Riding the elevator of shared parenting

IT’S been five years since the father of my two daughters and I parted ways. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge, much has changed, and many new scenarios have come home to roost – most are welcome and enjoyable, like not feeling the pressure to always prepare an evening meal featuring some variety of meat and carbohydrate, usually with an international flavour to disguise my daily cookery conundrum, or more correctly, boredom.

In fact, evening meals have become a really slap dash (but still healthy!) affair, which is a whole other blog topic I’ll attempt another day.

One of the new and initially dreaded scenarios of separation was the phenomenon of waiting for my offspring to go stay overnight with their dad, coping while they were away, expectantly awaiting their return, and more importantly, surviving the 24-48 hours after the homecoming.

Be prepared for an emotional elevator – it still takes me for a ride all these years later, if I let it.

I’ll cut to the chase – yes, you are going through a stressful new experience that probably takes up a lot of your emotional energy, but so are the kids, and it’ll be obvious from their unsettled behaviour and mindset when they come home.

While you are dying to see them, smother them with your affection and find out what they’ve been up to because you’ve missed them so much, be prepared for them to be standoffish and snappy. I would routinely be offended by their behaviour and admonish them for being rude to me, or each other, and the homecoming would be spoiled, which would have me snivelling quietly in a corner of my bedroom.

But, after a while I noticed it was a pattern and it was how they coped with the readjustment to living arrangements and rules, and probably from being on such good behaviour for their dad who they missed and weren’t seeing nearly as much as I (still) felt (feel) they should. I don’t even think they realised they were doing it.

So now I give them a wide berth for a day or so, and they eventually come to me with open arms and stories to share. They can still appear cranky when they get home, but I just ignore it, knowing it’s only temporary and let those meaningless knee-jerk reactions ‘go through to the keeper’, as they say.

As for preparing for their departure, I would always be so anxious for it to just happen so I could stop worrying about it. When their dad was late, which was usual, they would be strung out wondering why and I would just have to pretend it was all ok and cool to go with the flow – inside I was seething because they were so excited to spend time with their dad – didn’t he realise that?

The first few times I would peek out the window and watch them drive away from the house, big tears welling in my eyes and a feeling of having pieces of my heart ripped out through my heaving ribcage.

These days I rotate between collapsing in a thankful heap at the opportunity to rest – no cooking, laundry, shopping, taxi-ing or homework – or I madly catch up with girlfriends and morph into a dirty stop-out, enjoying meals, movies, shows, wine and lots of chat.

Having a social life or time and space to just be comatose is quite a novelty so it’s normal to experience slight dread at their return, so don’t go feeling guilty about that either – your offspring also experience this emotional seesaw too.

Just ride it like a wave…expect to go A over T a few times but you’ll eventually find your balance and enjoy the changing scenery.
Pic Credit: melphoto.com                                               

Personalised number plates…why?

 

WHY do more and more people find it so necessary to personalise their car’s number plate?

Is it unimaginative loved ones buying the plates as a “special” gift? Or do people consider their car a member of the family and so must give it a matching dorky name? Or are they just so egotistical that they think having a personalised number plate makes them look more classy or financially-endowed?   

I know there are more questions here than at a CCC hearing, but it’s a growing social epidemic. So what, you own a car, big deal. Just keep up with the loan repayments and stay out of the right lane.

Rarely, I see an ironic plate such as the Holden Statesman with the rego that read BOGANS. And obviously proud of it. But as for the rest of the drivel out there, it’s enough to drive one to drink radiator coolant.

For example, Heathaz, Kelz, Malz, kezka. Ok, that’s your name, not your car’s, and you own the car. Alrighty then, I’ll consider it a friendly overture and be sure to knock on your window at the next stop light to introduce myself. Or I’ll just curse your name when you clog up the right hand lane.

And then there’s those people who choose to tell us what sort of car they drive – HSV, 1kwikxr6, emzxr8 (Well done Emma, ownership and branding) – when we can already see that on the car’s factory badge.

Then there’s the motorist who uses numerals to express just how hip they are, like a text message on four wheels – R383CCA, VYBR8R, gr8full, xlr8.

Or those who think it’s cool to advertise their poor grasp of spelling – misagro, luvinit, dvrsd, xsnoiz, flybfree, ignyt.

Some have a touching message – Thx Mum, 4 sheila, erntit, yesdear, washis, wifegon, o bhayv, sux2beu.

Others are just plain dumb – elvis fan, tf3l p33k (keep left when seen in rear vision mirror), wiseone, bad vet (a vintage Corvette, of course).

And we can’t ignore those really boring ones that are quite obviously, a sad private joke – Mr Golf 1, Butch 2, Moose 75, Gorjess2, butty, ma frog, pommy c, froz dang, caca and even willee.

Plus the corny attempts – blingiton, u reckn, s n m, mean az, sue me, hertoy.

What’s wrong with 1AGB 555? Too ordinary for you? The coppers love those personalised plates tho, makes it easier for them to find you on the road.

All registration numbers use in this blog are genuine.   

It’s tough being a man in a man’s world

It’s tough being a man in a man’s world.

GIVE me daughters anytime. They might morph into alien-spawn undergoing exorcism during the hormone-abundant teens, but at least I don’t have to teach them how to be a good man, in this good-man drought.

I feel sure teaching a young man how to be a good man is a very difficult job, and not one I am equipped for, hence why I have daughters – I think we are given what we can cope with not necessarily what we deserve.

Mothers have been blamed for their offsprings’ (mainly their sons) failings forever and a day, and let’s face it, men have a tendency to be particularly flawed, but why is that? Is it genetic, developmental, environmental or are the male of our species still more closely tied to our survival-oriented Neolithic predecessors than females?

We can ponder this endlessly, too, but I really do pity the parents of sons. Despite their delightful childhood demeanour, boys have to be equipped to grow into men who respect women, can care for and love them without stifling their independence, be willing to take on a (sometimes ruthless) career with a wage (and commensurate responsibility) to support a one-income family when babies arrive, or lovingly support a woman who wants to return to work and either become a house-husband or agree to pay (financially, and perhaps emotionally) for their child to attend day care, be a positive but strong role model for his children, not a blokey, beer-swilling layabout, but one prepared to change nappies, cook and clean, ferry children to and from their many extra-curricular and social activities while helping their woman feel romanced, intellectually and emotionally satisfied and protected, while keeping their own sanity intact.

Without doubt, women have a varied role to fulfil, but don’t forget men do too. And judging from media reports, men seem to have the hardest time behaving in a way that begets respect, and I’m not just talking about high profile sporting celebs! Newspapers are full of the stupidity of ordinary men, the result of alcohol abuse, violent tendencies and just plain dumb-power.                    

It confounds me how to even begin teaching a son how to be manly, without being masochistic or chauvinistic, how to respect women without becoming a hen-pecked victim, how to be simultaneously ambitious and compassionate, how to be strong and soft (sounds like a toilet tissue, I know). And likely without much recognition, because we women do it all without expecting a trophy or a medal, so it’s about time you guys just got with the program and gave it your all, regardless of what your men friends think or say, and regardless of the material rewards. It’s time to give up on the idea of quid pro quo (this for that) and give unconditionally of yourself without the need for reward.

I’ll never forget the time a grandfather told me he never took time off work to see his own children receive a merit certificate or achieve something important to them because his male colleagues made fun of him for even asking! So, maybe that’s the key. Men and in particular dads, it’s up to you to let your sons – and the other guys in your life – know that it’s ok to make family, the women in your life and your own emotional health, a priority.

This is NOT an anti-man rant!

Now, this may sound like an anti-man rant, and while it is a bit of a bitch-sesh aimed at blokes, I am only commenting on what I hope is a small section of the male heterosexual population.

There’s something that they do that makes my blood go cold. Then boil.

Groaning quietly – in a sleazy, sexual way. Or making whispered sexually suggestive comments like “that’s nice” or “yeahhhh”. All within centimetres of me in a public place, but so it can only be heard by me. So it’s just you and he that knows anything has even been said. I can’t stand it! No, scrub that, I  r e a l l l l l y  hate it!!!

Does this happen to any other women? I’ve had this conversation with girlfriends recently and while a couple have identified the unwanted attention, others have luckily not yet experienced it.

A recent brush with this shameful practice a month or so ago made me so annoyed my teenage daughter knew something was wrong despite my protests that everything was fine. Deciding I may as well educate her about the likes of some men in the community, I told her my story and was shocked at how shocked she was that this sort of disrespectful behaviour goes on. I felt a little bad about telling her how it really is – destroying innocence is not one of my hobbies.

And then, as if on cue, it happened to me while I was standing in line with both teenage daughters to pay a restaurant bill. A father we’d seen at a table nearby us sitting with his wife and child, grazed past me in the line and moaned. But this time, someone else heard it – my other, younger daughter. She was incredulous and just looked at me with her jaw agape, followed quickly by a “eewwwww, did you hear that mum?”

The first time I witnessed this particular behaviour was probably 25 years ago, I was a naive young woman, just starting out in life. I was totally shocked and couldn’t believe what I’d heard. I started to think maybe I’d imagined it or, against my better judgement, I’d done something to deserve it.

It left me feeling powerless. And dirty. Not because of anything I’d done – apart from being female. I felt I’d been taken advantage of by a complete coward and I couldn’t do a bloody thing about it!

It’s happened several times over the years, leaving me with the same “used” feeling – by the time it’s happened the offending male has walked on by and it would, to use a good Aussie term, take a lot of guts to turn around, walk back to him and pass on a piece of my incensed mind. I guess that’s why they do it.

Well, when it happened again last week, now that I’m in my early 40s and my sense of outrage has a life of its own, I reacted.

And it felt r e a l l l l l y good.

Walking past several people leaving a train station as I walked in to meet a girlfriend, a bloke walking past me uttered “that’s niiiice”, leaving me feeling, as usual, shithouse. But I just internally shook my head and continued on my puzzled way looking like nothing untoward had happened.

But coming out of the train station, the offending 35-45-year-old man, complete with ill-fitting singlet, boardies, thongs, unattractive but preened facial hair and bikie-style sunglasses, was waiting for his ride while constructing a roll-your-own (health-conscious as well).

You know what it’s like when your brain goes through an entire thought process in a nanosecond and your mouth has already opened and the words have already poured out?

Before I could say “ugly, stupid, bogan arsehole” I looked at him and said “Just so you know, that’s not nice”. (yes, there was a double meaning there – his comment was not nice, but quite frankly, neither was he – I wouldn’t touch him with a boudoir whip!)

He shook his abominable head and held his empty hands as if to say, “what are you talking about”. But we both knew.

I wonder if he has a daughter, or a wife, girlfriend, mother or sister? I wonder if he’ll ever consider how they would feel if a man (term used loosely) did that to them? I doubt it, his behaviour illustrates a distaste for women. But there is a slim chance. Perhaps, if he has any conscience, he’ll only do it one or two more times before it makes him feel too uncomfortable and his questionable ‘mojo’ deserts him.

I doubt whether he’ll share the experience with any of his mates, not wanting to appear bested by the ‘fairer’ sex, but maybe young women like my daughters won’t have to experience the dreadful feeling that maybe men really are just dickheads.

I can’t tell you if I’ll open my big mouth next time it happens. But if you’re a woman, and this happens to you, maybe consider your options. We do have them.
Pic Credit: salzdummyspit.com

Irritating puzzles

Things that irritate and puzzle me

20/01/2011

* When people recite their mobile numbers starting with a block of three numbers instead of four ie 041 355 555 5. Has the ‘official’ style of writing and saying these 10-digit numbers changed?

* Cars with number plates that say Kerrys, or Als or Heathaz et al. So, you have a car, congratulations!

* Erectile dysfunction radio ads featuring a female voiceover pressuring men to take action because they are causing the ‘mrs’ to miss out!

* When I mistakenly send a work email to a person I don’t work with.

* Chemical breath – smokers who pretend they don’t smoke, but we all know they do.

* Telstra. The service (or lack of), the charges, the whole vibe, really….

* Flickering fluoro lights.

* Those horrible testicles that hang from the towbar of some men’s vehicles. Confirmation they consider their mode of transport an actual substitute for their actual penis.

* Smutty US TV sitcoms whose only plot is sex, sex and more sex, despite the 7pm timeslot.

* TV ads that appear to educate motorists about drink driving but actually promote binge drinking, because we ‘deserve it’.

* Lone shoes on the side of the road. And the matching shoe 1km further on. And those that hang from powerlines, and trees.

* Arctic cardigan-inspired airconditioning on a 35 degree day.

* The offer of another 2cents per litre off my fuel if I spend another $2 in store.

* Floury apples.

* Chinese-grown apples and snow peas at the local supermarket.

* People who think council junk collection’s are year-round.

* People who leave Christmas lights on their house all year.

* Those stupid reindeer antlers on cars.

Pic Credit: growabrain.typepad.co

Selling the family home post break-up

When selling the family home is a metaphor for accepting family breakdown: A ‘second person’ account

2/12/2010

HEARTBREAKING is one way to describe selling your dream home – the former hub of your not-always broken family – in the middle of a global financial crisis. Strangely thankful is how you feel when someone falls in love with your dream home and offers to buy it for not much less than your brutally realistic estimate.Panicked describes the realisation you and your children will be homeless in two months unless you buy another house.Conflicted and irretrievably sad describes your state of mind and as you realise how ironic it is that selling the family home represents the deconstruction of your family identity.Scared is how you feel when your severely limited price range means you’ll probably have to share a bathroom with your hair-straightening, make-up wearing teenage daughter in a house the size of a railway signal cabin a stone’s throw from said deafening transport route.

Anger is the raw response when you ask to increase your share of proceeds from the sale of the family home you single-handedly readied for market and worked hard to help pay off, from 50 to 55 per cent. Incredulous is your lawyer’s reaction to your refusal to lobby for at least another 10 per cent on top of that.

Certain is your resolve to never deserve the label of money-hungry ex-wife. Pride is the defining quality guiding the sense of fairness you can’t deny and others don’t really understand, but accept with good grace and a shake of the head.

Frustration stings your eyes when your moderate request is greeted with hostility, giving birth to a determination you always suspected was there and would now have to deploy for the sake of your daughters’ future. Unbelievable and small-minded are the attempts to stymie your every move forward, despite the obvious benefits to your “homeless” offspring.

The Divine Protection of the Universe is the powerful karmic force that guides you to a prospective new home. Excitement wells as a signature seals an agreement to purchase, later accepted by the vendor, finally giving you sole homeowner status at the age of 40 – something a woman rarely achieved until 30-odd years ago.

Grateful doesn’t nearly describe the relief at unswerving family support ensuring you didn’t lose the modest house you’d chosen for your forced fresh start, in the face of hostile threats and legal jockeying.

Fear and loathing, followed swiftly by paralysing anxiety, is your reaction to threatening phone calls and letters, but stubborn is your resolve to remain positive and focussed.

Humbled were we all to survive an unprecedented 12 months. Bravely, you embrace your new family identity, robust with the love, determination and strength to form the foundation for a bright future brimming with rewarding times and positive experiences.
Pic Credit: mnkyimages.com

Child maintenance – getting to grips with it

Child maintenance – getting to grips with it

23/11/2010

CHILD maintenance – a term that once struck the fear of a very large and unforgiving god into me – is something I’ve had to get an intimate grip on. And squeeze. Hard.When you are caring for your children 100 per cent care of the time plus paying 100 per cent of your living costs, including the hefty family mortgage, it’s time to learn about the Child Support Agency.This aptly named government organisation will find your former partner and make him or her help with the financial reality of raising your joint children. But it can be a long process, so get started early.

The CSA uses a complex formula, based in part on your children’s ages, to determine how much the ‘absent’ parent should pay the ‘caring’ parent, until they are also able to independently care for the children overnight, thereby reducing their payments.

Backed by government legislation, the CSA can ‘garnish’ a person’s wage and deposit these payments into the receiving parent’s bank account, especially when they are in arrears despite being gainfully employed.

But so long as the paying parent is meeting their financial obligations according to the CSA, they do not legally have to contribute any extra money for private schooling expenses or extra-curricular activities like netball, dance or even dental fees.

It seems cruel to stop your children from taking part in what have been normal activities over many years, just because you can’t really afford it due to a relationship breakdown, none of which is their fault. So, it’s baked beans for dinner, again.

You can apply to the CSA to have your assessment changed due to one of 10 reasons, high education or medical costs included, but be prepared to wait several months for this process to finalise, and not necessarily in your favour.

So don’t do like I did and spend 12 months hoping it wouldn’t come to that, because your kids won’t understand when you can’t afford new clothes, shoes, take-away, treats, outings, holidays and birthday presents for their friends.
Pic Credit: dolmanbateman.com.au

Flying solo at Centrelink

Flying solo at Centrelink

25/10/2010

WHEN the only place to turn for help is Centrelink, you know you’re in serious trouble.It’s worse than realising the bucks stops at you, because, when faced with the financial fright of raising two children (daughters at that) with one less parent, only the government can help. And that just exaggerates the sadness of a relationship breakdown.From the moment I sheepishly parked near the greying building where cigarette ends, chewed gum and empty cans of Mother littered the pathetic excuse for kerbside gardens, it was useless to think I’d ever get the next two hours back.

The thankful anonymity of standing in a queue of other dead-eyed citizens was a numbing introduction to accepting, nay needing, welfare; until the screech of bored children and the frustrated ranting of grown men crystallized our common sense of desperation and futility.

I’d never separated with my long-term partner before so this was all new territory. Obviously the question of how my now meagre wage would cover the mortgage, car repayment and private school fees was a burning one, but so was the mystery of how people could actually go down town in their pyjamas. I’m serious! Flannelette Winnie the Pooh pj pants, faux-ugg boots, an oversize ACDC shirt and a synthetic pink beanie with built-in plaits, and that was just the mum!

Then there was the professionally attired senior lady with an appointment but, after introducing herself to the roving clip-board wielding ‘maitre d’, was left waiting 45 minutes before being told there’d been an error (read: a double booking). She would have to make another appointment for another day to discuss her superannuation arrangements, never mind the impact spending more time off work would have on her relationship with her employer!

And I felt so sorry for the bewildered older gentleman forced to use a Centrelink courtesy phone to call Centrelink because the Centrelink employees present were not allowed to discuss his options. He had been laid off from his roof carpentry job when the economic downturn halted the building boom and needed an income to stay afloat.

Hard of hearing and distracted by background noise, the man couldn’t understand the operator so jarringly and repeatedly cawed “ayyh? I can’t hear ya, can ya speak up please mayht”.

He left none the wiser but, in typical fashion, I was beginning to see a silver lining – Centrelink was an untapped resource of human drama, a contemporary snapshot of ordinary Australian society, a soapy reality spin-off of Neighbours and a budding author’s dream location for air-conditioned people-watching and eavesdropping.

I visibly cringed as my name was called but dutifully followed a shuffling man who looked more miserable than his clientele, to a cubicle where I answered personal questions about separation dates, living arrangements, pay scales and bank account balances.

And so, it became official. I was a sole parent (I reject the ‘single mum’ label; it conjures unfortunate and probably untrue images of cigarette smoking, bourbon- drinking desperados on the look out for another man, any man, with a pay packet) and the Australian government was going to help me make ends meet. Phew! Thank you fellow taxpayers.

It was at once grateful and perplexed. I felt brave but dreaded what my next move would have to be. The fear of the unknown was raining down on me and reality was dawning – the predictable life my children and I had known, was over.