Christmas Ghosts

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All day long I had a huge plan to write this super fabulous “Ghost of Christmas Past” blog regarding the first Christmas Eve I spent alone without the kids (six years ago).  It was going to be a tear-jerker, ’cuz that was a memory that I’ll never forget.  I figured that even though a bunch of it would be a bummer to read, it would hold some truth for those parents who are going it alone this Christmas because of a divorce decree and custody arrangement.   The memory included getting drunk by myself, crying for hours, and feeling self-pity; I was going to conclude the piece with a serious reflection on how I’m glad I went through that crap because the Ghost of Christmas Future showed me a much better way.  Blah, blah, blah…

That’s what I was going to do.

But then, I stepped outside to view the beautiful calm snow covering the trees tonight at 10:45 p.m. on Christmas.

And now, I’m just like:  WOW.

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I spent today by myself while the kids were at their dad’s.  I was a slug.  My day included a marathon viewing of The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad on my new 50” T.V. that the kids bought for me.  I ate nearly an entire pumpkin pie and drank several mimosas.  I napped about 5 times, took a hot bubble bath and licked up the remainder of the pumpkin pie scraps.  I continued to formulate in my mind the brilliant Ebenezer Scrooge-themed writing piece.

But this wintery Ansel Adams view just knocked all of that out of the water.  I’m speechless.

Well, not speechless, because that can never happen in my lifetime.  I like to talk and write too much.  I have a flip-top head and words are my idol.

So let’s just say the following:

After several years of working on this whole amicable-divorce-and-getting-along-with-your-ex-thing, I’ve finally arrived.

Last night on Christmas Eve, I spent an enjoyable and entertaining evening with Devon’s family, including my kids, Felipe, Devon’s mom and dad, his brother and sister and their kids.  In the past, I would have put on a good show and at times would have suffered a bit through it.

But not this year.  This year seemed a bit different.  More sincere.  I can’t quite pin-point the reasons, but I suppose that beating cancer, dealing with a breakup of a long-term relationship and generally being happy with where my life is going probably helps.  I have a job that I love, a great house in a cool neighborhood, and I get to write all the time.  My cat is awesome, my kids are cool, and the bacon shortage they were predicting earlier in the fall was a farce.

Last night was amazing getting to hang out and laugh, gorge, swap 15 years worth of familial stories and listen to Devon sing cheesy karaoke songs, all the while being comfortable with my now non-traditional rainbow family.  I never would have thought it possible that first Christmas Eve alone, but here I am.

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Devon sang “Wind Beneath My Wings” after dedicating the song to Delilah, in the cheesiest way possible. We were laughing so hard that we were crying.

And here I am right now, sitting on my front porch, nearly freezing my butt off, writing this and looking at the most peaceful and beautiful holiday scene.  If I had stayed in my bitterness, fought Devon tooth and nail, maybe even tried to move back to Iowa with the kids, I wouldn’t be typing this.  My life is wonderful.  My relationship with Devon is special, my respect for Felipe immense, and my children are blessed to be able to spend Christmas with all of us together.

The kids would say that they love having two Christmases, I’m sure.

This morning at 9 a.m., Devon and Felipe came over for breakfast.  The plan was to eat and then take the kids to their house right after we finished.  Instead, they showed up with the huge T.V.  Felipe and Devon set it up (Devon even organized my videos, mess of cords and book shelf), we ate and reminisced a bit, opened presents and we all loved on each other.  Not only did I get a new tele out of the deal and an organized entertainment area, I got to have our whole family under one roof for a few hours two days in a row.  That wasn’t just meaningful for me, it really meant something to the kids.  The security they have in the fact that we have come this far is amazing to me.

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You should have seen this spot before Devon got to it. I do believe he found some animals living in the nest of cords there. He’s so dang organized and couldn’t wait to throw up his OCD somewhere in my house. I just sat there while drinking a mimosa and watched the whole scene.

And yeah, I got to spend some time relaxing by myself.  Instead of tears in my wine like six years ago, I reflected on this amazing ride I’ve had.  I don’t want to be so trite as to say things happen for a reason, but things can work out if you concentrate on the good in life instead of staying stuck in Christmas Past.  I’ve never been accused of being a Scrooge, but I think we all have choices we can make about how to handle the situations we find ourselves in.  Remember the Past, but be in the Present, and expect a positive Future.  You’ll find it.

Happy Holidays to all of our readers and families out there.  May you be blessed in the Present and have hope for your Future.  Oh, and try to enjoy the beautiful scenery along the way.

Emily and Devon Reese

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Happy Holidays from us. This image was too freaky to pass up.

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Musings on our Rainbow Family and Other Observations About Life

I’ll admit that I have been avoiding writing this past month.  At work I have resorted to short and direct emails rather than longwinded missives the likes of which Gore Vidal never knew.

And, truth be told, I have been mourning the passing of a great friend four weeks ago – Brett Michael Jaffe, who left us too young.  Brett’s death has caused some significant introspection about life, love, and death.  The grieving process I have experienced with Brett’s passing reminds me a lot of going through my divorce.  Divorce after all is the “death” of a relationship.  Some days I have lingered over memories too long and other days seem more like a dream.  Some moments are re-played on the DVR in my mind on loop and others have been forgotten.  Mostly I have taken refuge in our three amazing children and in the arms of my best friend.  Today is a good day and in spite of some painful moments, LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL!

Brett Jaffe will be forever remembered. He served the USMC and his country faithfully.

Emily has been patiently cajoling me to write and has put up with my writing avoidance defense mechanism; as patient as a rabid zombie seeking a slow victim.  So I write…. with some helpful interview questions cooked up by Emily “Bacon Slayer” Strabala-Reese / Reese-Strabala / Reese / Strabala (which is it? – a topic for another time).

Here are the questions she presented to me.

1.  What is a “Fred-ism”?  Give some examples of what this means.  I think it would be good to clarify this topic so that you can begin using them when you write on our blog.

Funny!  My Dad’s name is Thomas Frederick Reese.  Born a really long time ago, he is the Aged P.  He’s always gone by “Fred” to his friends (a.k.a. The Silver Fox).  It stands to reason that a “Fred-ism” is something that Fred does, says, or is.  I love my Dad!  He’s been a huge influence on my life.  He, like us all, has his faults and has made his share of mistakes.  He will be 78 this year and he has put a bunch of miles on his body so we are trying to be honest about his health – some days are better than others.

I also think Fredisms are a secret code for those who know him to reflect on his craziness.  My brothers and sisters can laugh and tell Fredisms to each other for hours.  It’s like a secret club where you can only be admitted if you know all the quirks of our Father.

Fredisms include:

  • a particular brand of OCD tendencies – like having to make certain that your house is perfectly clean before leaving for vacation (“Who wants to return from a trip to a dirty house?”)
  • instead of having something defensible to say about someone’s worldview, just barking, “She’s not all there!” is his fall-back phrase.  (Yes Dad, Shelly Berkley looks like “the Joker on speed.”)
  • being on a first name basis with every employee of every Dollar Store or consignment shop in Sparks, Nevada.  You should see the garbage he sends home with us.  I shit-you-not this stuff is hysterical.  I have personally received plaster hands in prayer; tin boxes, piggy banks of every shape and size (when one of my children mistakenly remarked that he liked them), “discreet” condom storage boxes (with pictures of sunsets and sandy beaches), dream catchers (Emily’s favorite), and all measure of Chinese manufactured bullshit to fill a dumpster the size of a small village.  This is his latest gift.  What in the hell is this?  Best response might receive it in the mail next week so tread lightly.

What the hell is this, anyway? And a better question is, why did Fred think it was a must-have?

When I was a kid I used to find his Fredisms annoying.  Now I am just thankful that he is still around and my kids get to know what an amazing, if somewhat crazy, man this is.

2.  Please give your rendition of the day you proposed to me.  Wait.  Also please tell me exactly when you decided you loved me so much that you wanted to ask me to marry you.  I’ve never asked that question.

It was December; we were spending Christmas Break in Reno.  It was cold!  My parents had recently sold the home I grew up in and moved into a Condo that my Mother could not stand (Fred in his infinite wisdom sold the house “out from under me” as my Mother frequently recalls).  I had purchased the ring a few months earlier but wanted everyone to meet you first.  I had some ideas about how to propose that I’d read about or seen on television.  One was to make my own light-up sign using a cardboard box and Christmas light – who do I look like Martha Stewart?  I’d have cut myself and bled to death or been electrocuted.  That was not going to work.  It also snowed the first four or five days we were in town which significantly impaired my ability to plan anything outside.  I was getting desperate!  So I settled on getting to the top of the highest point I could safely get us to in a blizzard and simply getting down on one knee.  So I proposed on the hill at McQueen High School.  I remember you were wearing ugly black shoes that were not the best thing for a hike through 2 feet of snow.  You said yes!  The rest is history.

I decided to ask you to marry me after I drove a couple hundred miles in a snowstorm to see you play in the National Catholic Basketball Tournament in some far wintery region of Iowa.  Quad-Cities I think.  I had just returned to Kansas City from being in Reno for Christmas break when I received a “Dear John” letter from you.  I was having none of that so Shane and I drove through the night to win you back.

Note from Emily:  Devon, I remember having the best game of my college career that morning, not knowing you were sitting in the bleachers with Shane.  When I came out of the game for a much needed break (and probably to change my uniform because the one I was wearing was too slimy from sweat), imagine my surprise when I saw you sitting there smiling at me.  Well played, Devon.  That sealed the deal for me, too.

3.  Please tell the general populace why you think you know everything about everything.  In particular, I am referring to the jobs you had which led you to the path of Nirvana and Total Enlightenment.

This is a “Fredism”.  I use this line on the kids mostly but occasionally it is a pithy retort to any argument with anyone.  I have worked in retail (youngest manager in Gantos story history), ice cream, and inventory control – I am therefore qualified to opine on any subject including fashion (although this is disputed by my two girls), Olympic diving (“He is gay, you can tell by the way he wears his Speedo to the left”), and the politics of Djibouti.

4.  What, in your opinion, were the three toughest things about hashing out the particulars of our divorce?

  • Child custody – I wanted the kids to immediately spend 50% of their time with me; this was not always practical but eventually worked out.
  • Finances – at the time, the economy was shot (still is?) and I was not working.  But again, this got worked out.
  • Stuff – I did not want much but I had to say goodbye to things we collected along the way – can I have the little wood boxes back?

From Emily:  No, you can’t have those boxes.  I use them to store the various voodoo dolls I have created of you over the last 6 years.  They hold sentimental bitter feelings for me.

5.  What in particular would you want to see improvement on between the two of us and our current relationship?  Please be brutally honest.  Don’t give me that “I wouldn’t change anything, you’re perfect the way you are, I’m perfect and don’t need to change a thing” crap.  I’m totally serious, here.  Our dirty laundry can’t get any dirtier than it already is on this blog.

  • You need to clean your house more.
  • The kids need to take more showers at your house.
  • You need to clean your car.
  • You could make me White Chicken Chile once and a while.
  • You need to clean your house more.
  • Can you get a job soon?
  • Don’t ask me if I think your current boyfriend is cute.  He is ugly when compared to me.

Emily:  I would love to get all sorts of defensive on your ass for these comments, but unfortunately, they are true to a degree.  I did clean out the car the other day.  I found some petrified chicken McNuggets under the back seat that I thought about saving for your viewing pleasure.  Instead, I put them in the wooden boxes for safe keeping.

6.  When you are dealing with clients who are going through a divorce, what kinds of things do you think about when counseling them through the process?  Do you ever use us as an example?  Does it ever cause you to be self-reflective?  What is the toughest thing about dealing with Family Law and having been through a divorce yourself?

This is a great question.  I think I am very good at this type of practice because I have gone through a divorce.  I do try to encourage cooperation and use our own divorce as a model.  Unfortunately, it is not always realistic – some people need to have their dumbass opinions corrected.  I “know everything about everything” so it is “my way” or you can hire someone else.  I do turn down clients – mostly they are people who want to “slash and burn” their ex-spouses.  I will not do that – life is too short.

Blessings and Rainbows, Devon and Emily

Another example of a gift from Fred to his son and his son’s male partner. ‘Cuz, you know, they’re like daughters to him?

Get Your Hippy On For The Week

Ewwww.  The custody arrangement.

When you have bambinos, that’s a tough one, particularly in the beginning of your divorce discussions.

When you’re used to having things be “normal” and all of a sudden they absolutely have to be different, it bites.  You simply don’t have a choice.

I will never claim that it was easy for me.  It was Devon who had to move out.  Honestly, I made him move out, for reasons that I won’t get into entirely here, but let’s just say it was a boundary I had to uphold once I spoke it into existence.  It was either this thing that you must do, Devon, or you have to move out.  Looking back now, I did it out of spite, but I don’t regret it entirely.  It was what it was.  It was a bitter time for me, and while I’d like to blame him for making the choice, it really was me who made the final decision.

It really sucked.  It especially sucked for him.  Besides the tough reality for Devon, it was really rough on the kids.  Man, it’s difficult to even think about it now.  I really put Devon through some shtuff.

What it afforded me, though, was the gradual time it took to get used to not having my kids every day.  I cried when they had their first overnight at his house.  I cried many times after that.  I probably drank too much wine, too, but that’s how I handled it.  (Hopefully you won’t handle it that way.  I certainly don’t recommend it.)

By the time our divorce was final, we had come to the arrangement that we’d have the kids one week off/one week on.

If I could make one recommendation about your final paperwork, it would be to do every other week if your living arrangements and proximity allow for that.

In fact, I just had a conversation with a good friend of mine this past holiday weekend at an awesome music festival about that very thing.  Speaking as a family law attorney, which he is, he said that he almost always recommends that arrangement to his clients.  He also said that generally, they balk at it.

I understand why people do resist it.  There’s usually one parent who can’t bear the thought of having to spend one minute away from their children.  I mean, it’s tough and I get it.  Often, there’s bitterness involved.  Like I said, things used to be “normal”, but now the parents are forced to split the kids up for balanced time with the other parent.  “It just isn’t fair to them,” some might say.  But is divorce or your situation fair in the first place?  It probably doesn’t feel that way.

I say, “Make the most of it.”  Make a new normal.

The point is that this past week I got to go to an awesome music festival, enjoy myself, meet new and interesting people, have zero responsibility except to the group of people I camped with (and even that was marginal)… all because of our one week on/one week off custody arrangement.

During my weeks off, I get to enjoy myself.  Find myself.  Have a chance at a new life as a single woman.

Then I get to come home if I take a trip, like this past holiday.  I’m so ready to see my kids at that point and spend time with them that I nearly pee my panties with excitement.

Picture the single mom or single dad who has to do everything all by themselves.  THAT is a tough spot to be in.  I know several of them and I am very blessed.  Deadbeat parents are the worst.  I happen know some single moms or dads who would cut off their right pinky toe just to have a break and have the other parent involved in their child’s life.

Let me list all of the trade offs of getting to have a week by myself.

1.  I’ve been allowed the freedom to travel.  I’ve been to Washington, L.A., Tennessee, beautiful backcountry camping trips, San Francisco, wine country, and tons of concerts.  It was much tougher to do those things when I was married with kids every day.

2.  I was able to get through surgeries, cancer treatments, and chemotherapy recovery without having to worry about the daily ins and outs of taking care of three kids.

3.  I’ve been able to go to school to get my Masters in Secondary Education without having much trouble with childcare.

4.  After a week of running children willy-nilly all over town to three different schools, sporting events, play dates, cooking meals, cleaning up after kids, getting up extra early to get things done… I get tired.  By the end of the week, I’m ready for a break and I’m not bitter about having to keep doing those monotonous things all over again the next week.  I get to do what I want to do.

Shall I go on?

The festival I went to this last week was full of children having fun with their parents and getting their hippy on.  Were there moments I was a bit sad about not being there with my own kids, and even Devon a time or two?  Definitely.  My camp mates would have really enjoyed my kids and Devon would have kept that campsite clean and super organized.  Heck, maybe he would have even typed up daily schedules for everyone and would have made everyone’s life simpler.  He would have been amazing there.

But you know, I enjoyed getting to walk around, feeling good about my singleness, dancing for joy to good music and thinking about how blessed I really am.  I knew my kids were in good hands and that the second I got home, I’d get to smother them with affection, cook a meal for them, run them to sports camps, and tuck them in at night… and I couldn’t wait.

I’ll be ready for another break after the week is up, though.  Maybe I’ll get my hippy on next week, too.  Who’s down?

Peace, Love, and Happiness- Emily

P.S. I would like to add that if it weren’t for Felipe, the kids’ stepdad, both Devon and I would be in a pickle.  Thanks for all that you do.

Questions to answer in the comments below:

1.  If you are already divorced, what has been your experience with your custody arrangement?  Why did you choose to do your arrangement the way that you did?

2.  If you don’t have a custody arrangement yet, what are your hang-ups?  What do you want your arrangement to be?

3.  If you aren’t already divorced, how do you plan on starting a new single life, if you can even think about that yet?

Yep, got to see lots of these this week because of our custody arrangement.

Check It Out! Exciting Stuff!

Hey, hey, hey Loyal Subjects!  An article just came out through Reuters (an international news organization) where Devon and The Royal We were interviewed regarding amicable divorces and mistakes to avoid.  It’s a super helpful article and very practical.  Check it out and give us your comments!  Thanks, Geoff Williams, for including us in your research. 

Blessings, Emily and Devon

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/06/26/us-divorce-mistakes-idUSBRE85P0W020120626