Friday, September 11, 2009

Looking Back and Forward on September 11

Eight years ago today, the world changed when four planes piloted by terrorists on a suicide mission of hatred crashed into the two World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania.

For me personally, a lot has changed in those 8 years but some things remain the same for all of us:
  • Those who died on September 11 are still gone and their families probably miss them all the more. If I lost my child that day, the pain would, no doubt grow with each missed birthday and watching others age while their lives were cut so short.
  • The world is still filled with people who hate Americans simply for being Americans. I think our leadership is making some progress to improve our global reputation.I do know that I no longer feel embarrassed when our President steps into the spotlight around the world. I'm thrilled that we are being represented by the smartest guy in the room and not the one who provides so much fodder for nighttime comedians.
  • Unfortunately, we are still at war in Afghanistan and in Iraq and people are still dying--American soldiers and innocent citizens of those foreign lands who have absolutely nothing against us as a nation, unless of course you count feeling a little pissed off about their homes being bombed.
  • We still have no plan in place to provide affordable health care for all Americans. I'm holding on to hope that the Obama administration will pass some form of health care reform during this term but I suspect the final bill will lack a lot of the punch I heard and liked in Obama's speech last night.
  • The world and those of us who inhabit it are inherently good. I can forget that some days--particularly when I watch Republicans on the news, hear about another child abuse case, or deal with Mr. X--but I really do believe that most humans want to do good and not just do well. When I go into the world with that attitude and not with the defensive mind set that tells me everyone is out to screw me, I usually attract kindness and love.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

MBTA Fare Hike is No Fair!

The MBTA is raising fares...again. This time, the proposed hike is 20% which , if you have a Charlie Card, figures out to be 34 cents per subway ride. If you take the train to and from work for 5 days a week, like most people, that's an addition $3.40 each week. Public hearings on the fare increase began this week. I plan to attend and, guess what? I won't be siding with the MBTA on this one.

The thing's really not fair. (This isn't video so you'll just have to imagine me stamping my foot while saying that.) I don't have statistics but I'm guessing the median income of the average T rider is significantly lower than those who drive into Boston all by themselves in their gas-guzzling SUVs. AND, those drivers are already getting breaks all over the place. Gas prices have gone down--for the time being anyway (insert evil laugh here BOOOOHAAAA)--so visits to the pump aren't constant reminders of how much they're ruining the environment. The Federal government has twice funded its Cash for Clunkers program, where the more well-off and recession proof drivers can afford to buy a new car are actually rewarded with cash money for the previous, environmentally irresponsible purchase.

The auto industry has been bailed out to the tune of $15 Billion for failing in their mission to manufacture and sell cars that burn fossil fuels. I think we would have all been better off doling out that money to the Detroit factory workers, waiters, and other people who would have suffered if the auto manufacturers would have gone out of business. Reward them for their hard work and retrain them to support an industry that would survive in our current economy.

But I digress. Back to those of us who ride public transportation in Boston.

I might not mind about paying 20% more for a bus or train ride, if I was going to get 20% more in service. Perhaps the drivers who navigate my ride on the "high-speed trolley" from Ashmont to Mattapan Square could slam on the brakes 20% fewer times for each ride. I'd pay for that. Will the increase mean that there's a decrease in accidents? What about train delays? Will I no longer have to leave a 30-minute cushion to ensure that I make it to my doctor's appointments on time?

How much money was spent on the "Big Dig" not counting all the corruption that's uncovered each week so we could fit still more cars on the expressway and so all the solo drivers wouldn't have to sit in traffic? But by all means, raise the price of getting to work for all of us who opt out of the rush hour gridlock or don't have enough money to afford a car.

Regular T and bus riders--whether or not they are completely car-less-- share their commute with hundreds of other people and put even Prius drivers to shame in terms of reducing our carbon footprints. So why shouldn't we be rewarded for this environmentally responsible behavior instead of being penalized? Did you ever hear about a bus rider killing someone while drunk driving? It can't happen, because we aren't driving and I'm pretty sure alcohol consumption is frowned upon while riding the bus. You don't see talk shows covering the issue of Public Transportation Rage.

I'll say it again. The proposed MBTA fare hike is NO FAIR. Where's our stimulus package?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Being Heard

I love writing angry letters. Once or twice a year, I feel pissed off and passionate enough to write a letter to an editor or a corporation or a hospital or an ex-husband. OK. For the last one it's definitely more often than that.

I heard a WBUR story last week that prompted such a letter. I posted the letter on this blog. The thing that pissed me off was that the story talked about how terrible it is for non-custodial dads when they lose their jobs and their terrible ex-wives insist on getting child support. (Since I'm aware of my biased opinion, I will post the link here so you can read it for yourself.)

The same day I sent my email feedback, I received a note from the reporter, Monica Brady-Myerov. I have a lot of respect for her. She agreed that the story was missing the perspective of a custodial parent and asked me if she could interview me for a follow-up story.

Well, in addition to being a good reporter, Ms. Brady Myerov is a woman of her word. She came to interview me yesterday for a follow-up story she's doing for a national public radio show--Marketplace Money. Unless there is some breaking economic news, the story should air this Sunday.

My favorite part of the interview wasn't even on tape. We were talking about how she found many groups that represent the interests of non-custodial dads but none that are for custodial parents. I told her that there were no such groups because we didn't have time to organize them or attend the meetings!

I did not bash non-custodial dads in my interview. I just pointed out that, as a custodial parent, I would be charged with neglect if I didn't provide my children with food, shelter, clothings, etc. so why should a non-custodial parent not be liable when they don't contribute their fair share toward paying for those expenses.

My interview will probably be edited down to a sound byte or two combined with other voices, but I'm still pretty excited. I disagreed with something I heard, sent a letter that clearly expressed my anger in an appropriate way, and my voice was heard. I love having a voice.

"An activist is someone who makes an effort to see problems that are not being addressed and then makes an effort to make their voice heard. Sometimes there are so many things that it's almost impossible to make your voice heard in every area, but you can sure try."
- Joanne Woodward

Friday, May 8, 2009

Still Sad

I realized today that my MS denial is fading. You can read all about it on my other blog, if you're really interested. 

Dead dad and boyfriend breakup denial is alive and well, though. 

I pass my dad's phone number in my cell phone contact list all the time. At least a couple times a week I see "Dad" and think  "I need to call him!" 

And then I remember and feel sad, and it's kind of like he just died.

I Facebook unfriended the newly ex-boyfriend to stop obsessively checking his status and it worked. After more than a month of no contact, I started feeling like I was OK and could maybe transition to a friendship.I remembered how much I enjoyed his company even with all our clothes on and missed his friendship. I sent an email and really, really, really believed I was just saying "hi" with no expectations.  

And then I got a response that did NOT say, "I love you, I miss you, and I am such a jerk for breaking up with you. What do I need to do to get you to trust me with your love again?"

And then I remember and feel sad, and it's kind of like he just broke up with me.

I know, because people tell me and I really, really need to believe them, that the level of grief that I feel is in direct proportion to my capacity to love now and in the future. I know how to open my heart and that's why it hurts so much right now. But that's why I will also feel that joy and warmth throughout my life.

I was able to repair my relationship with my father. Over the years, in our own way. I made amends, allowed him to make amends to me, I loved him, and told him so and allowed him to love me and tell me so. I said all that I needed to say and was with him when he was alive and well and when he was dying. There is nothing I could/would do differently. That's huge and I'm grateful.

With the boyfriend, I have some regrets but not tons.  I didn't pretend I didn't love as much as I did and I didn't pretend I didn't want to be with him as much as I did. I loved as fully and completely as I could and I was much more present and honest than I was in my marriage. I walked through fears, I learned to disagree respectfully, and so much more that I can't think of right now. I was not the perfect girlfriend. There are things I would do better, but I would not take back the realization that I wanted us to live together and blend our families. I would not take back sharing that realization with him. 

What I would like to change is that he didn't and still doesn't want the same things. That's sad. Still.  

I want a dual grief timer. I want to set one for Dead Dad and know that I have X amount of time left on the grief clock. I will stock up on tissue and when I start tearing up at odd times, I'll just tell people, "Oh sorry! I still have 9 months left of the acute Dead Dad grieving." 

The other grief timer will be dedicated to the Boyfriend Breakup.  I don't want to keep being surprised by my sadness. I want to know, "Oh, don't even worry about it! You're going to be sad for 6 more months and then you will be able to meet him for coffee and talk about your dating experiences with other people."

With or without the time, I'm still grieving and it sucks.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Crying Hour

I had my first session with a grief counselor today. I called hospice looking for a group and they suggested I start with an individual counselor. I think they send you there first because they want to sift out the crazies before welcoming them into the group. I'm going to start the group next week. I guess I fooled her.

I spent the entire hour crying and apologizing for being pathetic. It was incredibly cathartic. I got validation that the circumstances surrounding my father's death were pretty awful and traumatic, that I was treated horribly by my sister, that I have a right to grieve just as much as people from normal families, that all of my conflicting feelings are completely normal, and that I have a lot on my plate what with the cat dying, boyfriend breakup, MS, full-time job, single parenthood, yada-yada-yada.  Apparently, my self-esteem has taken quite a beating and I need to give myself the time and support I need to grieve.

Who knew I didn't need to be Ms. Pollyanna Superwoman every single moment of the day?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Sounding Off on Child Support

I wrote this letter to the editor in response to this story on WBUR, Boston's NPR station.

To Whom it May Concern,

I just listened to Monica Brady-Myerov's story about non-custodial dad's struggling to pay child support after losing a job. Actually, that wasn't how the story was described in Bob Oakes' intro. I thought that the story would be a balanced look at how the ailing economy is affecting both custodial parents who receive child support and non-custodial parents who pay child support. The interviews, however, included one non-custodial dad, one spokesperson for a dad's advocacy group, and a spokesperson for the family court system. There were no comments from custodial parents who rely on child support to cover just a fraction of the extraordinary cost of raising children.

Ms. Myerov mentioned that ONE custodial mother (the ex-wife of the dad interviewed) and her attorney did not choose to comment but what about all the other custodial moms AND dads out there who are struggling? Surely, she could have searched a little harder for at least one person to talk about how they've been affected by the loss or impending loss of child support.

I am such a person. I have a job. I consider myself incredibly fortunate in this economy to have a steady paycheck. But that security does not allow me to breathe a sigh of relief. I don't only have to worry about MY ability to earn a steady paycheck. I also have to worry about my ex-husband, who pays $984.66 per month in child support. And, when he lost his job two weeks ago and told me he would TRY to continue to pay child support, I started sweating.

The money he pays is supposed to cover half the cost of raising my 2 children, ages 5 and 9. I have rent, groceries, utilities, health insurance, medical and prescription co-pays, clothing, child care, and numerous other expenses. My full-time job gives me a living wage in the mid 5 digits, but I am, by no means, rolling in the dough. I would never insult the truly indigent and suffering by describing myself as poor. I get by but I don't live large and I have nothing extra at the end of the month.

Years before my ex-husband lost his job, I wanted to file for a support modification since the children's expenses and my ex-husband's income and expenses have changed dramatically in the 4 years since the original support order. (The kids are getting older, camp and child care is getting more expensive and my ex-husband received several raises and moved in with someone who owns her own home since our divorce.)

So, why didn't I file for that modification? My ex-husband has a friend who is an attorney advising him, I'm assuming for free, and the courts have not served me well in the past when I've tried to represent myself. I've allowed that fear to keep me from asking for a more appropriate amount of child support. My bad.

But now I'm really scared. With advocacy groups representing the interesting of poor non-custodial dads like the one Ms. Myerov profiled in her story, I know that I have to have protection before facing the courts. This is why I have opted to use my tax return check to hire a reduced-fee, legal representative who may or may not have the experience or time to advise me. I planned to use that money to pay for summer camp but now I will have to use my credit card to leave a deposit and hope that I still have support coming when the balance is due.

I am neither a victim nor a villain, nor are the male friends I have who are also custodial parents.I have a sustaining faith in the universe that I will be OK no matter what. But that faith wavers at times like these. Custodial parents cannot call and say, "Sorry, ex, I can't see the kids tonight." Nor, can we suggest that the after-school program contact our ex-spouse to collect an overdue payment. We are responsible for being the primary caretakers of our children and making sure that they have everything they need to support their growth. This is a truly awesome responsibility. It is a responsibility I willingly take but I don't think I should have to be vilified for not wanting to bear the financial burden alone when their father is in the picture.

Ms. Myerov's imbalanced report did nothing to educate or inform. It only added to the existing bias that non-custodial dads are victims of the merciless and greedy ex-wives trying to milk them out of everything they are worth.

Next time, I hope you try a little harder to tell the entire story.

Julie Baker

Friday, March 13, 2009

Dysfunctional Departures

My dad is dead. I'm sad and angry and still I want to laugh and make up a silly clapping rhyme. I need to write about his death. I need to write about his life. But instead I escape. Acting out, doing virtually anything sober to not feel my feelings. I want to run but he's still dead. I want to fight. Still dead. I want to dive into self pity. Yup. Dead dad still dead. Woah. All those people grieving dead parents were not just wooses.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Break Up Take 2

Wading Out of Love

A break, a chat, then another conversation.
Tears, words, and comfortable moments of silence.
Still sad but kind and gentle this time.
He can't be where he's not.
I can't sell myself short.
My heart still loves.
But my spirit believes that the Universe has other plans.
I thought this man was walking beside me...a partner on the same path.
I loved and learned and learned to love...better than before.
I want to trust that, when I love again, it will be better still.
My love will be received at full volume.
I will be able to make beautiful music with another loud heart.
But not yet.
Now, we share a long hug and the grieving begins.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Break Up Take 1

Sudden Death Heartbreak

My mending heart was sheltered by hurt, fear, and anger
And then I met you.
Your kindness and warmth seeped through and eroded my walls.
Our love and trust grew and flourished in the light.
I longed to see you, even in a thumbnail on my screen.
Our millionth kiss still made me weak in the knees.
I wanted more...for me...for you...and for our children.
You said you loved me then threw those old bricks at me and ran away.
I made turkey burgers for what I thought would be part 2 of a conversation.
I put your plate on the table and you broke my heart without taking a bite.
On the way out the door, you dropped my house key and your gentle, kind spirit.
Letting go of love isn't supposed to be like ripping off a BandAid.
We waded into what I hoped would be an endless sea.
Or, if not...
I thought we'd wade back out together and part ways on shore as friends.
Instead, you left me alone in deep water.
and mad...
and shocked...
and confused...
but mostly just sad.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Friday, January 16, 2009

Jerks Come in Both Genders

A fellow LinkedIn member forwarded this article from The New York Times along with a request for reactions. It's not like I need an invitation for one of my rants but this latest tirade was provoked.

The columnist, Peggy Klaus, is obviously a thoughtful professional and a talented writer. In this opinion piece, "A Sisterhood of In-Fighting," she he did a pretty good job of avoiding the stereotypical and sexist language that is usually included in stories about competitive women. My problem is with her sensational choice of topics. Is this really newsworthy?

Are women sometimes less than supportive of each other in the workplace? Yup. Do they sometimes undermine their colleagues in an effort to look good in comparison? You betcha. But, men are guilty of those things, as well. Is The New York Times publishing a story about the motivation behind male professionals' cut-throat behavior? No, because it's not considered news or even an issue worthy of commentary.

Men are praised for being ambitious and competitive, even when it's at the expense of friendship. They are expected to be that way. But not women. When women fail to support their "sisters" in the workplace, they are referred to as "back-biting," "conniving," or with some other less-than-flattering character descriptions. While the author did not use any of these phrases, she did refer to female coworkers as "sisters." Unless a writer is talking about policeman, firefighters, or soldiers, they don't usually talk about male colleagues as "brothers." Male professionals are not expected to treat each other as siblings simply because they are the same gender. So why are women?

I am not excusing or defending the actions of anyone who tries to sabotage their colleague's success. I think it's wrong if men or women do it and, frankly, it's just not nice. I try to be supportive of my colleagues and treat them with the patience and respect that kind mentors demonstrated when I was starting out. Sometimes I try to treat them how I wish I had been treated. Sometimes, I fail with both male and female colleagues. On a bad day, I've been known to gossip about this or that co-worker who dropped the ball on something. I don't blame that failure on my gender, though. I blame it on my humanity.

My father didn't give me a lot of really useful professional advice, but he did give me this one gem that I try to remember when I'm faced with ruthless behavior: People can be jerks.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Moms Are...Like...SO Embarrassing!

Every woman I know who is fortunate enough to have children vows not to embarrass her offspring the way our mothers did to us. I'm pretty sure we all end up breaking this promise.

Somehow it's worse with my daughter than with my son. Maybe it's a gender thing. Maybe it's just coincidence that my daughter Ruby's personality is more sensitive to embarrassment than my son's more easy going nature.

When she was in third grade, Ruby told me about a new crush at school and immediately made me promise I wouldn't call anyone to spread the news. Technically, I did not break my promise. I WROTE about the boy but I didn't CALL anyone. So, in a court of law I would probably get off on a technicality. That having been said...I feel guilty. Hopefully, if Ruby reads the crush essay someday, she will think it's cute, and forgive me. Perhaps, she'll even be grateful that I captured this sweet childhood memory. Or maybe not.

A friend of mine read the crush essay and told me that her mom used to write about her in letters to the editor and it embarrassed her to no end. Uh-oh. Have I become her mother? Have I become MY mother?

When I was 15 years old, I lived with my mother while she was "finding herself" as a new divorcee. When she wasn't at work, she participated in some pretty weird stuff. At least weird for a mom. There was clog dancing, putting personal ads in the newspaper, and clowning.

The clowning was actually a pretty serious pursuit for a few years. She even talked about quitting her teaching job to go to Ringling Brother's Clown College. Her clown name was "Sunshine" and she wore a tutu while she did clown cheerleading at special education sporting events. I kid you not.

Some of my friends thought the clowning was cool. Ya-because it wasn't THEIR mom! One day, my friend Lynn Czerwinski either told my mom she wanted to see the clown costume or my mother offered to show her--I can't remember which and it doesn't really matter. One night, during my junior year of high school, Lynn and some boys were coming over to pick me up to go to the movies. I'm not sure if it was a double date or just hanging out, but I know I cared about what the boys thought of me. I cared about what EVERYONE thought of me in high school.

This date or whatever was the same night that my mom was going out to do clown cheerleading at the elementary school where she taught special ed. While I was getting ready for the evening, my mother was donning her striped tights, tutu, full clown makeup, rainbow-colored wig, and big funny clown shoes. Mom made the mistake of telling me that she couldn't wait to show Lynn her clown costume. I remember feeling sick and a little light-headed. I told her, in all seriousness, that if she came out in the costume, I would DIE.

I was not being overly dramatic. I honestly believed that I would keel over and stop breathing from embarrassment. I suggested (probably not very nicely) that my mother NOT come out and shame me with her craziness. I remember that she responded with something like: "Why should YOU be embarrassed by what I do? We are two separate people!"

I remember thinking that my mom didn't get me and, not for the first time, hoped and prayed that my real mother would appear one day to claim me after the hospital discovered that I was switched at birth with the daughter she raised as her own. I'm still waiting.

Fast forward to the horn beep outside when Lynn and the boys showed up. I raced my mother across the living room, shoved her out of the way, and slammed the door in her face, so I could run out to the car before they saw her. I almost made it.

I was in the car and the driver was pulling away from the curb when my mother bounded out to the porch with her clown pom-poms and started doing a cheer. There was a lot of jumping and flailing limbs and yelling of "RA-RA-SIS-BOOM-BA" The driver saw her and slammed on the brakes.

"Who the heck is THAT?!" he inquired while everyone else in the car stared at my mother on the porch. I sunk into the seat and prayed that Lynn was getting my telepathic message that she should NOT correctly identify the mom behind the clown makeup. Lynn got the message. Either that or she couldn't speak because she was almost choking with laughter.

"That's the crazy lady who lives upstairs," I mumbled. "Let's go."

So...If Ruby reads the crush essay one day and gets pissed, I'll just tell her, "Suck it up! I could have dressed up like a clown!"