Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Non-Custodial Parent

I would have thought we as a society would have come further in 25 years. But this does not appear to be the case.

My husband and I split up 25 years ago, when I left our marriage and our home, taking my four year old son with me. I won't splatter the private details of our married life all over the internet; if you are looking for salacious tidbits, I can refer you to another blog.

By the time we finally divorced after living apart some two years later, it was an amicable separation. I got the kid, he got the house. Sort of. I had physical custody of our son; we had joint legal custody. Jim stayed in the cabin he had built (on land that did not belong to us) and in which had all lived as a family, up in the peninsula hills.

I don't recall much squabbling over legal papers. It was a do-it-yourself divorce; there were no attorneys, only a paralegal. There was not much property to separate; the cabin was not ours; we each kept one of the two cars we owned. Custody was the only issue for discussion.

By the time I started legal paperwork two years after we had split, our emotions had calmed down. We had established a routine for physical custody and visitation. I had rented a house on the peninsula and Jim would visit Sean at the house one night a week and every other weekend. This arrangement gave Sean great stability in having only one place to call "home". At some point, we put the arrangement on paper, and filed it with the court. It was a pretty typical divorce, mom gets physical custody, dad has visitation rights.

Fast forward 25 years. In this much changed world of today, at least technologically speaking, I have come across a blog written by a divorced mother of three children, who gave up physical custody of her children ten years ago to her ex-husband. She gave up physical custody solely in the best interests of her children at the time of the divorce, not because she didn't love her kids and want to be with them and not for any other reason. So here's the rub: why do I even find myself explaining this? Because we as a society still expect the mom to get the kids, unless there is "something wrong" with her, as in she is an "unfit mother".

And I know one or two who are unfit mothers. Drug addicts, alcoholics, emotionally unstable women whose ex-husbands ended up being the custodial parent. But, why is this the assumed reason if the wife does not end up with the kids today? We are living in a time when women can have just as successful and demanding careers as men, have just as much earning power to afford a nice place to live, in a time when dads have more flexible work schedules thanks to the ability to work from home, in a time when dads taking "paternity leave" is not unheard of - why do we still poorly judge those women who have chosen to give up physical custody?

We do, still, jump to that conclusion. At least, according to one woman's story.

But I have also read a few comments on Facebook regarding this issue, which indicate that there is some progressive thinking out there on the topic. So perhaps we are making progress, even if I find that progress glacially slow. Couples living together was not socially accepted by my parents generation when I met my husband some 35 years ago. Today, unmarried couples living together is hardly questioned, if not always sanctioned. Perhaps there is hope for other alternative lifestyle choices, such as non-custodial mothers. I certainly hope so.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

How I Forecast the Weather

There is no location for mountain weather. I live outside city limits of the nearest town. Even if I lived within the limits of the nearest town, the town center is at the bottom of the hill....and the mountain makes its own weather.

I have to check three different locations (north/west, south, and east) to get any reasonably accurate predication of the coming weather. And even then my "forecast" is often not reliable.

Today it is raining and foggy up here on the mountain. According to, it is merely "cloudy" in San Francisco, Woodside and Redwood City, while the mountain is getting doused. I live high enough up the mountain to be right smack dab in the middle of the "cloudy" part of that weather prediction.

But, sometimes, I am above the forecasted "cloudy" weather. On those days, it can be brilliantly sunny at my house on top of the mountain. When I drive down the ribbon of skyway towards town, I am above the tops of the clouds on either side of me, pink or orange or rose colored from the rising sun.

And so, I have learned that a "cloudy" weather forecast on could mean sunny...or raining...or foggy....up here on the mountain...or, it just might actually mean cloudy. I guess I will just have to look out the window to know for sure.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Who Gets the Kids?

A common theme in a common scenario. Mom and Dad divorce, and the big questions are: Who gets the kids? Who gets the house?

Yep. Been there. However, in my divorce, there was never any question of who got what. He got the house, I got the kid. Technically we had joint custody, but realistically I was the one who made any decisions related to the kid. It was helpful that our values are pretty similar. Jim built our cabin, and I was the one who left, so he got the house.

But...what happens when a couple splits up and there are no big ticket items to split up? What happens then?

I guess you fight over smaller things, like who bought the lamp or the patio furniture. And for pet lovers, "who gets the dog?" is probably a big concern. Divorce is never easy.

What about an unmarried, not living together couple? Easier yet, at least physically. There isn't any "moving out" for one thing. But still, "breaking up is hard to do".

With all of these various scenarios, there are some things not so easily divided up - friends. Who gets the friends? If I am a friend of one, can I remain a friend of the other? In theory, yes, in reality, this is difficult if not impossible to do.

Which brings me to my last point - what about places? You know - places you used to go together, things you used to do together. Do you still go to that restaurant the two of you used to frequent? Do you still go to the same church, the same grocery store, the same hardware store? What about the same coffee shop, the same entertainment spot? Do you split these up? If not, do you change your behavior to not run into your former lover?

Curious minds want like to know. Let me know what you think.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving has long been my favorite holiday. Everyone can participate, regardless of ethnic or religious origin. There is no wondering what to buy for Aunt Martha, no lavish spending on displays of lights and plastic reindeer, no maxing out the credit card on gifts that no one will use.

There is no exclusion from this holiday for those who do not believe in the reason behind it. No requirement that you attend some religious ceremony. Just family, friends, food and drink, and giving thanks. I can not think of a better reason to celebrate, essentially, to have a nationwide party.

For the past eleven years I have spent Thanksgiving with my family in Connecticut. But this year, I will not. This year, I will be staying in California. I decided not to fly across the country this year because I only have four days off from work.

And so I will stay here in California, spending the day at my cousin's house across the bay. On Thursday, I will eat, drink and be merry. And I will give thanks - for my family, for my friends, for my health, for the beautiful state of California that I am lucky enough to call home....and for my job.


By late November, most of the trees have lost their leaves on the East Coast. In California, our oranges and yellows and reds still adorn tree branches. Our "fall" starts a little later, and lasts a little longer.

"What fall?" my sister asks, incredulously. By east coast standards, we don't have "fall" in California; we have a warm green season and a cool green season. It is true, we have many trees that don't lose their leaves at all. But this only makes those trees whose leaves do turn color even more brilliantly spectacular.

And, yes, sister dear, we do have some trees whose leaves turn burning orange and flaming red. We have brilliant red maples, and fiery orange Chinese pistachios, and bright yellow gingkos that can compete with any east coast tree. These trees may not be native to California, having been planted as shade trees in neighborhood front yards or to line city streets, but they are flourishing here now, just like many a transplanted Californian.

Just like me.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Our Own "Miss Rumphius"

It was a memorial to a man who made the world more beautiful, or, at least, his part of the world. Officially it was a dedication ceremony, to dedicate the grounds at Fremont High School as "Stahl Gardens". The ceremony was short and sweet. The high school band played on the large front lawn, friends and colleagues spoke, the plaque designating the grounds as "Stahl Gardens" was unveiled by Bob's family.

I can't say I knew him well. I can't say I really knew Bob at all, except that I knew who he was. Everyone knew who Bob was, at least everyone who set foot on the Fremont High School campus over the last 25 years.

Bob had been the head custodian at Fremont High School, for many, many years. But Bob was more than a custodian. Bob was legendary for his gardening skills, skills that he brought to fruition at the high school. Tall red roses adorned the front walkways of the campus. Hundreds of brightly colored tulips bloomed in early spring underneath the roses. And in May, the tulips were replaced with red and white petunias, Fremont colors, just in time for graduation, while red roses bloomed over their heads, all surrounded by an expanse of bright green grass.

Fremont High School, the step-child in an otherwise wealthy school district, is not a school with funds to spare, and flowers are expensive to purchase and maintain. But people loved to donate to Bob's "flower fund". People not connected to the high school in any way would often stop to admire the flowers that graced the lawn in front of the high school. The local community was enhanced by Bob's gardening talents - as cars passed by on the busy street, or stopped at the light on the corner, people would glance over to the front lawn to take in the colorful displays.

Never in all the time I have spent at Fremont HS over the past 15 years have I ever seen or heard of any Fremont student ruining the flowers in any way.

Although students can learn without a flower garden, the flower garden at Fremont is important to keep. Especially for a school that struggles to purchase the amenities that other wealthier high schools in the area have, the garden is something tangible in which its students can, and do, take pride. For that reason, if for no other, Fremont High School should continue Bob's legacy of making the campus a nicer place, and maintain Stahl Gardens with tulips, roses and petunias, for many years to come.