To give you a little bit of perspective, he had been going to his previous daycare since he was less than a year old (he started a few months after my ex left), and he is now almost 5. To him, that daycare was a big part of his life. The teachers were his "other mothers," and his classmates were his "other siblings." His nap cot was his 2nd bed, and the facility was his second home. He has eaten there, slept there, played there, learned there, and thrived there for as long as he can remember, and he loved it.
But when everything went down with the states child care funding crisis that threatened my childcare subsidy, and some changes were made at the center with staffing, we needed to find a new place. And I'm not going to lie, it made me really sad, because I've trusted that place with raising both my daughter and my son. They have been there for them when I couldn't be, and until recently, they've done a great job.
So looking for a new center, it was hard! It felt like jumping into the dating world the day after the love of your life breaks up with you. It didn't matter what any of the other places had to offer, none of them were the one we loved; the place we were comfortable with.
But there wasn't much I could do about that, and with my subsidy threatened and a huge staff turnover at the facility, it was time to get moving. I kid you not, I called every damn daycare within a 30 minute radius of my house. I did tour after tour, visiting some places more than once (often with friends), and when the directors would ask me if I had any questions, you had better believe that I had no less than 30. Because this is my child we are talking about here, and if he is going to be "raised" by someone else during the day, then I want to make sure that he is being raised in a place that supports the way I'd like to see him raised.
As I looked around, I can honestly say that I wasn't very impressed with a lot of places. They seemed to lack in some major category every single time; safety, education, etc. Getting discouraged, I moved to the last two places on my list, which were unfortunately both out of my price range. Taking a risk that maybe I could work something out, I visited the first place, and I was blown away. While the director walked around the center showing me the gymnasium, computer area, and tornado shelter, I felt peace.
The Boy Child, he is active. And I don't say that in a wishy-washy sense, I literally mean that every single muscle fiber in that kid's ENTIRE being, is moving at all times. While The Girl Child is studious, artsy, well mannered, and intellectual, The Boy Child is all about jumping, running, swinging, yelling, stomping, breaking, and dirt. The kid loves dirt. And it's something that has often created a problem for him in his previous center. He was always the most rambunctious of the bunch, and it has hindered his learning.
While I stood there listening to the director, she kept saying things that caught my attention, such as "we start the day with recess. We feel that the kids just need to get some energy out before they sit down. Then we do group time and learning centers. We have standing table over there (points to a high top table) for the little legs that wiggle, so they can stand instead of sit while they do their work. We feel that at this age, sometimes they do better when they don't feel like they have to sit still. For nap time, if they can't sleep, they can play quietly on their cots. We do recess right after nap, and then after another hour and a half of learning, we have recess again. The kids just learn so much better when they are able to get their energy out."
And my heart felt peace.
I spoke to the director about my financial situation, and our family situation, and I was blown away with the rate that she offered me, which was less than what I was paying at our previous center.
I left feeling like my search was over, that this was the place for him. But I still did have one last place on my list, and the appointment was already set up, so I decided to check it out anyway. I drove straight there and when I walked through the door, my eyeballs fell out and rolled across the floor.
This place was what I might imagine Harvard is like, only 15 years younger. I was greeted by a giant atrium, and... silence. It was so quiet in there. The director walked me around and showed me the art studio where some kids were doing pottery, the organic kitchen where everything is made organic and fresh; including vegetable from the garden that the kids grow in the summer. The 3 year old class was working silently on their subtraction, and the 4 year old classroom was just getting back from a field trip to Target where they were learning how bar codes work. The kindergarten class was doing yoga (I'm not even making this up), and the staff was busy shoving toys (all wooden of course) into something called an Ozonator, which is clearly a giant machine that disinfects using the power of Oxygen. The daily program even included engineering and Spanish.
My kid needs to go here, because clearly this is the place where geniuses are created.
Except that I'm poor, and when she handed me the tuition sheet that says the center costs $2400 a month (!!!!) I died.
Then she told me that they had scholarships available, and I was resurrected.
I set up a trial day, and dropped The Boy Child off a few days later.
When I picked him up later that day, he was in tears. He had hated every single minute of the 2 hour nap time, silent work time, and completely non-existent recess. He was so full of energy that he had worked himself into such anxiety that he absolutely melted down when he got into the car.
Last Friday I went to court. The experience was awful, beginning with me running into my ex before I even got into the courthouse.
I ended up waiting in my car until Mr. Attorney Man arrived and could walk in with me, and then we parted ways at security. By the time I got into the courtroom, there was only one seat open.
Would anyone like to guess which seat that was?
Yep, the one RIGHT next to my ex. And normally I wouldn't have even bothered, but to be honest here, I'm even more scared of the judge than I am my ex. Since I've been yelled at before by the judge for "loitering in his courtroom," I gritted my teeth and sat down next to my ex.
Do you want to know what I learned that morning?
That you definitely cannot send someone telepathic messages, because I swear to you, I had my eyes fiercely locked on the back of Mr. Attorney Man's head as I literally tried to will him to turn around. I realize how insane I sound right now, but I was actually thinking "OK, so if people can supposedly do this in life threatening situations, and since I feel like I might actually die right now, I am willing you to turn around." Then I used all my brain power and thought — in his direction of course — "MR. ATTORNEY MAN, TURN AROUND."
It did not work.
I had just wanted to motion to him that I was going to wait in the hallway.
Instead I sat there until I had basically broken all my fingers from gripping the seat, and waited for someone to move. When they did, I moved to the new open seat, which was conveniently located next to my friend's former ex.
I mean seriously......
Unlike most of my court dates, my case was actually called very quickly. In fact I think we may have been first. Either way, before I knew it, the judge was swearing us in and ordering Mr. Attorney Man not to make any hand gestures or nod his head.
I'm not kidding. Apparently head nodding, is now a criminal offense.
The judge spent the next, I dunno, what felt like eternity, yelling at Mr. Attorney Man while Mr. Attorney Man questioned my ex. He is just a hard judge and does it to everyone, but it's extremely unsettling. When it was my turn to get on the witness stand, the judge told me to to come up. I got in the chair, and then he yelled at me and said "Ms. Strong, in this courtroom we swear people in before they sit down."
I wasn't sure what the right answer here was — because I had already been sworn in — but I was debating whether it would just be easier to do it again.
Meekly, I told him that I had already been sworn in, and after angrily glancing at his court assistant who confirmed what I said using a raised eyebrow and the illegal head nod, he began to talk over Mr. Attorney man, and yell at me for possibly even longer than he yelled at my ex. "Why did you put your kids in daycare if you work from home? Why did you feel the need to put a four year old in swimming lessons? Why are you even here again if you were just here last year?"
Then it was my ex's turn to question me.
He basically just stood there like an idiot and tried to argue with the judge.
The judge then called my ex back to the stand, and
said yelled things such as "you quit your job without giving your former wife any notice. You have left no way for her to communicate with you. She is supporting 3 people on a salary 1/3rd the size of yours, and you only have you to take care of!!"
Then I heard the most glorious words ever: "I find you guilty of civil indirect contempt of court. You are hereby sentenced to an undetermined period of time in the county jail."
Until the judge said "but putting you in jail does your ex wife no good at all, so I'm going to stay your sentence and allow you to go into the hallway, where you can agree on a purge amount with her."
No more deals! He NEVER follows through! I don't want to do this anymore!
Begrudgingly I went into the hallway with Mr. Attorney Man and my ex, where my ex cried and said he had no money, and I choked back tears and stood firm on my position of "no deal." Unfortunately I really didn't have a choice in the matter, because a purge amount is what the judge ordered. Finally my ex agreed to pay half of what he owes me, within the next 60 days, and then LUCKY HIM, he won't have to go to jail.
I was not happy.
When we got back in the courtroom and told the judge, the judge looked at my ex and said "that's a lot of money, are you sure you can pay that?"
My ex said yes.
The judge said "are you sure? Because I don't want you to over extend yourself."
My ex said yes.
The judge asked him again "are you sure? Because I don't want to put you in jail. I really, really want you to think about this."
My ex said it was fine.
The judge said "Well OK then, but I'm going to extend your time to pay, to 90 days instead of 60."
WTF IS GOING ON HERE?? Hello!? Remember! 3 people on 1/3rd the salary! AM I EVEN HERE ANYMORE!?!
And that was that. My ex has 90 days to pay me half of what he owes, and then he is cleared of his wrongdoings.
It just isn't fair, and the financial factor of this isn't even what sticks out to me. It's watching my ex get away with everything, again.
But whatever. You all know that going into this, it wasn't about the money to me. It was always about getting the answers that my kids will need someday; I wanted to be able to tell them that I had tried everything. That I had tried to hold their dad accountable. That I had tried to get answers to the questions that I know they will ask. And Mr. Attorney Man, he tried. He went above and beyond to wiggle the list of questions that I had sent to him, into his line of questioning. Questions (paraphrased) such as "when you left, you shut off your phone, abandoned your vehicle, quit your job, and left Ms. Strong with two children. What was your plan?"
Questions that I felt I needed answers for, because I thought that my kids needed and deserved those answers.
But my ex didn't give me any. In fact he evaded many of them and outright lied about a few of them, and then out in the hallway while deciding the purge amount, he looked at me and said "it's like you don't even care about me anymore."
I stood there, SHOCKED, and then naturally did the most obvious thing, and I lost all that dignity and grace that I'd held onto for the last four years. I calmly looked him square in the eyes, and answered "I'd care if you got hit by a bus. That would actually make me really happy."
Then we left.
And because I have the best luck ever, someone had broken into my car in the parking garage.
When I finally made it home, I walked up to my room slid down the wall that sits just 19 inches from my bed, and cried where I thought that no one would find me.
I was just so drained.
Twenty minutes later I dislodged myself from my cramped space of solace, fixed my make-up, gathered up The Girl Child, and got into the car to drive to the chiropractor. It was Friday night now, and I had promised the kids that we were going to go somewhere fun, but as tears continued to roll down my cheeks and ruin my makeup again, I looked at The Girl Child in my rear view mirror.
"Honey, I need to talk to you, but it's kind of a grown-up conversation. Do you think you are old enough to have a grown up conversation?"
She silently nodded at me, trepidation written all over her face.
"I really need you to try to use your listening ears, and understand what mommy is saying. I know that you are going to be upset, but we can't go out tonight."
She stared to cry.
"Baby, just listen for a minute. Mommy had a very, very, sad day, and I'm OK, and you are OK, and your brother is OK, but mommy just needs to go home tonight and take care of herself. And I want you to try and understand that. It's just like when you were sick a few weeks ago and I had to miss that important meeting at work. Do you remember what I told you?"
Through her own tears, she answered "you said that I shouldn't feel bad, because sometimes things happen and you have to take care of the most important thing, and that thing was me."
"You are a good listener!" I exclaimed. "Well, tonight the most important thing needs to be mommy making mommy feel better. You are still important and your brother is still important, but mommy's feelings are more important than going out tonight."
And do you know what she said? My gosh this kid. She said "who hurt your feelings mommy? Was it daddy, Mimi (grandma), or Papa?"
I just sat there for a minute trying to absorb the magnitude of her observation, and then I asked her why she would think that.
"Because the only time you get so sad, is when people hurt your feelings."
And she knew.
When we got back home, we had a longer talk, and I told her the truth. I told her that I didn't like how daddy had treated her, and that I was trying to do some grown-up things to teach him that it's not OK to hurt people. I assured her, repeatedly, that I was OK, and that we were all OK, and in a mindset wise beyond her years, she assured me that she was OK.
"I wanted a daddy," she said, "but not if he hurts you just like he hurt me. You keep telling me that I'm OK, and I know that. I'm OK mommy, because I have you."
And that my friends, was a lesson that I needed to learn, straight from the mouth of a seven year old. For as much as I already understand that I don't need to be able to give my kids as many material things as other kids in order to give them a good life, that has never translated over to me in regards to their dad.
I can't give them all the answers, hell, I can't give them any, but what I can give them, is the truth.
I don't know, I tried, I'm here.
I've been much too focused on everything that I thought they needed, and not focused enough on what they really do need; even if that sometimes seems like less.
Less answers, less knowledge, less court-ordered punishment, and simply, more of me.
I'm never going to get the answers that I want to be able to give my kids, and if four years of chasing my ex for child support has taught me anything, it's that I may never be able to give them that either. I may never be able to hold him accountable, and I may never see justice. And while I've been busy trying to get everything that I thought I needed for my kids, I've been missing out on opportunities to give them what they actually need, right now.
I need to stop fighting for what I think my kids need, and start giving them what they actually do need.
They just need me.
The Boy Child is two weeks into the new daycare center. It's not the Harvard of daycare's, and there is no Ozonator, no engineering, and no pilates, but there is plenty of recess, and lots of smiles.
He absolutely loves it, even though it's less.
I guess it's true, sometimes less really is more, because "more" can often suffocate us out, and less, less is perfect for filling the space in our lives with everything we really need, and still giving us room to grow.