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Posts from November 2008

Thanksgiving at My Brother’s

My two daughters and I went to my brother’s house for Thanksgiving. In attendance were: my parents, my brother, his wife, their two kids (both teens), her parents, both of her brothers, one with his wife and two sons (teen and tween), the other with his wife and baby son (until it was time for her to leave and go upstate to her parent’s house where she really wanted to be), one of her two sisters and her husband, and the son of the other sister (who spent the holiday with her boyfriend—“when will she get the ring?” was the question of the day, and his young daughter). It was a full house. Oh, and a teen friend.

In accordance with tradition, my sister-in-law cooked far too much delicious food. Let’s just say that she had an entire 14-pound turkey that was not even carved as part of her leftover feast.

One brother-in-law regaled us with stories of his eating adventures in China. These included: leeches, dog, and (I think) monkey brains. But he did have some insight into more than just his food forays when he said that he wanted to give these impoverished “restaurateurs” a $20 tip for serving him the best meal he had in China in their extremely bare home/restaurant. First he told them (through his employee, who was taking him around the country) that it was a wonderful meal. As part of their thank you, they gave him three bottles of bottled water (which, he said, are very expensive there). When pressed, his employee told him that he couldn’t give the $20 to them since they wouldn’t be able to give him anything in return, and that would be unbearable to them. I, of course, joked that he could take one of their children who were sleeping on a plywood slab on the dirt floor. That broke the levity, but it was a moment of insight into the importance of self-respect and what it means to give, and to give back.

When he and his wife left, the news fluttered out that he just found out that he has cancer.

One of the sister-in-laws told me that her parents, in their early and mid-80’s are not doing well and that she spends her days tending to them, and her sisters tend to them on the weekends.

And my sister-in-law’s parents looked better than last year, but they’re both suffering from a medical book of illnesses.

And my parents are starting to look frailer.

It was weird, all of the “children” are in our 40’s and 50’s; our children are teens, going to college, applying to college, or heading into high school; and our parents, somehow, became our grandparents. We all moved up a rung on the ladder, and we are now in a position of responsibility (at least in regards to our families). We are who we are. While I still have illusions of grandeur, I am also this divorced woman, who is a teacher, who lives in the suburbs, who says “uh huh” and “oh, I’m sorry” much more often than I am consulted on issues related to girl’s self-esteem, women’s need to not listen to men and their lectures unless they offer a few lectures of their own, and how to break the cycle of control and abuse.

Family gatherings, a time to gather and to gather insight. Also a time to quiet the discontent and simply flourish being with people who love you because you are family, and since we have been family for so long, we are all related to the first degree (us Italians and Jews, it’s all the same by now).

(Oh, and I’m thankful that mr ex isn’t around to make any snide comments about anyone. It truly is liberating not to have an arrogant man around.)

(I just wrote “snide comments, and a woman at the next table in Panera’s said “snide comment” about ten seconds later. The universe is an interesting place.)

I Have Nothing to Wear: Shoe Department

I have nothing to wear. Do not laugh and say, “Sure she says that but she probably has two walk-in closets filled with lovely clothes.” HA! I don’t. Really, I have no clothes. Well, no clothes for certain parts of my body. Or no clothes that are comfortable for certain parts of my body.

For some reason I have no comfortable shoes. I buy cheap, and they are uncomfortable. I buy nice (on sale), and they are uncomfortable. I buy shoes that fit and then they don’t. My heel always pops out of the shoe; and if there’s a strap, the strap always slips down enough to drive me bonkers trying to get it back up into place--all day long. If I buy flats, they feel too flat. If I buy heels thinking that now I am a mature woman of the world and so I should be able to wear heels with all the comfort with which I wear my socks, but alas, they always disappoint. My feet are not stupid, they realize that they were not designed to be suspended in mid-air, and they dost protest. And when I buy comfort shoes they invariably have a fault: they are not as comfortable as they are supposed to be. What’s a woman to do?

And I refuse to wear sneakers: that is a vow I made to myself when I moved back here from Israel, it is just too tacky to see women wearing sneakers, unless they are sneaking around. I am resisting the comfortable clog shoes that are the new-orthopedic shoes; maybe I’ll get them when I don’t care about how I look, but for now I still care. I have even tried pointy-toed shoes after watching too many episodes of Sex and the City, but having pinched toes and the weird sensation of walking in shoes that extend at least an inch past where my toes end is just too uncomfortable of a sensation to become committed to. What I especially hate about shoes is that they are not optional. I have to wear them.

Shoe shopping looms large in my near future. I really need to get a new pair of work shoes, my everyday (and I do mean everyday) pair is just too tired and worn looking. I want something that looks good and is comfortable, the last pair I bought seemed just right, that is until I wore them for longer than a walk around the store. Who would have thought that the back part of the shoe would be too high and make me ache and bleed in the part of my foot which is usually popping out? I wish I had the money for a pair of custom-made shoes, wouldn’t that be lovely, a pair of shoes made to fit your feet. It seems to me that rich people walk with ease and confidence because they have shoes that fit them properly. Isn’t this a right—to have shoes that fit comfortably? Seriously, don’t we all deserve comfortable shoes, and well-made clothes made out of soft fabrics that do not cause us daily discomfort?

I honestly don’t know what to do. Spend some money I don’t have on good shoes that might not disappoint, or go right for the cheap shoes that look cheap and feel cheap, but at least I won’t feel like I wasted my money on an illusion. It really is a shoe conundrum. 

Thanksgiving List

I am thankful that I am not a bitter woman, or that I am not letting my anger and hurt and pain consume me. Or that I do not feel that I am a bitter woman. 

I am thankful that I still believe that people are basically good and compassionate, and a reason to go out in the world every day.

I am thankful that I have two daughters who I was able to raise to the best of my abilities.

I am thankful for my students who have forced me to learn the eight parts of speech, and to identify a thesis statement, and who have made me get outside of myself for hours a day—and night—because, indeed, it is a village and I like the realization that I am a part of something, that I receive even more than I contribute.

I am thankful that Barack Obama will be president in less than two months.

I am thankful that there is a chance the war in Iraq will soon be over.

I am thankful that I am healthy (at least I think I am).

I am thankful for discovering blogging, which is a world of reading and writing and written conversations--and new friends and acquaintances. What more could a person want? (Rhetorical question)

I am thankful for my parents who have stood by me and held me up and listened to me cry for countless cellphone minutes.

I am thankful for Poops, who snuggles next to me and makes me remember that I am not alone, and that I am snuggly. 

I am thankful for my friends because life would be so pale without them.

I am thankful for the beauty that is before me every second of the day.

I am thankful for my daughters.

I am thankful.

Flying Middle Finger

I would like to officially give a flying middle finger to all of the road racers out there. I would also like to say to them: SLOW DOWN AND BACK AWAY FROM MY BUMPER! I DO NOT NEED TO SEE YOU LOOMING LARGE IN MY REARVIEW MIRROR. SLOW DOWN AND CALM DOWN--YOU’LL GET THERE. AND STOP CUTTING PEOPLE OFF.

And when I'm in New York this weekend, I would like to add: STOP AT THE STOP SIGNS AND TRAFFIC LIGHTS, THEY ARE NOT OPTIONAL.

Safe travelling everyone!  

Sashay Sashay Right out of Lowe’s

Tonight was the night to pick out new carpet for the house. You know, the carpet that will make potential buyers ignore the old kitchen, windows, tiles, bathrooms but will, instead, make them see the dazzling potential of this house. (It really is a nice house in a great location.)

It was raining and it was rush-hour, so it was a long drive out to Lowe’s where he had decided that we would get the best price. Now this is his responsibility, he needs to deal with the carpet, but he is afraid of responsibility because then he can’t blame someone else for screwing up. So I was there to participate in the carpet-picking decision. Only problem is: he was there and I was there, and that is not a good mix.

About an hour or so earlier, at home, he started to tell me that wood floors would be too expensive. (I had made the suggestion the day before.) I said okay, but he kept on telling me about the per square foot calculations, but since it’s too expensive, I don’t care about them and told him that it doesn’t matter. (Also, the less I need to hear his voice and get one of his lectures, the better.) Words which the lawyer in the room would twist and throw back at me as if his life is a walking courtroom.

Back to Lowe’s. He showed me the carpet padding and showed how the price works. Okay. (I have a master’s degree, I can figure this out.) Then he showed me a piece of carpet, pointed to the price and said, This is the price. You said you don’t care about the calculations but you should.

I said that about the wood.

I’m not married to you, he said in reaction to my slightly raised and aggravated tone.

Don’t tell me what I think and feel.

I recorded it. And as he reached into his pocket for his little recorder friend, I turned and sashayed right out of Lowe’s.

I do not need to swallow any bile from him. I do not need to have him twist and distort my words. I do not need to participate in the carpet decision. Let him gather his balls together and do something.

On the way home I stopped at the supermarket. We needed milk, and I needed an apple fritter for breakfast.

He was home when I got home. I figured that he would have stayed and ordered the carpet. I guess he’s still playing with his balls, it seems that when he doesn’t have me around, they just don’t work.

Divorce and Custody: Virginia Style and American Style

This is what I found when I was searching the name of one of the bastard lawyers my nice lawyer told me about: the Mommy Go Bye Bye blog.

And this is the paragraph that stopped me:

Virginia judges say a father may hurt the mother of his child, by abusing her, without hurting his chances of gaining custody. Judges surveyed for Influences on Judges' Decisions in Child Custody Disputes in the Commonwealth of Virginia, a 2001 Virginia Supreme Court study, also reveal that children over five go to fathers more than they go to mothers when cases go to court. The study explains that judges in Virginia believe #1) mothers have “more problems” than fathers and #2) mothers are “less competent than fathers. Pages 4, 6, 7, 20, 21, 23, 24, 29, 30, 38, 39, 40, 41, 53, 55, and 57, however, are especially relevant to the current trend of giving children to fathers who are abusive, violent, and dangerously controlling men. Those pages are excerpted and contained in my compendium "The High Price of Conscience-free Justice." Or you may look for the study on the Virginia General Assembly website.

And then there was this:

Breaking the Silence: Children’s Stories — a powerful new PBS documentary that chronicles the impact of domestic violence on children and the recurring failings of family courts across the country to protect them from their abusers. In stark and often poignant interviews, children and battered mothers tell their stories of abuse at home and continued trauma within the courts. Co-produced by Tatge-Lasseur Productions and Connecticut Public Television (CPTV), this one-hour special also features interviews with domestic violence experts, attorneys and judges who reveal the disturbing frequency in which abusers are winning custody of their children and why these miscarriages of justice continue to occur.

This program is made possible by funding from the Mary Kay Ash Charitable Foundation. One of the most effective ways an abusive father can inflict pain and declare his domination is to take custody of his children away from their mother. As Joan Meier, an attorney and professor of clinical law, explains, “To win custody of the kids over and against the mother’s will is the ultimate victory...short of killing the kids.” While there may be a perception in society that the family court system has a maternal preference, statistics show that, in the past twenty years, fathers are more often being awarded custody. Furthermore, in family court cases where mothers allege battery, fathers are given custody two-thirds of the time.

And if that was not enough, there was this:

“U.S. courts remain incredibly reluctant to punish men for crimes against their families," Silverman observes. "In this country, family violence is still seen as a private matter.”

“Men could beat, maim, and murder their wives with impunity until this century,” he continues. “Until the 1990s, it was legal in some states for a man to rape his wife. Like slavery and racism in this country, violence against women and children is the legacy of longstanding legal and social structures.”

* * *

When I attended the parenting class that I was required to by Virginia law after getting a divorce when children are involved (I don’t think mr ex ever attended a session)  there was a mother there who had been a stay-at-home mother, who home-schooled her five kids, who lost custody of her children to her physically abusive ex-husband, who was given the okay by the judge to take the minor children out of state to live. How respectable, daddy dearest was a pilot. The judge then told this woman, who had not worked outside of the home for years, that he better see a record of her going often to visit her children who were going to be half-way across the country with their father, even though she has no money. She, of course, was not given spousal support. This woman also relayed that she was ostracized by her church for getting a divorce.

There really isn’t anything to add, except the horror, the horror. Any wonder that so often we get duped by these guys, they dupe the system, too.

There's this pseudo theory that only the courts have taken a hold of called Parental Alienation Syndrome, which states that the abused parent will turn the child against the abusing parent. In order to prevent that from happening, the courts have decided to  simply give the kids to the abusing parent, who, of course, in no way will try to turn his kids against the other parent. How do you say "stupid" in legalese? I know, Parental Alienation Syndrome.

Watch the video, it’s chilling, especially the judge who says that no new evidence was presented although the child had told her mother that her father had sexually abused her after the first court case.

Why, why does the world still go round when children are not listened to and protected, and mothers are not listened to and protected? Why, why does the world still go round when abusers are given license to abuse? Why, why does the world still go round when all that is good is debased by those who have more powerful pockets and mouths?

Looking for Love Online: Tips from Women to Men (for Women and Men)

The following are some basic rules for men who would like to date women, or for men who are looking to develop a relationship with a woman and not just jump from unsuccessful venture to unsuccessful venture. These rules apply to the part where you meet on-line and then to the part where you hopefully meet in-person.

1. Tacky ads. You know, some of us really do love walks on the beach and candlelit dinners—don’t mock them and us, the people who have managed to remain romantics in spite of all the odds.

2. Do not send an old or untrue photograph. Truth is better than fiction in this instance. If you’re bald, shine the lights on it. If you’re fat, reveal it (well, covered, please). If you have a wonderful smile, show it.

3. Do not send pictures with your children. You are probably the best father in the world, but, honestly, it feels like you are using your kids to get to a woman, and that is just not good—it is not what a good father would do.

4. Do not send pictures with or of your wife (whether she is dead or you are divorced). Really, how could you think that a woman wants to see her before she has met you? If your plan is to show what a great wife you had, then get a bottle of wine and stay at home to watch the wedding video.

5. Do not send a photograph with you and a vehicle of any type. We will not assume that the size of the vehicle, you know, represents your size, although we may assume that the speed does correlate to your speed.

Continue reading "Looking for Love Online: Tips from Women to Men (for Women and Men)" »

Get Your Words Off Me: Excerpt 26

I've taken a break lately in posting excerpts from my book, Get Your Words Off Me, but I thought that it was time for a new one, and specifically this one, which explains how he got the master suite and I got the guest bedroom. 

* * *


Why have sex with a man you detest and who makes you hate yourself?

When we were working on our marriage by going to therapy, I felt that it would be an affront to the effort to turn him away when he wanted to have sex. I was, still, unfortunately, seeing submission as a positive attribute instead of what it was: an absolute relinquishment of the self. By cooperating I thought I was behaving fairly, which is ironic considering that his actions were fundamentally unfair and caused me to feel—to be—violated and used.

One night, a few weeks after we had begun our reconciliation process, he got into bed and reached out, touching me, when I was already asleep. That night I finally reacted instinctually—protecting myself, not my relationship. Out of the depths of my sleeping self, I shouted “NO!” He immediately withdrew his hand. I woke, stunned, feeling the “NO!” as it exited my mouth from my unconscious and hung between us.

Then, shockingly, he said sharply, “Get out.” The absurdity of his telling me to get out of our bed when he was the one attacking me, when he was the one who had repeatedly asked me to come back to bed, was enormous. But I realized, as I lay there in the dark with the “NO” still echoing between us, that I had no desire to fight to stay in that bed with him, it was the opposite of what I wanted. I was not going to explain or apologize, or soothe. What a relief to have finally spoken what I felt. So, I stood up, walked out of the room and returned to “my” couch (where I had been sleeping before the attempt at reconciliation).

I have not returned to that bed since; except for one night when he was out of town on a business trip a short time after I had left that room, when I still felt that it was, to some extent, still my room. It is now his bed and his room, I have ceded the space. I should have said, “No, you get out, you are the violator.” But, as with so much else in this marriage, I took what I was dealt and tried my best to survive. And so, in the middle of the night, in my oversized tee-shirt and cotton shorts, I walked out, leaving him naked, alone with whatever demons or remorse may eventually plague him. 


Israel Story: Walking to Jerusalem

I cannot believe that I have gotten this far into talking about Israel without mentioning Jerusalem, which is, perhaps, an indication that my journey to Israel was not one of a religious awakening. Even standing in front of the Western Wall (called haKotel in Hebrew) did not ignite a religious fervor in me. I must admit, this disappointed me. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if standing at an important religious site you are suddenly filled with meaning and purpose, and the realization of who you are and what you need to do to fulfill yourself? And that, you know, God speaks to you. Well, that didn’t happen and so the journey continued—continues.

A few weeks after arriving at the kibbutz I went to Jerusalem for a weekend. (A weekend in Israel is from midday Friday, when most stores and official offices and services stop so that the Shabbat can be preserved, until Sunday when people head back to work. While the weekend is shorter than in the US, it feels longer, because you don’t go out shopping and filling your time with to-do lists, but have family meals and visit friends or go on day-trips, and generally do relaxing things, even, yes, stay at home and do nothing but eat nuts and seeds.) For some reason I got it into my head that I need to walk into the Old City of Jerusalem, like some kind of a pilgrim. No, not from the kibbutz, but from the central bus station in Jerusalem. Sometimes I come up with these truly absurd ideas, and then as a true absurdist, I act on them. So instead of taking a bus from the bus station as any normal person would do (as all normal people do everyday—this was long before buses were being blown up in Jerusalem), I started walking down Jaffa Road to the Old City. My intention was that my arrival to the Old City would be the culmination of a journey; that it would not resemble arriving at an ordinary tourist site. What better way to do that than by walking in the midday summer sun in the Middle East for two miles down a busy street?

Two miles is not a lot, nor was it an uncomfortable walk. This was, really, my first introduction to a more metropolitan Israel than I had been used to. I almost felt like I was back in New York, what with all of the people walking around and hurrying about. Of course, except in only a few parts of New York do you see men all in black with black hats, and women in long dresses with long sleeves and scarves covering their hair, and lots of girls in long denim skirts, and male and female soldiers strolling about as if it's an ordinary thing (which it is, but not in New York) and so many men wearing kippot (yarmulke) to make me realize that I was, indeed, in a Jewish city (even more so than New York). Jerusalem had the feel of an old, tired city, ancient even in the non-ancient parts.

The buildings were a lot lower than in New York, and older as well, or felt that way since they were mostly made of stone. Everything was in beige stone. There’s a building code that I learned about later that proscribes that all buildings must be constructed out of this type and shade of stone to keep the uniqueness of Jerusalem intact. Sure, that’s the only reason why Jerusalem is unique, the color of its buildings. (At some times of day and seasons, the color is more of a rose hue, and it truly is a sparkling city atop a mountain.)

Continue reading "Israel Story: Walking to Jerusalem" »

Why Are Bad Habits Bad?

First off, let me explain that I am not talking about seriously bad habits, just run-of-the-mill bad habits. The kind that we develop as children and never seem to leave us, or which we never let leave us.

If I want to pick at the hardened skin around my left hand middle finger (I write with my left hand) then I think I should be able to so without well-meaning people pushing my hand away. I have passed the age of majority and so should not have my mother try to stop me from pick pick picking. Certainly the man I met for coffee the other day should have learned to never, ever infringe upon a person’s right to her stress-relief habits. Is it really hurting your poor heart that I am hurting myself? For goodness sakes, I have ugly fingers anyway, so who cares if they are even less attractive? And it’s not as if I am really hurting myself, the skin grows back, the nerves stay relatively even-keeled, so what’s the problem?

What’s with the holier-than-thou attitude? Don’t we all need a small bad habit? It’s not like a take a knife to my arm or drink a barrelful of beer, I twirl my hair and pick my fingers. Considering the status of my life, I would say that I’m in pretty good shape with my bad habits. Even eating, which I need to curb, is not so bad. While I might indulge in second servings too often, it’s not as if I have ever finished a cake or box of cookies on my own—at least not in one sitting or in one day.

Why are bad habits called bad? Shouldn’t we rename them and simply call them habits? What’s a habit for anyway? It enables your mind to lose its focus or find its focus, whichever you need at that time, without calling attention to the thought process. It’s like white noise, it’s there somehow soothing you without you even realizing it; so why fight it? Does it comfort me or keep me level? Does it enable me to compartmentalize my mind, where the nerves are relegated to being simply soothed while the thoughts are pondered?

And what would I do instead? Because I don’t think that I would suddenly become a pillar of stillness, I am, after all, a kinesthetic learner (a fidgeter to the jargonless), which means I would just find a replacement habit. What could I do instead? I can’t even think of anything. Oh, I know, I could pick at the dry skin on my lips. No, even less attractive. I could develop an itch that needs to be scratched. I could doodle. (Been there, but it just didn’t have staying power for me.) See, I have no imagination here. I need to stay with my tried and true bad habits.

Maybe there are people who don’t need bad habits, or whose bad habits don’t involve a degree of self-mutilation. Maybe they watch too much tv, or shop too much, or curse too much. Who knows? Maybe some people need to tell other people that their habits are bad. Me, I’m of the “you leave me alone and I’ll leave you alone” type. So don’t come by to criticize me, I can do that pretty well on my own. And I promise I won’t ask why you have six packs of gum in your bag, or why you are playing with your keys on your keyring, or why you have a stack of papers growing on your floor.

Note to Parents

Parents, please note:

  • your child’s teacher does not hate your child;

  • your child’s teacher does not have it in for your child;
  • your child’s teacher is not failing your child;
  • your child’s teacher does not purposely NOT tell the homework assignment to your child;
  • your child’s teacher does not purposely NOT pass handouts to your child.

Parents, if your child is telling you those things:

  • maybe it’s in your child’s mind;
  • maybe your child has done something to disturb the teacher;
  • perhaps your child talks during class;
  • perhaps your child sleeps during class (oh, sorry, rests his head on the desk and closes his eyes so that he can better concentrate);
  • perhaps your child does not pay attention (oh, sorry, focuses well but the way the teacher expresses herself is not understood by your child);
  • perhaps your child left the handout in class;
  • perhaps your child did not: do the homework, take the homework from home, take the homework out of the backpack, and/or pay attention when the teacher collected the homework.

Does your child clean up his/her room when you ask him/her?

Hmmm, maybe there’s a pattern here that is repeated in school.

But wait, how many children do you have and do you ever get upset with them?

As a high school teacher I have approximately 125 students. Guess what?

  • It bothers me when they don’t do their work.
  • It bothers me when they don’t pay attention.
  • It bothers me when they mock me.
  • It bothers me when they try to annoy me.

Yes, it’s true, I am a person.

So next time you want to accuse a teacher of sabotaging your child’s future, go find your kid in his room and speak to him—honestly—about what is really happening in school because it generally is not the teacher’s fault that he got an F, D, C, or B (if you are so grade-greedy).

A caring but annoyed teacher.