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Chivalry on the CTA—Not Dead Yet!

When we moved to Chicago, we dumped our car and now rely on mass transit for getting around. We feel good about reducing our carbon footprint and save money on fuel, insurance, and auto repairs.

 

And I can’t lie, when others deal with this kind of mess , we get to maliciously giggle, then send a quick thanks heaven-ward that we don’t have to dig out.

 

 

 

But there are times when having a car would be great. While our apartment building has a laundry facility, sparing us the horror of hauling clothes to a Laundromat via bus or train, we still need to visit the grocery store for food. I’ve seen those handy little carts so many people use to haul groceries (or laundry) I want one, but I’m leery of paying a whopping $40 only to have the wheel bearings give out a mile from home. Anyway, if Chicago can’t keep the potholes out of Michigan Avenue, I doubt they place a high priority on maintaining the sidewalks in my far-northside neighborhood.

 

 

So, I carry our groceries by hand, usually in small frequent forays from the Dominicks near our house. Some of the worst trips include 25# bags of dog food, cat food, or cat litter. But even the two gallons of milk we buy per week are rough on a crowded Red Line train from downtown. I usually hit the store after picking Aleesa up from school, so not only am I juggling over 17# of milk, but I’m also wrangling a kid through crowds of commuters. Murphy’s Law dictates that the size of the crowd on the train is directly proportionate to the amount of groceries I am carrying—the bulkier the load, the more crowded the train.

I needed milk today, and on our train ride home there weren’t any open seats next to each other. I’m not afraid to sit Aleesa down next to a respectable-looking stranger, as long as I can be close by. I tapped the arm of a young man listening to his headphones, and asked if he’d move his bag, which he did politely. I rested the bulging plastic bags of milk in an empty seat across the aisle, and stood watch. The guy in the seat next to my bags gave me the “Chicago piss eye,” pointedly adjusting his elbow away from my load. I ignored him.

Suddenly, I felt a tap on my shoulder.

“Miss, would you like two seats together? You can have mine.” A well-dressed gentleman indicated the seats he had just vacated.

Could it be? Are there really chivalrous gentlemen still in existence, and would they possibly ride the CTA?

Not only did his chivalry astound me, but such good manners are hard to come by nowadays. Seated teenagers, their dirty shoes taking up available seats, ignore the elderly who come onboard a crowded train. Mothers with small children are forced to stand while healthy businessmen sit with laptops open in front of them. I love this town, but sometimes its citizens can be real jerks. Stumbling across the occasional nice guy is a breath of fresh air.

I declined since ours was the next stop, but I gave him a big smile.

“Thank you. You’re very generous, and I appreciate it.”

“You’re welcome. It’s my pleasure.”

The train came to a stop, and we all got off of the train. I watched him hurry ahead of us on the platform.

“Hey Aleesa, did you hear that man? Wasn’t he polite?”

Her hand grasped mine a little tighter. “Yeah, he remembered his manners.”

And thank goodness for it!

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Who is this Tia person anyway?

Just the possibility of answering this question sends me running for the Xanex bottle. Seriously, if I can’t figure out my future in real life, how the heck am I supposed to answer the question as it pertains to the blogosphere?

Calm down Ms. Burtt. Sit back and relax. Inhale. Exhale. Do this three times. Good, now don’t you feel better?

Yes, much. Thank you.

Okay. Your blog is called “They Call Me Tia?”

Yes.

Good. So who is Tia?

Well, I am. At least I used to be.

Used to be?

My fiancé’s daughter has called me Tia since we started dating 4 years ago. She just turned six last month. But now that I’m thinking about going to grad school in Iowa, we don’t know what will happen. I mean, should we try to keep the family together even though I’ll be 260 miles away for most of the three years it will take me to graduate? Is it fair to us as a couple? Is it fair to a six year old? I don’t know. Should we break up? Would that be easier on everyone? And if we break up, would I still get to be Tia? What if he finds another woman, another woman to be in his daughter’s life? Would she become Tia?

How does this make you feel?

It feels like crap.

Would you rather stay here in Chicago for your MFA degree?

That would be nice. But there aren’t any Non Fiction MFA programs near Chicago which offer full funding with teaching experience. There’s the University of Illinois, of course, but Illinois is in debt to its University for $467 million dollars. According to Professor Lisa Stolley, their Grad program only accepted ONE student this year. Personally, I don’t like those odds. According to this year’s MFA rankings by Poets & Writers, to stay within my focus of Non Fiction and receive funding, I have to go to Iowa, Alabama, Minnesota, Ohio, Wyoming, or Pennsylvania. Of those universities, Iowa is the closest. Lucky for me, it’s been the top rated program in the country since 2008, and in the top ten for as long as I can remember. Of course, there’s Northwestern, where I’m going for my Bachelor’s degree, but it ranks 91st with no funding or teaching opportunities. So, I’m stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place, answering a question as old as the 1960’s Women’s Lib movement: do I choose my family or myself?

Would it be so hard to have both?

You’re not a parent are you?

No.

Well let me enlighten you. Why don’t you try writing the next great American novel in between PB&J sandwiches, Girl Scout meetings, birthday parties, sleepovers, PTA, laundry, housecleaning, and generally raising a future well functioning young woman? It ain’t easy pal, I’ll tell you that much.

You mentioned a fiancé. Is he in the picture?

Yes, he’s doing all the things listed above on top of earning a Psychology degree. Oh, and did I forget to mention the custody thing?

Custody thing?

His ex-wife, the on-again off-again drug addict who vacillates between playing Mommy-of-the-Year and the best argument for mandatory sterilization since Octomom, lives in Lake County. Despite her rap sheet, the court system believes she deserves to be in her daughter’s life, regardless of her obvious threat to the raising of said future well functioning young woman. As a result, my fiancé and his daughter must stay in Illinois, within range of the above mentioned bane-of-my-existence so when she manages to pull her lips off the pipe, she gets her one night of visitation.

So he can’t move with you to Iowa?

That’s pretty much what I just said.

Can’t you go to court and have the paperwork overturned?

Can you loan me $50,000? Oh and after that, can you convince Illinois, in my opinion one of the worst states for Father’s Rights, that just because someone has a vagina does not mean they are a good mother? Because in case after case, this one included, children are left with women unfit to be parents.

How does this make you feel?

Stop saying that.

Sorry. Where do you see yourself in five years?

At this rate I see myself in a padded room wearing a straight jacket. But besides that, I would like to see myself as a tenured professor teaching future writers. I’d also like to be the Tia of an 11 year old girl.

So you see yourself as Tia regardless of where your future takes you?

Let me tell you something. As far as I’m concerned, I’ll be Tia ’til the day I die. Whether I’m in Iowa or Chicago, Chad or Timbuktu, that little girl will always belong in my heart. She’s my kid, end of story. I love her whether she’s bad or good, mine or someone else’s. She’s a tough cookie—I think it would be easier to parent a piranha. But she’s mine.

It seems to me, you’ve answered the question then.


Yes, I suppose I have, haven’t I?


‘Tis the Season…

…to ride a Chicago El train?

For anyone who’s ever been on a CTA train, you know it’s no ride in the park. Many mornings the acidic scent of urine permeates the air, mixed with that alluring perfume, Eau de Unwashed. The soles of your shoes stick to spilled God-only-knows-what and regurgitated who-the-hell-knows. Who can forget that weird funk caked to your favorite seat? He who hastily sits on the damp faux velour of a CTA train seat risks an entire day of vile pants.

But for a few short weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the Chicago Transit Authority transforms one train into a Winter Wonderland of Christmas delights. The CTA Holiday Train moves between all eight lines of the train system. Last Sunday, I lucked out just as the Holiday Train passed through the Wilson Red Line stop. Holiday music filled the air, and the platform lit up with the red and green glow of Christmas illumination. I couldn’t help but grin.

Passengers flooded out of the cars, but they hurried to hop on to a different car on the same train. Cameras flashed in a lightning storm of paparazzi glee. There he was! The main man, Santa Claus himself! And not a cheap imitation Santa on loan from a mall either. No! CTA’s Santa Claus sported a fluffy white beard and real rosy cheeks. Instead of a pipe, he held a microphone and “HO HO HO’d” to every little (and not so little) kid he saw. Elves passed out candy canes, and attendants helped direct the traffic of excited riders. Though his reindeer were of the plastic variety (it must be hard to convince Rudolph and Co. to ride the El for hours at a time. Why ride a train when you can fly?), Santa and his crew of helpers braved the mid November chill on their converted open flatbed train car, surrounded by faux snowdrifts, Christmas trees, and Nutcrackers.

A group of men and women near me grumbled and sighed loudly, stepping back from the train to wait for the next one. I overheard one well dressed lady comment, “I HATE when they do this. It’s so inconvenient. And what a waste of money!”

So what’s the big deal? CTA did what every company does this time of year: cash in on the holiday propaganda. Not so fast though, you Scrooge-like doubters.

In this city, thousands of children won’t get to sit on Santa’s lap in a warm cushy shopping mall. Their wish lists will go unanswered, no gifts will greet them beneath their non-existent Christmas trees. Let’s face it; Chicago is home to a LOT of underprivileged communities overflowing with children. So perhaps, the only glimpse of Santa many of these kids will catch might be out on a dirty El platform. Since CTA makes sure the Holiday Train hits every line, Santa will pay a visit to neighborhoods from Beverly (via the Red Line) on the far Southside to wealthy Wilmette (on the Purple Line) in the far northern suburbs. To the West, Santa will make a pass through the Rosemont neighborhood on his way to O’Hare on the Blue Line.

Back at the Wilson stop, I mouthed a silent ‘thank you’ to Santa. He nodded and announced over his microphone, “You’re welcome little girl. See you in a month!”

If it made my day, imagine what such an acknowledgement could do for a less fortunate child somewhere down the line. I, for one, am glad the CTA gives in to the season’s temptations. I can’t imagine a better way they could spend my $2.25 fare money.


Please Remain Calm…

The Beatles Hit iTunes

For the first time since iTunes debuted on the net in January 2001, music lovers can now purchase The Beatles’ music from Apple’s online music store. I know, try to stay seated. I’m excited too.

As I type, the fan on my laptop struggles to keep the hard drive cool. The poor thing’s running in overtime playing iTunes’ preview of all 256 songs from The Beatles Box Set (a musical listening experience in and of itself) while processing the voluminous queue of downloads onto my iPod. Plus, my web browser can hardly keep track of where I want to be as I switch back and forth between my work and the iTunes store to add songs on a rapidly growing wish list. I can only imagine the tidal wave of electricity Apple’s server must consume to keep up with hordes of downloads. I have a mental image of Silicon Valley’s power station near Apple’s headquarters flipping a massive dusty switch to convert the entire area to a nuclear back-up just to satisfy the voracious appetite of Beatle lovers as they gorge on truly exceptional music downloads. Here at home, my high speed connection skips and pixelates, coughing and spluttering from iTunes slow feedback.

At 33, I arrived late to the Beatles’ fan club. And while you point at your screen and snicker, yes, I know this brings shame upon my household. Thank God, A History of Rock and Roll class opened a door into my soul, uncovering a hole in my music aesthetic only the Fab Four could fill. Sure, I’d bought 1 when it came out in late 2000. Who hadn’t heard and loved all of the boys’ chart toppers? Love Me Do, I Want to Hold Your Hand, A Hard Day’s Night…I could go on and list all 27 songs. And I guarantee all but the most gnome-like hermit would exclaim, “Oh I LOVE that song!” But since I could never justify the investment of $150 for The Beatles Box Set, the hidden gems like I am the Walrus, Norwegian Wood, Tomorrow Never Knows, and You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away almost slipped through the cracks of my listening life. I shudder to think of what might have happened had Professor Kramer not brought his phenomenal musical library to class, exposing me to the light that is Beatles music.

Of course, not everyone agrees with my rejoice over the mainstream digitization of Beatles music, making individual songs available to the pick-and-choose trolls of iTunes. The boys certainly fought against the pressure to please the masses, as evidenced by their retreat from the live concert venue. Some fans have expressed dismay over the iTunes deal. But in the end, whatever helps expose younger generations to the phenomenal sound stylings of John, Paul, George, and Ringo scores a big hit in my book. Seriously, in a time when our youth scream for this guy or a crazy chic wearing meat, shouldn’t we be glad?

My Foggy Trip

My horse Murphy spent the night at the Doc Riddle’s place down on Hopewell Road, and I needed to get him home before I was due in the tack store at 9. I’d ridden him over last night when I discovered his cornea had a little ulcer on it. I’d grown spooky about ulcers after watching a few take off and steal the sight from a couple of really nice horses. Doc looked at the eye, and gave me a tube of ophthalmic antibiotic ointment and some atropine. Since dark had long since taken over, he said I could leave Murphy in one of their stalls and pick him up the next morning. He gave me a ride home in his battered green Jeep Cherokee, his vet supplies rattling around in back.

I lived just up the road from my barn, but Doc Riddle’s Canvasback Farms was over two miles away. The next morning, I hopped a ride from my roommate Evan on his way to work at the oil company. His old pickup truck was cold, and the fog just took your breath away. We could barely see ten feet in front of us. I felt a little nervous about my ride. Maybe I should wait until this afternoon, but as nice as Doc was, he was still a business man. He’s charge me a day’s worth of board if I didn’t get Murphy out early, and I just didn’t have the cash to spare.

Evan’s truck rattled away up the driveway. I walked through the early morning gloom, hardly able to see the sun peeking up over the bare bean field to the east. I slid open the barn door and Murphy’s big red face popped over his stall door as I came in.

“Hey buddy. How was your sleepover?” He tossed his head, and reached for the peppermint I took out of my pocket. My saddle and the rest of my tack sat on the rack where I’d left it last night. I unlatched the stall door and walked in. Murphy rubbed his face against my shoulder, then pinned his ears and made a pass at me with curled lips.

“Don’t be a jerk man. We’re going.” I ran the soft black horsehair brush over his shoulder and back. He lifted a warning back foot, and I slapped his rump. “You’re such a crab Murph. Chill out.” Reaching in to my back pocket, I took out a pick and cleaned his feet. I looked at my watch and sighed. “We gotta go or I’m gonna be late.”

I tossed my saddle pad and sheepskin half pad onto Murphy’s back, then the saddle. I clipped on his breast collar, and tightened the girth. WHAM! An angry hoof lashed out and kicked the stall wall. I loved him, but Murphy was your typical red head: opinionated and not afraid to make a point. I picked up the bridle but the cold moisture from the fog had made the bit uncomfortably chilly. I held it in my hands to warm it. Murphy lifted his head and settled his chin on my shoulder, slowly increasing the weight until my knees nearly buckled. “Aren’t you in a mood today. I ought to put this bit in your mouth and let you suffer.” He sneezed.

With now cold hands, I put the bridle on, and Murphy willingly gobbled the warm bit into his mouth. I tossed a cooler over his back and led him out of the stall. One of the grooms followed me to the mounting block, an old cottonwood stump, out into the foggy morning. “Es muy bromoso Senorita. Cuidado.”

“Oh si amigo. Gracias.” I tightened the girth and slid my stirrups down. The leathers slapped against the smooth grain of the saddle flap. The groom held Murphy’s reins and the opposite stirrup as I mounted. I pulled the front half of the cooler around my legs leaving the back to cover Murphy’s rump. He sidled forward as the groom released the reins. “Adios Senorita! Cuidado!”

I waved as Murphy set out up the paved driveway, his hoofbeats sounding close in the fog. I pulled up at Hopewell Road, listening closely for cars. I’d never see them in the thick gloom. With a quick squeeze of my calves, Murphy swung up into a trot to cross the street. He bounded up the grassy berm and into the harvested bean field just east of Canvasback Farm.

I stopped him in dismay. How could I get home in this stuff? I could barely see the level ground of the field, let alone the treeline across the way. The pale disc of the sun was dimly visible, but just then another thick cloud ran low across the horizon, blocking out the one directional marker I had. I didn’t want to follow Hopewell. The cars would never see me, making the trip hideously dangerous. I looked down at Murphy. His long neck stretched out before me. His ears pricked forward and he raised one hoof to impatiently paw the dirt in front of us. He knew. He knew the way home without seeing it.

“Alright. I’m trusting you man. Get us home.” I loosened the reins to the buckle and let him set off at a forward walk.

At first the motion disoriented me. I floated along in the clouds, the only solid sensation the comforting feel of Murphy walking confidently beneath me. I felt dizzy. But when I looked down, the long red neck before me gave me balance. Beads of moisture gathered in his mane, making him look dusty. His ears stayed forward, and his stride never wavered. I knew the lay of the land from memory, but I couldn’t orient where we were. Suddenly, a grassy irrigation ditch appeared before us, and Murphy headed to his left. Ah, a landmark. I knew the bridge was north of Canvasback, and yes! There it was! We crossed the dirt bridge and continued. I knew the trail along the woods wasn’t too far away.

Hounds baying sounded to my right. I knew the hunt ran southeast of Canvasback, but they should be well over five miles away. The muffling clouds hovering close to the ground conducted sound much better than air due to the heavy moisture. It was disconcerting being out here without a guide, but Murphy never wavered.

Beads of fog gathered on my eyelashes and I raised my gloved hand to wipe my eyes. I turned around and glanced at the dark green wool of the cooler draped over Murphy. A grey film of dew covered it, and rivulets had begun to trace downward though not a drop of rain fell.

Suddenly Murphy turned again to the left, jolting me back around in the saddle. We’d hit the trail. I knew we’d have to enter the woods and this made me nervous. Would I be able to see the tree branches, or would they swipe me from the saddle? Sure enough, Murphy turned to the right into the trees. The leaves had almost all fallen and the bare reaching limbs stretched above us. I could see a little further, but still not to the creek I knew ran through the middle of this patch of forest. I couldn’t get around it without going far out of my way and into the road. My heart beat a little faster. This was the part of the journey I worried about the most.

Here in the woods, I could hear the foggy moisture dripping into the leaf litter. My fleece jacket had begun to leak, and I shivered in the chill air. Murphy shook his head as a drip made it into his ear, and water flew from his body as if he’d just taken a swim. He picked up the pace, and instinctively, I gathered myself. I didn’t want to interfere with what only he could see, so instead of picking up my reins, I grabbed a handful of mane. Sure enough, the wide gap of the creek appeared from the mist. With two bold canter strides, Murphy collected himself and jumped across the narrowest part of the creek. A twig smacked off my cheek, and from the sting, I was pretty sure the trickle down my face was blood.

As I leaned down to wipe my face, Murphy cantered out into the clearing. In front of us, the blessed pasture fence stretched to the right. A welcoming chorus of neighs reached us as the herd, who must have heard us coming through the woods, galloped up the greet us. I knew where we were now, and I let Murphy trot around the southern edge of the pasture and up to the barn. I dismounted as the barn owner walked out. “I wasn’t sure you were going to make it through all this fog.”

“Me either. Thank God Murphy knew the way home!” I unwrapped another peppermint and Murphy’s soft lips took it from my palm.

“You should have known he would. I bet he heard me pour the grain all the way over at Canvasback.”

“Probably. You can’t keep this guy from his breakfast. Still, he never faltered, even at the creek jump.” Suddenly, the sun burned through the fog, lighting up the whole of the pasture with a reverential light.

“I guess when you can’t trust your eyes, horse sense is the next best thing.”

 

 

 

Home for the Holidays

I’m home in Indiana for my Dad’s birthday. My sis flew in as well, so we’re spending a weekend reminiscing, and ribbing each other mercilessly. On one hand, it’s rough feeling the need to defend one’s life choices to the people who’ve known me the longest (and sometimes the least). But on the other side, it’s amazing to be part of a group of 4 adults reaffirming one of the closest bonds on earth, seeing how we’ve all become individuals with different experiences.

But I will say this: In a time when so many families barely make it past the first wedding anniversary, a family like ours is a testament to love, the strength of a family, and the unending power of friendship.

Now, if only I can make it back to Chicago with my sanity.

The Peanut Revelation

School is tough these days, all on top of the extra responsibilities like parenting, eating, and ignoring the horrific dustbunnies stalking us beneath the furniture.  Casey is now in school three nights per week, and I’m gone to school four days per week.

Now that I’m on frequent solo flights with the five year old, my cooking skills (always questionable) face an onslaught of Kindergarten taste trials, which ought to terrify even the most stalwart of chefs.

On Monday, I went with an old standby: 

Kraft Blue Box Mac and Cheese.  Aleesa mentioned to me how tired she was of macaroni, and I agreed, swearing to do better tomorrow.

So Tuesday, I ventured forth into that male domain,

the BBQ.  Aleesa then informed me she didn’t like black on her hot dogs, and how she wished Daddy was home to “play with the fire.”  I agreed, as I blew out the flames engulfing the chicken breasts.

But tonight, I was just too tired to attempt any culinary acrobatics, so we walked down the street to Five Guys, a burger joint with the catchy addition of all-you-can-eat bulk peanuts.

Aleesa and I sat there shelling legumes to Yes’s Owner of a Lonely Heart pumping out of the overhead speakers.  As our heads bobbed in unison, I caught a fleeting glance of the young woman sitting across from me, her Princess sunglasses perched on her head holding her hair out of her eyes, just like mine.  Her forehead wrinkled as she struggled to crack open another nut, and I froze, transfixed at the sight.

For just a moment, I wasn’t the parent scolding the rowdy five year old for screwing around.  I wasn’t warning her to wait for me at the crosswalk, or not to fall down on the pavement.  I didn’t have to remind her to be nice, say please and thank you, or chew with her mouth closed.  In that second, I realized that if Casey and I can stick it out through the hard times, struggling through school, selling plasma to buy groceries, and arguing over what to do when the loan money runs out, I’ll have a beautiful lady to hang out with, one who enjoys the music I enjoy, loves the food I love, and has an infinite fascination with minute work like picking the crusty shells off  peanuts, just like I used to do with my own Dad.

Who says fast food is bad for you?

Just a Quick One

Casey and I are taking an all day Greek Mythology class together on Saturdays, and I try to pack our lunch instead of overpaying for it at the school’s Cafe.  After Friday’s dinner, I had a leftover chicken breast and a few rolls so I stored them in one of my highest quality Tupperware containers:

Hey don't knock it, I have a matched set.

We went to bed a little late and as a result, woke up late in a mind fog. I grabbed lunch out of the fridge, we threw books into bags, gave the dogs a quick walk outside, then scrambled out the front door. We hurried to the train, but still made it to class a few minutes late.
Come lunch time, we went downstairs to the Cafe, each bought a drink, and settled down for a nice lunch of sliced chicken breast on crusty sourdough rolls.
I opened the tupperware, and much to my dismay, saw this:

In all the morning’s groggy hurry, I grabbed the butter tub instead of the lunch.  So we sat in the middle of Northwestern University’s Cafe staring hungrily at a 45 oz. tub of butter.

(Many thanks to my friend Jolene, who bought us real food instead!)

So typical these days…*sigh*

Sorry for the prolonged absence.  Don’t give up on me yet guys–my class load backs off this week and I’ll try to start posting regularly again soon!

A Word About Mothers

It’s hard to be a Mom.

Being a Mom means caring for another small person more than yourself. It means putting everyone else ahead, picking up the toys, washing the laundry, folding the laundry, putting the laundry away. Make dinner. Run the bathtub. Wash the hair, rinse the hair, brush the tangles out of the hair. Buy new clothes, and new shoes again this month since the old ones don’t fit anymore.  Being a Mom to a young child is a never ending race to make sure they get everything they need, most of what they want, and then a few surprises just because you love them.

Being a Mom of an older child takes twice as much patience but just as much effort.  Worse, that cute little person is now a much bigger little person who hates you half of the time, and spends the rest of the time thinking you’re an idiot.  It’s still doing the laundry, picking up the dirty dishes, and making dinner.  It’s still buying clothes and shoes, not because they don’t fit but because “MOM!  EVERYONE ELSE HAS IT!”  It involves driving to this practice or that mall.  Parties, sleepovers, functions, and get-togethers.  Being a Mom is like driving a cab in Chicago.  Without the tips.

Being a Mom means taking all of the blame and none of the glory.  When they succeed, it is in spite of you.  When they fail, it is because of you.  You usher them through an early life of lurking illnesses and unseen dangers.  You thank God when they make it to adulthood safely.  You’d trade your soul to the devil just to get them there.

Being a Mom is the best job on the planet!  If you forget, pull out the handprints pressed in clay, the homemade cards, the macaroni noodle necklaces, and the pottery ashtray.  You are the reason.  Some person, no matter how frustrating, or how annoying, no matter how much they hate you, or think you are an idiot, thought of you first when their teacher asked them to create a gift for someone they loved.  You get the seat closest to the bride and groom, and you’re always the first called on the telephone, whether the message is good or bad.

So Moms, give yourself a pat on the back–you’ve done something incredible.  You created a life, and isn’t that the most amazing accomplishment ever?

Update and Thanks

I am so grateful for all the good wishes people have sent out regarding yesterday’s post.  I thought I would offer something of an explanation, and an update.

Aleesa is fine.  We drove up, still with no success at contacting anyone on the phone.  When we got to the house, it was empty, which we knew could happen but decided to do anyway.  The police station was a few blocks away, so we went there and discussed the situation with an officer.  Not surprisingly, there was little anyone could do.  Without our custody papers (which we’d absentmindedly left at home in the rush out the door), the police could do nothing.  With no clear proof that Aleesa was in danger, they could not offer much more than some advice, which I’m going to pass along to everyone here.

Our custody arrangement gives Casey residential custody of his daughter.  All decisions about her health and education must be made jointly.  Her mother does little to participate in this unless it serves her own purposes, but the right is hers nonetheless.  Holidays are split, with Mother’s Day and mom’s birthday belonging to the mother, and vice versa for the father.  Other holidays must be split evenly in a grown up fashion, which is to say, ex wife complains and bitches, and Casey does his best to keep the peace.  She owes child support, including back pay from three years-worth of our custody.  Since she has worked so seldom, nor when she has held a job has she even tried to pay, we’ve never received one cent.  Yes, there are options out there, but they don’t mean anything if she isn’t working.  She has a small job now, and if she tries to claim Aleesa on a tax return, we will make sure to block it.

Court ordered visitation is from Sunday at noon until Monday at 8 pm.  And this is the sticking point in the eyes of the police.  Visitation has moved around, both for her mom’s convenience as well as ours.  If Aleesa misses every Monday from school (not to mention part of Tuesday since we’d get home off the train at 10 pm with an 8 o’clock pickup) our preschool would not allow her to be enrolled.  And with Kindergarten starting in three months, the decision was made some time ago to switch visitation to Saturday-Sunday.  But without the ability to pay the hefty fees charged by our lawyer, we face several risks going alone to court to change the papers to reflect the new arrangement.

This means that if Aleesa is with her mom at any time other than her court ordered visitation, such as this week which we generously offered to her mom for Mother’s Day, then we’ve willingly given her to her mother and have little recourse with the police.  The only thing we could do is wait until Monday night at 8 pm and if she is not available at that time, we could then request police assistance.

“Don’t give Aleesa to her mom then.”

Yes, it seems as simple as that, doesn’t it?  But Aleesa loves her mother, no matter what.  And while I wish the bitch would fall off the planet, when she is clean and has her head on straight, she is not a bad mother–she’s actually a slightly better mother than I am since she likes to color pictures, watch cartoons, she isn’t trying to do homework, or write a blog, a book, a resume, a cover letter, or prepare for an interview.  She’s fun.  How does anyone look into the eyes of their child and tell them that, even though mommy loves her and mommy wants to see her and mommy isn’t in a homeless shelter this weekend and mommy isn’t smoking crack today, that mommy is living in a nice house with a backyard and a new boyfriend on his best behavior, NO, you cannot go stay with mommy today so stop crying and let Tia finish her homework for class tonight.  I defy anyone to answer these questions, make these decisions easily, without making a few mistakes in the eyes of others.

I’m telling you all of this as a warning.  God forbid you ever get a divorce or end up in a custody battle.  God forbid you ever have to split your child’s life in half, with the love for mommy and the love for Daddy in direct opposition to one another.  Make your decisions carefully.  Make sure if you set up your visitation rights, you do so with an eye to the future.  Because if you have to go back to court, you may not have the money for a lawyer to guide you down the slippery slope of the law.  And if you have to go back to court, you may not be the only one with updates to the paperwork.  Your ex can introduce whatever they want as well, and you might just find yourself in a worse position than you were in beforehand.

Aleesa is fine.  As we drove away from the house, there they were, a happy laughing family of four walking down a sunny sidewalk, coming home from flying kites at the park.  We stopped, and discovered mommy’s phone was surprisingly turned off, that she’d never received any of our calls for two days.  Oops.  And Aleesa was having such a good time.  We felt guilty.  Guilty for being paranoid, guilty for talking to the police, guilty for spending money we don’t have on a car we didn’t need.  We felt stupid when we saw our child happy and enjoying a visit with her mother that isn’t there very often.  So we made up an excuse, spent a few minutes with Aleesa loving on her, telling her how much we missed her, and that, yes, she could stay with mommy for a few more days.  We made the best decision we could at that moment.

And no, we’re not happy about it.

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