Noteworthy Single Mom Character #3

When I did my stint in Hollywood, I was 21 and about as stupid as the next club kid. From my apartment complex, you could see the searchlights criss-crossing the night sky on premiere night. Under the Tuscan Sun opened at Disney’s El Capitan theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, so we all got drunk and went downtown to go clubbing and stalk Diane Lane.

Unfortunately, you needed an armed gaurd to approach the red carpet, and we were too blitzed to deal with the crowds, so we went to increase our intoxication and bump and grind with the local trendsetters.

Watching Under The Tuscan Sun, now 5 years later, I can appreciate the movie itself, instead of clinging to those memories of Hollywood; a place that would have swallowed me whole had I stayed any longer. A movie-obsessed, club-obsessed, drunken addict does not belong in Hollywood, just the way a compulsive gambler does not belong in Vegas. I was way too eager to experience the celebrity lifestyle. I don’t know if I would have survived it.

I relate to this movie for two reasons: 1. Diane Lane’s statement “How are you supposed to survive someone saying, ‘I never loved you’ ? That should kill you, right there.” 2. Sandra Oh’s role as a single mom.

Both women play characters who are attempting to survive heartbreak. Diane Lane’s husband left her to start a family with a younger woman (hmm, yeah, I can relate to that). Sandra Oh plays a pregnant lesbian who is consquently ditched by her partner, who realized she “just wasn’t ready to be a mother after all.”

Ouch. Been there (except my partner was a man).

Sandra Oh’s part in Under the Tuscan Sun is very small, mostly there for comic relief, and to fulfill Diane Lane’s dream of “having a family” in her house. But that statement alone make the movie worthwhile. That a single mom and her daughter are recognized as a family; not a broken family, not half of a family, not a dysfunction family, but just a plain old family.

The love theme in the film is pretty obvious (being a chick flick and all). Its about surviving love, finding love, defining love, recognizing love, protecting love and falling in love. Both characters survive their pasts. Diane Lane finds her hot Italian love affair, only to realize her definition of love still continues to hurt and hinder her own self-worth. At one point, she takes on the role of a single mom, declaring herself “family” to a young man who is desperate to get the blessing of his True Love’s parents.

Sandra Oh falls in love with her daughter, exemplified in a scene where she dances around the courtyard, cooing to her baby in utter joy. Diane Lane calls out to her, but she is enrapt in oblivious mommyhood. Its in that moment that Diane Lane realizes her friend no longer needs to be comforted through her grief. The joy of being a parent outweighs the pain of love lost, even if our transformations aren’t as instantaneous as crying in one scene and dancing around a courtyard with our babies in the next.

The underlying message of the estrogen-infused Under The Tuscan Sunis “life goes on” (oh blah dee, oh blah da..), which is a good mantra for anyone who’s been through pain, misery and heartbreak. Plus what single mom/divorce’ doesn’t enjoy watching a shirtless Italian say “I’m going to make love all over you.”

Sometimes you just need a movie like that, especially when you haven’t had sex in 6 months.

Research

After experiencing an emotional breakdown at my parenting class, the counselor recommended a book to me. He said that it may give me some valuable “expert” advice on young children living in post-divorce situations. So hoping it would an asset to my case, I asked Jiji to get the book from the college library (our public library sucks).

Let me just say that my preparation for this case makes me feel like I’m writing my senior thesis again. Forget that, this is twice as much work as I did in college. I have a case file that weighs 20 lbs.  I thought I was finally free of carrying a diaper bag. WRONG! Its been replaced by a tote full of books, notes, journals, files, legal pads, emails and scads of internet research.

Yesterday I finished a 7-page explanation of why it is in “The Best Interest of the Child” to be with her mother. I looked up Colorado State Domestic Law: Title 14, Article 10, item 14-10-124 and its 13 clearly stated factors in which a custody decision is based on.

I went through each factor and applied them to my personal situation with Rooferman, listing every event which could fall under each category. I refered all events back to the actual journal entry with time, dates and details of the situations. I also made a list of witnesses who could verify the events if we ever get to trial.  Basically I made an outline, a friggin’ 7-page outline, and that’s only for physical custody, not “decision-making” responsibility.

I was very proud of my work. Looking at it, I don’t see how a judge could deny my claims that it would be in the best interests of the child if she continues to live with me. Then I read this book.

The book follows the lives of 8 different kids over the course of 25 years. All the kids grew up in a post-divorce situation, and all the kids were involved with some form of visitation and custody through the courts. The book is written by a child psychologist, who after witnessing the effects of custody arrangements, claims that the courts do nothing to protect and nurture the social, emotional and mental development of children. They follow a law, which is based on making sure the parents have equal rights to their children, and thus the children should be better off.

When I read this, my heart sank. All the research I’ve been doing, all the articles and interviews and personal accounts on visitation, custody, emotional growth of a child, toddler’s reactions to be separated from their primary caretaker, verbal and emotional manipulation by angry parents, grown children’s horrific tales of abandonment, detachment, loneliness, pain and suffering is useless in a courtroom. A judge has to look at what’s fair, what’s the law, and what are the parent’s rights. Where do the individual needs of a 2-year-old factor into that? How is that very subtle, yet extremely important issue become part of a court order?

I read all these deeply depressing stories about kids who, even though their parents were unhappy, wanted nothing more than the family to stay together. They were ripped from their former lives and forced into something they hated, feared and ultimately suffered from. The only thing the kids felt from going through the court system was powerlessness.

My daughter is 28 months old. We’ve been on our own since she was 9 months old. I may be wrong, due to my limited knowledge of early childhood development, but I doubt she has any memories of living with her dad. It has always been just us two. I have always been there. Her home is my home (in fact, my car is “her” car).

Every time I read a book on how divorce affects children, I think “Yeah, but I wasn’t married! My daughter has no conscious memory of me moving out of her dad’s house. There is no before and after for her.” All these other kids DO have that memory. My daughter doesn’t.

Suddenly I realized that my daughter doesn’t know her life is screwed up. She doesn’t know she comes from a broken family. All she knows is that her mommy loves her, she goes to school during the day, she comes home and goes to sleep at night. She plays in the park. She sees her grandparents, and once in a blue moon she sees her dad. She is blissfully ignorant.  No one has told her that’s wrong. No one has told her she should be seeing her dad in order for her to have a more “normal” life. She doesn’t know what “Child’s best interest” is. All she knows is she feels safe and loved, and that bananas and chocolate soy milk totally rock.

I think about all those kids who don’t have a dad because he died, or because they have two moms, or they live with their grandparents. All those “broken” or “alternative” families. Do those kids feel less human, worse off? Are they just as happy as kids who are forced to go back and forth between two parents because a court decides it?

The idea of this not even being considered when I go to court pretty much floored me. I can’t stop the tears right now (but we all know how much I cry, right?)

LB has never been in Rooferman’s care, just one-on-one, but because her dad’s DNA runs through LB’s blood, he has just as much right to say he’s as competent a father as the next guy. LB’s teacher at daycare as spent more time nurturing her than daddy has. That’s basically what I’m faced with. I really can’t think of anything more horrifying right now.

What if all this research and preparation I’ve been doing is for nothing?

Do it yourself Divorce

Last night I went to the Pro Se Divorce Clinic sponsored by the Women’s Resource Center. I was nervous. I don’t know why. I guess I don’t have much faith in the court system, having seen a lot of friends go through legal agony and eventually losing. Even though Rooferman and I never actually took the vows, I figured it was free information, so what the hell.

The Divorce Clinic was presented by Colorado Legal Aide, who informed the group that the reason they put on Pro Se Clinics is that they have a 3-year waiting list for people wanting a divorce. 3 Year Waiting List. Christ, that probably means half of La Plata County wants a divorce! Sadly, I’ve already applied for Legal Aide, and do not qualify.

I don’t know what I was expecting when I walked into that room. I think I was waiting to be discouraged and intimidated by the court system, and my lack of legal knowledge. What did I leave with? Gratitude. Thankfulness. Even a tiny bit of confidence.

For the first time, I was glad Rooferman ditched me with the engagement ring still on my finger. I was the only person at the clinic who didn’t need to go through a divorce before filing for custody. After sitting through an hour and a half of explaining dissolution of marriage, financial assets, filing fees, due process, summons, certificate of service, freezing accounts, my head was spinning. I was totally overwhelmed. There was no WAY I would have remembered all that stuff, had I wanted to file for Divorce.

I looked across the table. There were three couples: one White, one Latino and one Navajo. The Latino couple didn’t say a word the entire 2 1/2 hours. The Native couple was on the ball. They knew their rights, they knew what questions they wanted to ask, they even knew how to work the high-tech coffee maker, while the rest of us balked at the single serving filters.

 The White couple totally baffled me. They laughed and joked with each other the entire time. They asked if they had to file all the same paperwork if they agreed on most issues and if they had to serve each other if they were still living together. I looked at them and thought: These people want a divorce? Why? They get along! They are civil. They look like they actually LIKE each other. The husband even gave his wife his coat when the temperature of the room dropped to 50 degrees.

I really should have been applauding them. They are going to have a great divorce. They probably won’t use the kids against each other. They may even remain friends. Maybe the fact that I can’t even have a phone conversation with my ex was pricking my ego. Maybe I assumed that all failed relationships end like mine, with pain, abandonment and bitterness.

I looked at this couple and my evil internal voice screamed “You get along! You treat each other with respect! Work it out! Don’t get divorced! Don’t you understand how much I wish I could have that?!”

I was judging them. I don’t know the details of their marriage. I don’t know what happened to make them think they couldn’t save their relationship. The pain and suffering of my life was like a black spot on their silky white marriage. After living with a man who would routinely tell me I was a half-ass, that I “didn’t take any pride in my daily work,” the fact that this man put his coat on his wife’s shoulders, triggered such an insane emotional response in me, that I really don’t know how to explain it. It was almost like they were obligated to me (just for treating each other like normal human beings) to work out their marriage.

In the end, I talked to the attorney who had so graciously volunteered her evening to heap information on us poor saps. She was very smart, very reassuring, and actually made me feel like I could do this on my own. I’ve been researching custody in Colorado for almost a year now. I’ve filled out the paperwork about 10 times, but never had the guts to submit them.

But you know what? I think I’m almost ready. I have perspective now, that my life could be a hell of a lot worse. I could be legally attached to this deadbeat. I could be financially responsible for the hot check he wrote last week. I’m not, and I’m grateful. And I really don’t have anything to be scared of.

Right?

P.S. The update on the hot check is nothing really. Poor Ruby went over to his house like I suggested, knocked on his door about 10 times, and waited. After a few minutes of no response, she left him a note in his truck, informing him of the situation. Wouldn’t even answer the door for his own mother.

I’m starting to think the day I pawned that ring was the best day of my life.