases simply weren’t an option. I would study the JC Penney and Sears catalogs like I used to study our encyclopedias, and a trip to Hudson’s was like a trip to Heaven, but I wasn’t silly enough to actually think I was getting much of anything.

I make just enough money, I guess, to delude my children into thinking that they should have presents under a tree somewhere. Indeed, that there should be a tree somewhere, with presents for them under it. I suppose I have no one to blame for that but myself.

When I was married, my ex-husband and I shopped separately for the kids. As with everything else, we couldn’t agree on what to buy or how much to spend. While I was buying robots from Sharper Image and globes from Imaginarium and educational software and books from Barnes & Noble and magnetic building toys from Toys R Us and FAO Schwarz, he would be at some down-market toy store in or outside Philadelphia, buying up every marked-down, leftover, on sale toy he could find.

The net result was that the kids always had a lot of gifts under the tree. They treated each group of toys with equal disdain. They would ignore my educational toys until there was nothing, absolutely nothing, else to do. The stuff he bought would be played with, broken, and in the garbage by New Year’s Day. Yet, every year, they expected more, and we obliged.

The first year of my separation, I had no energy for Christmas. I couldn’t imagine trimming a tree and cooking and shopping and wrapping and baking and creating this wonderful special Christmas all by myself. I wasn’t feeling wonderful and I wasn’t feeling special. I was feeling broke. The divorce was nasty, contentious and expensive, and took place during a down economic cycle. I had just taken a job paying about 40% of what I used to earn as a law firm partner, and I watched legal bills, on top of day-to-day living expenses, eat through the rest of my savings like cartoon termites.

In desperation, I turned to my good friend Claire, who loves my children and Christmas seemingly in equal measure. Her own children are now adults, and she missed having little people at home baking cookies for Santa, decorating the tree, singing Christmas carols, and running downstairs at break-neck speed on Christmas morning to tear open wrapper after wrapper and squeal in delight. So I brought her my kids for Christmas. My mother loaned me some money to buy the kids a few presents – and Claire supplied the rest.

Going to Auntie Claire’s for Christmas has now become a tradition of sorts for us, if four years can make a tradition. My financial situation is more stable now, so I try to bring more than just greedy kids to Virginia. Despite my baking phobia, I even bake cookies at Claire’s – chocolate chip ones, following the recipe on the back of the Nestle’s chips. I’m told they’re good, and whether they actually are or not, someone always eats them. Thanks to Claire and her family, my kids get that wonderful, special Christmas experience that I couldn’t and still can’t provide them on my own.

But the kids’ Christmas gift expectations haven’t changed since the divorce, even though their father hasn’t participated in the spending frenzy in over three years. I still feel a certain amount of pressure every year to make sure that, in addition to tree-trimming and cookies for Santa and a fantastic Christmas feast, they also have a decent number of gifts under the tree.

It wears me out.

This year, Cami told me, “Oh, I only want two things for Christmas this year – a laptop and a pair of UGGs.”

“Oh, so only $2000, and I’m done with you?”

“You wouldn’t have to get such an expensive laptop,” she offered as a compromise.

Later, she added a Blackberry to the mix, in place of the iPhone requested previously. I have never, ever, in my entire life, received a $2000 Christmas gift. From anyone. Not even myself. The package is an easy no. Other than the Blackberry, which is patently ridiculous, the components are harder.

Cami makes a convincing argument for needing a laptop. She uses the computer a lot for school. She has a school e-mail account, which is supposed to be used to email assignments and communicate with teachers and peers about assignments. Of course, it is also used for gossip, chat, uploading songs and music videos, and other non-academic purposes. I wouldn’t mind the extra activity, except my daughter cannot multi-task. Excess socializing, at school and online, led to poor grades and placed her on academic probation for the first grading period. Her grades have improved recently, but I have decided she’s not mature enough to handle the responsibility of having a laptop in the privacy of her room. That’s part of the story – the part I tell her whenever she renews the laptop discussion.

The rest of the story is financial, because if I could afford a laptop, I’d buy one and figure out a way to enforce responsible use. The real reason I’m not buying Cami a laptop, even though it almost rises to the level of a “need,” is that I do not want to spend thousands of dollars on Christmas presents right now, with the economy in such bad shape. Watching friends get laid off from high six-figure Wall Street jobs serves as a reminder that my job is not guaranteed. It would be illogical to deplete the emergency fund so the kids can have a fabulous Christmas, and with tax season just around the corner and summer camp payments coming due right after that, Christmas needs to be a low-key affair this year.

I feel badly about always having to say no. I know many, if not most, of her friends at school have laptops. The layout of my apartment requires that the desktop computer remain in my room. She can use the computer in my room for homework, but after a while, I get tired of having her in my room, and I start demanding that she “get on with it.” I tell myself that I’m keeping her from wasting time and teaching her to be efficient, but mostly I’m just being a nag, and I know it.

And as for the UGGs – no, they’re not definitely not a need, any more than the Blackberry. Yet I remember ogling pearl-button angora sweaters at Hudson’s the same way she ogles the UGGs in my Bloomingdale’s catalogs. I would love to get her at least one thing she doesn’t need but just wants. In light of the tough economy and looming bills, I can’t justify buying the UGGs, either. It may be irrational, but that bothers me.

Then there’s my son. I thought he would be easy. When we first started talking about Santa lists, he mentioned only a Bakugan toy costing about $20 at Toys R Us. I guess he must have then spoken to Cami, because the next time we talked, his list had expanded to include a new Nintendo DS, a Wii, and a lot of new games. He still believes in Santa, so I told him that since a lot of mommies and daddies lost their jobs this year, Santa was not giving anyone a lot of Christmas gifts this year, and was instead helping the mommies and daddies with some of the things they need, too.

 He was fine with that explanation, but yesterday, I made the mistake of reminding Cami, in front of him, that “I’m not buying a lot of stuff this year.” He caught on.

“So, Mom, it’s you? Santa isn’t real?”

Cami immediately jumped up from the computer to whisper in my ear that they’d just had a discussion in her Philosophy class about the morality of perpetuating the Santa myth. I wasn’t interested in philosophy in that moment. I told her to shut up and sit down.

“Randy,” I said, “will it make a difference to you one way or the other?”

He didn’t hesitate. “I want Santa to be real.”

“Well, Randy,” Cami piped up, the weight of Kant behind her, “I have some bad news.”

I hissed at her the way our cat used to hiss at the dog we no longer have, the way I now hiss at the cat when she’s on my furniture. He already isn’t getting 75% of the items on his Christmas list. If Santa is still important to him, why take it away?

Cami often misses non-verbal clues, but between that hiss and the look on my face, she stopped cold.

“Well, then,” I told Randy, daring my daughter to contradict me, “if that’s what you want to believe, that’s what it is.”

He was momentarily satisfied, although he’s made a few doubting references to Santa since then.

I know it’s silly for me to be even slightly depressed about not being able to spend a lot of money on Christmas presents this year. I know – it’s meaningless, they won’t remember the presents but they’ll remember the great times with friends and family for a lifetime – yada yada yada.

And bull.

I don’t remember the presents I actually did receive, the few Christmases when we did get presents, but boy do I remember, even today, the stuff I wanted and didn’t get. Not all of it, of course, but a lot of it. I don’t yet know what I’m getting them, but they will have presents under the tree. Not everything they wanted, and some things – like clothing – that they don’t want, but definitely need.

I know we’ll have a great time at Claire’s, and the kids will be happy with whatever they get. I just hope, by Christmas morning, I manage to get over my own disappointment at not being able to do more.

Waiting

July 9, 2009

A day at Family Court is a day of waiting.

Although the cases are calendared, there is no set time for your case to be called.  You wait until you are called, which could, and sometimes does, take all day.  This type of waiting requires Zen-like patience.

Most of the people in Family Court — poor, uneducated (or under-educated), lower-class — are not patient.  So Family Court is noisy and uncivilized. 

It is also not a place where people dress like they are in court.  Unlike the U.S. federal or New York State Supreme Courts, only the lawyers and court workers wear suits, skirts and dresses.  Women wear tight tees stretched over sagging bellies and explosive muffin tops, their thighs and hips sausaged into low-rise jeans.  Men wear baggy jeans.  Everyone is tattooed. 

Most overheard conversations include liberal doses of the “f” word.

I have to go to work after I leave court, so I am one of the few petitioners or respondents who is dressed properly for a court appearance.  My dress and heels feel wrong on the benches with the masses.  I feel a greater kinship with the lawyers and caseworkers than the people sitting on the benches with me, waiting like I am for my case to be called. 

I feel out of place.

For the last sixteen months, I have been coming to Family Court every other month for a hearings in connection with a visitation petition filed by my ex-husband.  As the case is still pending, I will not comment on the merits or any of the specifics, except to note that  in those sixteen months, there have been approximately three or four face-to-face visits between my  husband and our kids.

I comply with my legal, moral and ethical obligations to appear on time for each court appearance, and to come back, and back, and back, with no end in sight.

Family Court is the only time I see my ex-husband.  I strongly prefer it that way.

Seeing him incites no feelings of nostalgia for our moribund relationship, no stirrings of attraction towards the man with whom I shared a bed for eight long years of my life.  My memories of our relationship are generally unpleasant.  The few fond ones have nothing to do with romance. 

He looks at me with disgust, and I look at him with confusion, trying to figure out, once again, how I ever wound up with him.  It is plainly obvious to me now that we simply never should have been together.  The mismatch is so clear to me now.  I can’t help but wonder how I overlooked it for so long.

There was a time when I wouldn’t look at him at all, fearing that he wanted to intimidate me with his glare.  Now, I stare openly at him as I try, in vain, to figure out what I ever saw in him.  I do this not to understand the past, but to avoid making that same mistake in the future.  He’s the one who drops his eyes to avoid my gaze. 

I notice he is reading The Daily News and carrying a book as well.  For a minute, I think, “well, that’s it — he always did read a lot, and I always admired that.”  But I don’t think I was desperate or shallow enough to marry a man just because he was literate.

We wait.

One of the men on the benches walks up to him and speaks.  He rises and greets the man with the universal not-a-hug, not-a-handshake gesture that seems peculiar to black men.  Or at least, black men of a certain ilk; those who have been steeped in black culture.  My 8-year-old son has not yet learned that gesture from his father, and won’t learn it from me.  I am not OK with all the ways that I can’t teach my son how to be a black man, but since I wasn’t planning to be a single parent when he was conceived, I accept it.

The gentleman speaking to my ex is not anyone I ever met while we were together.  I guess that the man is the same age as my ex, although he looks much older and, in his baggy low-rise shorts, dresses much younger.   He is of a type that became familiar to me during the time I was with my ex.  My ex is a substance abuse counselor, and many of his friends are recovering addicts.  On the man’s weathered, limping legs are legions of scars.  Healed injection sites.

I am not sitting close enough to overhear their conversation, but my ex has made a few covert gestures in my direction.  I imagine he is categorizing all the different types of bitches I am, especially since I have dared to not just roll over in these proceedings.  He doesn’t introduce me to his friend, nor do I expect him to.  We are not friends; I’m not sure we ever were.

We wait.

We are both pro se in these proceedings, meaning we are each representing ourselves, without benefit of counsel.  Although I am a lawyer, I do not practice family law, and my legal training gives me no advantages here.  I have done nothing to prepare for this routine court appearance.  There is nothing to prepare.  At this point, I can anticipate — accurately — what will happen.  Hiring a lawyer for this would have been a complete waste of time.

Today there will be no surprises.

We wait.

I am writing in my journal when he approaches me, wordlessly, and hands me a cold bottle of Poland Springs from an unseen vending machine.  I accept it and say, “Thank you.”  He does not respond.  Perhaps he grunts a response I don’t expect, and so do not hear.

I make sure the seal is intact before I open it and take a sip.

It dawns on me that I haven’t yet seen the law guardian assigned to represent the children in our case, and I realize her absence is the reason we are still waiting.  I know she has been ill, and I hope she’s well enough to attend today’s session.   If she is not there, the case will be adjourned and re-calendared, and I would have missed a morning of work for nothing. 

Just as I complete that thought, I see her.  She looks well.  We chat briefly, and I look around for my ex, who is convinced that she and I are conspiring against him.  I know the sight of the two of us chatting fuels his conspiracy theories.  I don’t see him.

Finally, our case is called, and it goes exactly as I expect it to.  In sum — nothing happens.  We are scheduled to return in September.

The court officer hands me a slip of paper with the date and time of our next scheduled appearance.  I try to take my time leaving the courtroom, but when I reach the elevator lobby, he is still there, waiting for the next elevator down. 

I walk past him and duck into the ladies’ room.  I stand in the full-length mirror, adjust my dress and admire my calves until I figure enough time has passed for Elvis to have left the building.

He is gone when I return to the elevator lobby, but still I take my time to get downstairs.  He is not smoking a cigarette outside, not waiting to ambush me as he has done in the past, but still I wait. 

I take out my journal again, writing as I watch and listen to a man and woman arguing about how he treated their kid during his last visit.  It isn’t long before the argument settles into a tired, worn groove of arguments past:

“You spend all day at the beach instead of working,” she says. 

“You can’t hurt me anymore,” he says.

I put my head down and keep writing.  I no longer feel out of place.  I used to have these arguments with my ex in the hallways outside of the courtroom during my divorce proceedings.  My advanced degree didn’t shield me from this drama.  My ex and I don’t have these arguments anymore, because we simply don’t talk at all.  

However, I would never tell him he can’t hurt me anymore, because he can — by hurting my kids.  They are hurt most by the lack of a meaningful relationship with their father. That’s why I continue to participate in these proceedings, hearing after hearing — because I hope that this will somehow lead to some type of renewed relationship among my ex and the children.

But I am tired of waiting.

I’ll Get It!!!

May 13, 2009

I wrote this piece when my daughter, who is now 12, was 8, and just starting to talk to her friends on the phone.  Now that she’s 12, I find that things have turned out pretty much as I predicted back then…

“I’ll get it!” my daughter shouted over the din of the TV, some wannabe singer screeching out something on American Idol.  She practically jumped off the top bunk down to the floor.  “It might be Nick!”

Before I could say anything, she had answered the phone and was talking into it.  “It’s me!  Hey, Nick!”  Then to me: “Mom, I’m going to go get the other phone.  Can you hang up when I pick up?”

I nodded, still shell-shocked.  This child, who just a few minutes earlier had been arguing with me about the Idol wannabes (“Mo-om, Carrie soooo can sing!”), was no teenager.  She wasn’t even a pre-teen or tweener.  She had just celebrated her eighth birthday two months earlier. 

Granted, there was the whole early puberty thing — she had just undergone a whole series of tests to determine why she was already budding breasts and sprouting hairs, and earlier that week I finally had to stop denying her the right to wear the little training bras she had received as a Christmas present from her former babysitter.  (I still don’t know what a training bra is “training” the breasts to do.)  But I wasn’t ready for her to fly off the bed and grab the phone because she was expecting some boy to call.  And as I half-listened to my daughter’s side of her conversation with Nick, I was both satisfied that the conversation was entirely innocent, and disturbed by the harbinger of things to come.

My daughter has always found boys easier to befriend than girls.  Boys tend not to judge you based on what you’re wearing, or what clique you do or don’t belong to, or how cool anyone thinks you are.  At the same time, she has always longed for that one true girlfriend.  This eighth year of her life has been especially difficult, because with all the changes going on already in her body, she seems to need that elusive best girlfriend now more than ever.  Eight-year-old boys, who are silly and irritating most of the time, are a poor substitute.  

In my daughter’s case, with the simmering hormones of precocious puberty stirring up all kinds of emotions she can’t yet identify, let alone name, it’s inevitable that she’s going to start becoming truly aware that the boys she chats on the phone with, hangs out with after school, and has playdates and even sleepovers with, is a bona fide member of the opposite sex.  And, come to think of it, they’re kind of cute.  In my experience, that recognition usually blows the friendship to pieces.  I’m grateful she’s too young for that recognition to occur, but I know it’s going to happen — and when it does, I suspect (and fear) some of her male friendships won’t survive.

I listened to my daughter in the other room, talking to Nick about school, other kids and parents.  She spoke in cool, calm tones, without any of that exaggerated language, copied from Nickeledeon and Disney Channel tween-focused shows, that 8 year olds use when they want to talk the way they imagine teenagers do.  There was no “what-EVER!,” no “Oh.My.GOD!!!!”  It all sounded frighteningly grown up. 

After a few minutes, I had to see what was going on, because suddenly I couldn’t hear her side of the conversation.  Her voice seemed to have dropped an octave or two, and that’s when I knew it was time to get her off the phone.

“Okay, Cami, five minutes,” I said anxiously, trying to be fair, but wishing I’d just told her it was time to hang up.

“Okay!” came the again-audible response.  Phone privileges were still pretty new to her, so she was unusually malleable.

A few minutes later, I again couldn’t hear my daughter’s voice.  “Cami, time to get off!”

“I’m already off!  Nick’s mom told him it was time to hang up already!”

I smiled.  I knew there was a reason I liked Nick’s mom.  I was glad at least one of us hadn’t wimped out of our responsibility.

The next day, as I was leaving my daughter’s school after dropping her off, I ran into Nick and his mom. 

“So, our guys have become quite the little phone pals, I see,” I said.

“Yeah,” she grunted.  We shared a knowing smile, an unspoken expression of relief that they were still only 8.  Nick was oblivious to the parental disdain going on above his head.  But he didn’t call that night.  Fortunately, being only 8, my daughter didn’t even notice.

Pre-Teen Drama

March 21, 2009

This is a re-post of one of my favorites.  My daughter is now 13 and is still not allowed to wear makeup other than a little sheer lip gloss.  Hasn’t stopped her from trying, though.

I discovered my daughter’s MAC makeup purchase completely by accident, the way moms have been busting their children for generations.  In this case, it’s because at eleven, my daughter hasn’t learned the necessary skill of covering one’s tracks.  She dropped the receipt from her MAC store purchase on the floor of my bathroom. I almost threw away the receipt without looking at it, assuming it had fallen out of a bag I was now using as a trash liner. But something — call it mom’s intuition — made me look at it before I tossed it.

“A., Cammie” had purchased an eyelash curler (?) and black liquid eyeliner, for a grand total of $36.  I squinted at the receipt.  This had to be wrong.  Maybe our babysitter had told Cami to use her name, since our babysitter’s English is not very good.  But I knew that couldn’t be the case, because the babysitter was very good about keeping track of receipts.  Whenever I left money for her to buy milk or cat food or fruit or whatever, she always left the receipt, the exact change, and any necessary explanatory notes, in her neat handwriting but sometimes incomprehensible Spanglish. (more…)

A Delicate Balance

March 21, 2009

This is another favorite.  It’s a long story, but worth the ride.

Last Wednesday, I learned that having a babysitter whose primary language is Spanish can be a severe handicap when one of your kids is in the ER.

I was at a diversity conference dinner, catching up with former law firm colleagues and law school alumni, when I felt my cell phone vibrating in my purse. It was my babysitter, so I excused myself, slightly annoyed.  I was expecting her to simply be seeking my assistance with some minor bit of kid drama, like Randy refusing to do his homework, or Cami doing any number of things.

“Please, can you come to hospital, because Randy, he fall in the house.” (more…)