Back to Single Motherhood

My marriage has ended. The Man finally moved out on Monday, and will now need a new nickname, although I am not supposed to write about him anywhere. It was unexpected, and there was no reason given. It made for a hellish summer. And that’s all I’ll say about that. Now it’s over, and we are looking forward to new habits, ways of being, and opportunities.

It is good (and also sad) that I have experience to fall back on and help carry me through. I’m watching The Boy like a hawk, and have also had him in counseling for other issues this summer, and I think it helps him to have another outlet. There has been much upheaval in his world, both at home and at school, and there is more to come. It’s so hard to be a teenager. And then add autism. And then add people leaving you unexpectedly (your stepdad, band director, favorite assistant principal…). Through all this, he’s been handling everything like a pro. LIKE A PRO. He had one major meltdown this summer. ONE. His transition back to school has been smooth as silk. He amazes me every day, and I am so thankful for him. So thankful.

I am getting back into my writing, and it feels amazing. I’m preparing for NaNoWriMo this November, and have been selected as a Municipal Liaison for my region (which means I help coordinate events and support for others participating in NaNoWriMo). I’m also taking a writing course offered to NaNoWriMo participants through Wesleyan University in Connecticut (online), and it has been an awesome experience and quite validating.

As always, my closest friends, and my incredible parents have been my rock and have seen me through to the other side. Thank you all for being so patient. Onward and Upward, or as my favorite Doctor (#10) from Doctor Who says, “Allons-y!”

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The Boy and I at a bowling party hosted by our local Autism Society Chapter this summer

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Evolution of a Stepdad

The Man and I have been married for almost three years, and together for about six and a half. He’s been involved in The Boy’s life since he was nine years old. As I’ve mentioned before, he was the one to teach him how to ride a bike, he’s taught him to surf, how to operate the riding lawnmower, and countless other life lessons (including using the plunger the other night!). The ex was around until The Boy was six and a half. Suffice it to say that The Man has been more of a dad to The Boy in his memory.

When we first married, The Man was quick to classify his relationship to The Boy. “That’s my stepson,” he’d say when we were introduced to someone new. It never hurt me or The Boy to be introduced in this way, but it was something I noticed. You see, The Man has a grown daughter he doesn’t see much. And she was very young when he and her mom split up. Then she moved six hours away, but he made the effort to be in her life, made the drive to see her every other weekend, took her on trips, chaperoned her school trip to Washington DC, brought her to the beach in the summer, paid for much of her college and her car, and actually paid more than what he was asked in child support. He sees the other side of the coin, and always respected the fact that the ex was and is The Boy’s dad. He never wanted to replace him.

But over the years, that line has softened. He has grown protective of our boy. He is more comfortable voicing his opinions on his upbringing (while respecting the fact that I have the final say). The two of them have begun to have their own private jokes and rituals. And he often refers to him as “our son,” in casual conversation with others who may not know the whole situation. And I notice. ❤

like riding a bike

Risk

I’m not going to get into the habit of writing about work, but I wanted to let you know that my new situation is really, really good. And there’s a reason I’m sharing this with you today.

My old job, the one that “brought me to my knees” was a decent paying job, especially for our area. And it took me five months to get it. So for a year and half, I was miserable, thinking I couldn’t leave because I really had it pretty good, except for the screaming and yelling, the unreasonable demands, the constant checking up on the weekends… What does that sound like to you? An abusive relationship? Because it was. I saw it in all of the other people I worked with, too. “It’s not bad all the time,” or “It’s much better when he’s not in the office/ in the winter/ when he’s in a good mood,” or “There’s just nothing else out there.” Scary stuff, right there.

In my big picture way of looking at things, I see a parallel. This is another time in my life where I took a risk and said enough was enough. Life is too short to be so miserable everyday. And it wasn’t pretty. It was hard to be a single mom. And it was hard working retail for minimum wage. I did a lot of soul-searching, and it was painful. There were times in both cases where I thought, “Is this it? Is this all there is?” But there were benefits to both, too. At least I was free from a toxic relationship. At least I could do things the way I wanted to. At least I had an opportunity to learn a great deal. (And I ended up loving being a single mom, except for being lonely).

And then, something wonderful happens that changes your life around. And you realize your instincts were right. There are really, really good men out there who know how to treat others. And there are really, really good jobs out there where you actually get a lunch break with a side of respect. My advice is this: trust your instincts, and take that risk. It may not be sunshine and lollipops immediately, but life is too short to miserable. You deserve more.

In the midst of winter, I found that there was, within me, and invincible summer.

How I Know

The Boy is what I call not-quite-verbal. He can speak, had years of speech therapy which started with teaching him basic words like “running” and “ball” with flash cards. He enjoys words a great deal, and finds puns and double entendres highly entertaining. One of his obsessions is “ugly sounds” in the band class, and when I remind him that reading The Hunger Games is on our schedule for the evening, he says, “Reed!” back to me, with a perfect imitation of the sound of a reed instrument squeaking. He then explains the joke, that “reed” r-e-e-d is not the same as “read” r-e-a-d, and which one did I mean? Haha.

But ask him what he did in school today? Crickets. Not a peep. Ask him where his field trip is on Friday? Not a word. It’s not as if he doesn’t know. He just cannot form the words. And due to his verbosity at school about his favorite topics, those who know little about him or about autism assume a lot.

Sometimes, they can't tell us what hurts. We just have to notice.He also will never tell me he is experiencing pain, which worries this mama. In fourteen years, The Boy has never once complained of a headache, but he’s probably had one. And he definitely will not tell me if his dad’s absence and lack of communication is causing him pain, either. I have always told The Boy that he can call his dad anytime he likes. He has never taken me up on the offer. He has difficulty talking to him on the phone on the rare occasions that his dad calls him because he has difficulty creating conversation, and his dad doesn’t understand the types of questions to ask.

But I can still tell. When getting dressed, he will switch from the t-shirt I chose to the Steelers t-shirt for the day (his dad is a Steelers fan and got him the shirt one Christmas). He will ask me random questions about what his dad’s cats are doing. Little things that let me know that he’s thinking about and missing his dad.

It’s a different type of listening. More of a “noticing,” but it’s a huge skill set we autism parents develop. We use it to notice the ways our kiddos self-advocate and self-calm, so we can help them replicate the strategy if it works. We use it to notice a budding new interest that we can encourage.We use it, as in this case, to notice when they might be feeling a bit low or lonely and need some extra cuddles and attention. Basic parenting, sure, but supercharged.

The Angry Ex, 8 Years Later

numbers-time-watch-whiteIt’s been just about eight years since The Boy’s dad walked out and I filed for divorce. It’s been so long since The Boy’s dad lived with him, I wonder just how much he remembers from those years. He was only six, after all, when his dad first decided to live downstairs, and then decided to move four states away.

For a time, we were both angry. Then I lost interest, and he remained angry. But even if time doesn’t heal all wounds, it does mellow you out, a bit. I’m not going to say he still doesn’t have flashes of angry – it was only a couple of years ago that he cancelled the night before a visitation because he suddenly didn’t like our drop-off arrangements. And I wonder what will happen this spring when he realizes I really mean it that The Boy will not be flying by himself. I saw a flash of the old fire in his eyes when I told him that at drop-off a few weeks ago.

The truth is, probably nothing will happen. He may get annoyed, he may even get angry. But he probably won’t shout at me on the phone or send me a nasty text – both of which he loved to employ in previous years. Maybe he has reached a stage where he is indifferent, as well.

In any case, most of our dealings are what you could call “cordial”. Of course I wish he would make more of an effort with his son, but I realized a long time ago that I have no control over that, and it isn’t worth my energy. As long as it stays that way, “cordial” is just fine by me.

On-Again, Off-Again Dad

The ex has called a couple of times over the past month or so, after a couple of months of not calling. He said, “I get him for Christmas this year, right?” Ummm, ok. So after making use of your liberal visitation schedule for two weeks out of the last 104, you want to stake your claim? Sure. Yes, you actually are supposed to have him starting on Christmas Eve, as it is an odd year. “I’ll try to get some time off, then,” he said. Sure, I thought.  Like last Christmas.

He called once more, spoke to The Boy only for a little while, and that was the last we heard anything about Christmas.  The Boy’s birthday was Wednesday, and his mom had sent gifts, one from her, and one from his dad. Her card said they were looking forward to seeing him at Christmas.  But the ex didn’t even call his son on his birthday.

What?

My mom told me that recently, she and The Boy were at Walmart and he said he really hoped he’d get to see his dad at Christmas, because he hadn’t seen him since April.  Yes, it hurts him more than he’ll admit to me, and yes, he does keep track.

As The Man says, kids are only young once. He’s going to miss it completely.

Angry for The Boy and pity for the ex. And partly angry for me too, really, because I have my own life and family that will be affected by his inadequacy. But mostly angry for The Boy.

Behavior Really Is Communication

Behavior is Communication.  This was one of the tenets of autism I learned early on.  I remember sitting in a workshop with my then-husband, who really just didn’t get it, and this was the key piece I walked away with – I already knew it, but the workshop had reinforced it, and I had hoped my then-husband would have an a-ha! moment, but it never came.

The ex has now cancelled on The Boy for his week of visitation next month, and I broke it to The Boy late last week.  He had equated this planned trip to his dad’s to the escape plan of the tank fish in Finding Nemo, and would talk about how he was looking forward to seeing whether or not the escape plan would work.

Well it didn’t.

And at first, The Boy seemed OK.  “I guess the escape plan didn’t work.  I guess we’re stuck in the tank,” he would say.  I knew he didn’t really feel like he was stuck here with us, but that the plan fell through.

As the weekend wore on, and we began to witness more teenager-y behavior (refusal to do things we asked, etc.), it took my mom pointing out to me that this behavior was probably coming from the cancellation of plans.  And I had a Doh! moment.  I should know better, because of that basic rule, BEHAVIOR = COMMUNICATION.

Of course, that explains why he was being such a jerkface this weekend!

It’s still a sore subject, but figuring it out has helped The Man and me gain a little perspective, and retain a little more compassion for him right now.  Sometimes it’s hard to be compassionate to someone who is being a jerkface, but The Boy is still just a kid, and a kid who has been cancelled on again by his dad.

“I knew this escape plan wasn’t going to work.  Do you remember me telling you that before?”

😦

 

 

Equality and Divorce

In the state where I was married (and divorced) before, in any marriage lasting 10 years or longer, spouses are automatically granted half of their former spouses retirement, no questions asked.  Therefore, even though the ex was college educated and quite capable of getting and maintaining his own job with a retirement plan, but chose not to, he is entitled to half of my retirement.

For the same reason that I disagree with “no tolerance” policies in public education, as well as all-or-nothing inclusion policies, I find this law completely without merit.

I understand the reasoning behind its inception: it was designed to protect housewives of yesteryear who were often left with no way to support themselves financially after a divorce, having given up any career options they may have had to stay home and raise the children or what have you.  I applaud the thought behind it, and I’m sure it did a lot to even out the playing field in years past.

But now that it benefits someone like the ex, who chose a seasonal, menial job over a salaried position using his degree in graphic design, and chose to take unemployment all winter rather than find a different type of job for those months, who chose to use that time at home smoking pot and doing very little of anything else that might contribute to the running of the household, now this law has jumped the shark.  It has ceased protecting the people it was designed to help, and instead is benefiting those who clearly do not deserve the benefit.

One of the newspapers posted a story about dads fighting back in the court system in regards to custody and child support, and me with my big mouth decided to comment in the comments on the facebook link that it would be great if they could also review that archaic law that decides that 10 years of marriage means you deserve half of someone’s retirement, and guess what?  Yup.  Just about every misogynist on the internet responded back to me.  That we women wanted equality, and now we have it so just suck it up and “pay up Buttercup.”

Bleh.

Never once did I bash men in my comment.  I asked for a review of the arbitrary law, and declared that I would like a more thoughtful approach to the division of assets.  But in response, several men decided that I was the source of their misfortune in life, and that I should pay for the wrongdoings of every woman who had ever wronged them.  Nevermind that a review like the kind for which I advocate could and obviously would benefit at least some men, including these men who have been so wronged by some apparently evil women.  Nope, that didn’t matter.  All that mattered is that I was a woman, women have asked for equality, and now that “we have it” I should shut up.

We still have a long way to go, ladies, if men are against any of our ideas, even if it would benefit them, just because a woman has voiced them.  A long way to go…

 

The Boy is Back

The Boy, still sleeping, catching up from Spring Break at his dad's

The Boy, still sleeping, catching up from Spring Break at his dad’s

The Boy is back and seemingly had a good time.  And I am glad.  I’m glad there were no emergency phone calls asking me what to do because he is having a meltdown.  I’m glad it sounds like they actually spent time together, which hasn’t been the case in the past.  And it’s early days yet, but I’m glad that The Boy seems to be happy to be home, with no lingering ill-effects like cat scratches covering his hands, or a fear of the bathtub.

I am happy to have him back, and I am happy he had a good time.

That does not mean that I trust things with his dad have changed.  While setting up this trip, his dad talked about taking him to Disney in May, because he knows someone who works at Discovery Cove and could get “us” into all the parks for free – you see, he wanted The Man and I to share in this adventure, most likely because he wanted us to drive The Boy down to Orlando to meet him.  I asked him not to mention this idea to The Boy, and told him May wouldn’t work, as The Boy is still in school at that time.  When we met for drop-off, the ex explained that it would have to be postponed, and that the cost of Discovery Cove would be $150 each for he and The Boy, and if The Man and I wanted to go it would cost us $400 a piece, so maybe we wouldn’t want to do that.

So says the ex, who is almost $800 behind in child support.

So you see, I am happy this trip was able to happen.  I am happy The Boy seemed to have a good time.  But not for one second do I think things have really changed.  Not for one second do I believe the ex is done hurting The Boy, albeit unintentionally.  Plans will continue to be cancelled, phone calls left unmade, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera…  Maybe it’s pessimistic, and distrustful, but it’s also evidence-based, and I am too protective a mom to think otherwise.