May 2009


So in my last post, I never said what the second time I had been afraid was.

There’s a little backstory: on March 18, when we filed for divorce, we had had to meet with a county clerk for “document review,” which means that they look through the paperwork with you to make sure you haven’t made any egregious mistakes. I was early. K. was late. Our clerk was called Tom and was from Brooklyn. He had grey hair and nervous, rabbity little eyes, but a generally sympathetic demeanor. He went through the paperwork, page by page, caught a couple of errors, made us copies, and submitted it.

He was totally fine except for that moment at the end where he said, “This child support amount seems high to me. Are you sure it’s right?” And I thought: look. We are dealing with a judgment in which one parent (K.) is clearly abdicating most responsibility for his children and taking the role of Occasional Visiting Babysitter. He has no overnights, he had to be coerced into commiting to a regular weekday, and you want to save him money? But what I said was the simple truth: “We did the Oregon State calculator online, and this is what we got.”

I thought that would be that. After all, we submitted a Stipulated Judgment, which in this state means that you are attesting that you both agree on everything and would like the waiting period waived and require nothing more than the judge’s signature. We specified that we’d divided up all our property, that there were no assets left to divide, that we had collaborated on the Parenting Plan, that we’d both reviewed the child support. It should have been fine, right? They have better things to do than to use their public funds to quibble with people who agree on everything, right?

Wrong.

Since I am lucky enough to have this friend who’s a lawyer, and since said lawyer friend had informed me that he could check the status of my case remotely, I was getting daily updates. Nothing for a long time. Then I got a call saying that there was a problem with the file and it was being returned to me for correction. I immediately swooped down to the courthouse, intercepted it in the mail pile, and corrected it. It was literally a question of checking a box and rewriting information that had appeared on the previous page. They gave me the file, I did it, I gave it back to them. My pal Tom was not there, but I didn’t feel any need to see him, especially, because I figured these things happen.

On April 10, another such call from my friend. My in-laws were staying with me then (remember the joy? The laughter? The love? The fawning over K. and Jezebel at their workplace, with generous tips?), and I debated whether I should go down, because I’m loathe the leave the kids in the afternoon when I already have to spend every morning (except Wednesday; Wednesday I don’t go to work and Thing Two and I take Thing One to school, usually late, and then hang out and shop and do laundry and read books in the morning) away from them. But anxiety over getting it done won out, so I left the kids with my in-laws on the afternoon of April 10, a Friday, and went to the courthouse. Again.

(That fucking courthouse. It’s reminiscent of your middle school, and the décor hasn’t been updated since at least then; it reinforces all kinds of stereotypes, being frequented mostly by the fifteen black folk who live in this town and some white folk of the wide-load, non-Standard English-speaking variety; and the people who work there never seem to quite be sure what’s up, as evidenced by the fact that I’ve gotten two different forms for the same thing from two different clerks on different days.)

Anyway, so I walked into the courthouse and my ol’ pal Tom was behind the desk. I approached and his rabbity little eyes flicked back and forth; before I’d even gotten to the counter he said, “[Your First Name], right?” I was a little surprised, given that they hadn’t known I was coming, but nodded. I told him there was a problem with my file and I had stopped by to correct it to save time. He went looking.

I watched him, and his supervisor Cindy, look in files, on the desks, and finally on the floor before they finally found it. It took a while. Then Cindy informed me that there was a minor error — a box that hadn’t been checked, some information that hadn’t  been reiterated — about the child support amount. I said I’d fix it. She said that she couldn’t release it to me unless the copetitioner, K., was there.

I was like, “Are you serious? Seriously. Are you serious? Because, a)this info is on the previous page, reviewed and signed by both of us, and b)you were going to send it to ME to be corrected, and c)I stopped by THIS MONDAY and did the exact same thing.”

And she gave me this whole spiel about how she couldn’t let me do it because I might change something and cause K.’s whole life to be ruined.

So I called K. to ask him to stop by. It was not quite 3 p.m. on Friday, a half-hour before he started work. I was hoping that he was on his way and could blow by en route. But in the meantime, Cindy decided that since the information was, in fact, already signed by both of us on the previous page, she would do me a big fat favor and let me do it alone. So I did. Tom, my review clerk, was filled with apology. I don’t know if he was more embarassed by the fact that he’d so far failed to catch not one, but two very minor and obvious errors, or the fact that he’d betrayed that he had either total recall or a slightly stalkerish interest in me by blurting out my name and blushing, or the fact that they’d finally found my file ON THE FLOOR.

I told him not to worry and tried to leave. But before I did, Cindy took it upon herself to opine, “I just want you to know that this child support amount is HUGE! It’s HUGE! And the judge might not sign it because it’s HUGE! It’s more than half his income!”

Never mind that there is no statute that says there is a percentage of income beyond which child support shall not go.

So I left. I was worried, because both Tom and Cindy had been forceful in their ideas that K. should pay less child support. This is problematic for a number of reasons:

1)The child support is based on the cost of keeping the children.

2)The child support includes the cost of daycare.

3)Since K. left, Thing Two has entered daycare. Thing One is already in daycare in the form of the French School (preschool is legally daycare because it is not compulsory).

4)If K. were to pay less child support, I would not be able to afford to keep the kids in daycare. Ergo, I would have to take them out. Ergo, I might lose my job. Since I was earning 56% of our combined total income to his 44%, that would make the child support go up.

In other words, the whole thing seemed incredibly stupid to me. And while I know we don’t use the cheapest daycare known to man, it’s pretty reasonable. I have a friend in NYC who pays more for daycare for ONE child than I pay for my two.

Anyway…so on April 21, my lawyer friend called me to give me this news: the judge had scheduled a hearing. He didn’t have to do it. He could have just signed it. And yet he did. So I was worried. Especially because I talked to Family Law Lawyer Pal, a friend of Lawyer Friend, and his best guess was that the judge wanted K. to be more involved and might try to mandate overnights.

(This idea is problematic for many reasons. Longtime blog readers know. For those of you new to these things, let me sum up: 1)K. was physically and verbally abusive, spanking constantly “because I want to punish him” and calling Thing One an “asshole,” before he left; 2) K. has Bipolar II and is unmedicated, although his family believes that he needs to get help; 3)K. has a sleeping issue that involves being mostly unable to wake up in the morning and is in no condition to parent children who get up at FIVE FUCKING A.M.)

Anyway, so I stressed for a week. Then we had the hearing. The judge thought the child support amount was high, just like Tom and Cindy; that was why he had called the hearing. He did the state calculator in the courtroom and came up with a number 45 dollars different than I had; he had clearly been expecting a much greater discrepancy and was abashed and sheepish. We agreed on the original amount and signed the paperwork.

Did I mention that the judge’s first words to me were, “You look familiar. Have you been here before?” What happened to professionalism? I mean, I’m glad to know that apparently the white folk can’t tell us apart and that the judge was apparently confusing me with the OTHER Chinese American who got divorced this year (there aren’t that many around here, and the rates of divorce for Chi-Ams are much lower than for whites, which are lower than for blacks). But seriously. Have some sense of decorum, Your Honor?

Anyway, the judge was wrong, Cindy was wrong, Tom was wrong. The support amount was just and reasonable according to the state calculator.

So, when I stopped by the courthouse yesterday (when will it end?) to pick up yet another form, I had my second moment of fear. Because Tom was there. And I decided to approach him and tell him what was up.

(Skittish, rabbity.) “Do you remember me?” I asked.

Nods.

“I just wanted to let you know something. You remember that when you performed our document review you thought the child support amount “seemed high.” And your supervisor Cindy thought it was ‘huge.” And the judge, in fact, thought it “seemed high” as well, so he called a hearing rather than sign the Stipulated Judgment. And he did the calculator in the courtroom. And what he found was that he was mistaken, Cindy was mistaken, and you were mistaken. The child support amount was correct. And I wanted you to know this because I hope that the next time you are dealing with a case where one parent has 100% of overnights and there is a child support amount that ‘seems high,’ you might be aware that the possibilities, according to the state, are broader than you commonly encounter, and you might avoid making vague statements about how it seems wrong. Because that was stressful and alarming, and I hope that others in my position in the future can avoid fearing that they will have to quit their jobs due to inadequate child support to pay for daycare.”

Tom cowered and evaded. I smiled and left. But the point is that I. Was. Terrified. It terrified me to talk to him. Because I am Uppity Negro Cunt and he is White Man in Position of Authority. Because I know that any challenge to his superior knowledge undermines my credibility. Because I am terrified to become That Woman. You know, the strident, bitchy, whiny one that no one listens to.

My heart was beating out of my chest the whole time I said my (relatively mild) piece. And when Tom cowered, I got no satisfaction. I was too aware of the taboos.

And now I am working to change my son’s name so that it matches my daughter’s and mine. And I am afraid that I will not succeed. And I know that, if the scenario were reversed and it was a father left with 90% parenting of his children and a mother who’d declined to do more (even without mentioning the hitting and the pushing and the swearing and the spanking and the alcohol use and the anger), the judge would say, “Of course, sir. Your children should have your name.”

And it makes me crazy.

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I still have to write the story of the divorce hearing, which was a ceremonial leaving in the same way that the marriage was a ceremonial joining, and which did not, however, in any way complete the circle. But right now I have other things going on. One of the things is that so much of this process has been so excruciating that I have thought, and said on a few occasions, “I’d rather be date-raped.”

I am, perhaps, given to hyperbole. But I know, a little, whereof I speak, and I am not trying to make light of sexual assault. I have been date-raped twice, by the boyfriend before K. (after we broke up) and by a coworker in my salad days in New York. That’s not counting the sexual assault where the random dude from my roommate’s party broke into my bedroom (which was the only time I actually went to the police). And here’s the thing: being date-raped was not that bad. I mean, it sucked, and I had conflicted feelings about it, but in the scale of Shitty Experiences I Have Had, it is not that close to the top. Of course, my experiences were non-violent (and involved, in the earlier case, feeling unable to assert myself and drunkenness and, in the later case, being passed out asleep and having an obvious “misunderstanding” about what “you can crash here” means — last I checked, it doesn’t actually mean “You can wait until I pass out and then put your penis in my vagina.” But I can be naïve). And even though they were clearly nonconsensual, I felt some understanding of where the man in question was coming from. I don’t think either of those men was trying to rape me. I think they both, for reasons that are complex and have to do with the way male will and female autonomy are viewed in this culture, really thought it was okay, and that in a way, they too were victims. Which does not, let me be clear, make it okay to grab a woman and insert your penis in her like she’s a post box and you’re the Royal Fucking Mail. Both of the men in question had plenty of reasons to think it might not be okay, or at least not to be sure it was okay. They should have checked. Let this be a lesson to you, boys and men: if you intend to have sex with someone, make verbally sure that the other person is in agreement before you go there. It’s not hard. It can be part of your pillow talk. It might save you some jail time.

But, as we know, the vast majority of date rapists don’t do jail time. Neither of mine even realizes, I feel fairly sure, that it was not okay. And this is not because I tend to hang out with sociopathic losers (well, the jury’s out on that one. But still). This is because our society tells us that if you’ve had sex with a woman before it’s not rape, if she was flirting it’s not rape, if you’re both drunk it’s not rape, if she takes off an article of clothing it’s not rape, etc. Our society tells us this, and most of us believe it.

And most women don’t fight it all that hard. The reasons above are in play. More than that, though, is the fact that so many aspects of our society, so much a woman does in the world, is constantly challenged, questioned, shut down, and put down by Men In Authority. Yup. It’s true. We haven’t come so far that we don’t still think of god as That Great Big White Dude in the sky — and when we see other white dudes, sitting behind desks, pounding gavels, sitting on our front porches, it’s hard not to feel cowed. And not just cowed and shamed, but inferior and unworthy.

I am pretty sure that nobody who knows me would call me a shrinking violet. I’m pretty sure that, if asked, they would describe me as “brash,” “ballsy,” “sharp,” “aggressive,” and a host of other less complimentary adjectives. I am pretty sure that I know a bunch of men who are just a little bit intimidated, and probably a little bit titillated as well, by me. They see me as that woman. You know, the one with the mouth. The one who gives no quarter. The teacher who might make you feel stupid or unmanned. And I am.

But I am afraid. I have been afraid so many times throughout this whole process, and I have been very specifically afraid twice this week. Afraid of censure. Afraid of disapproval. Afraid of having my freedom taken away. Afraid of being overpowered, silenced, and disenfranchised (which is really one of the biggest effects of rape, right?), for no other reason than that I am acting in opposition to men and that, therefore, I am wrong, or unworthy, or bothersome, or stupid. Because I’m not one.

The first time I was afraid was last Friday. I have been considering the children’s names — longtime readers know that Thing One has my last name as a middle name and K.’s as a last name, while Thing Two has my last name as her last name and K.’s as a middle name. This seemed to make sense in the context of our nuclear family; it does not make sense to me any more. All the studies indicate that children “generally prefer,” as the court puts it, to have the last name of their residential parent and siblings. I have already experienced inconvenience dealing with Thing One’s last name as different from mine and Thing Two’s. And in this situation, where I am the parent who lives with the children, who enrolls them in and participates in their school, who takes them on trips, who is their head of household, I do not see why Thing One should have K.’s last name. It’s a hassle; it doesn’t identify him as being part of a family unit with me and Thing Two, and it creates administrative confusion.

So I decided to change the order of his names, so that he, like his sister, would have K.’s last name as a middle name and my last name as the last name.

If that bugs you at all, I invite you to think about whether there is any reason, other than some latent (and sexist; sorry, but facts is facts) belief that a man’s interest in having his child bear his surname trumps a woman’s. And I invite you to consider how, in a situation where the father spends a minimal amount of time with the children and the mother provides the primary home, income, nurturing, and parenting, you would justify having the one child keep the name of the non-residential parent.

So I talked to K. about it on Friday. I let his grandparents and parents know that I intend to do it, and we discussed it. We had discussed it before. He had acknowledged that it “would probably be easier” for Thing One to have my name but that “it’s not about him; it’s about me. I NEED HIM TO HAVE  MY NAME.”

On Friday, he said much the same. I asked him not to contest it. I explained the laws, which seem to strongly support my case. I said that there did not need to be more strife between us and that this was a parenting decision, that it was important to me that both children remain connected to both sides of their heritage, and that I believed this was the best thing for Thing One. He said he would contest it. He said, “what about in a few years when they’re living with me [too]” (he says that someday he’ll be more of a parent to them, but at the same time he insists now that he doesn’t have time for more parenting and that “work has to be my first priority”).  He told me — ordered me, really — not to do it. Then he told me, “If you do this I WILL NEVER FORGIVE YOU,” implying strongly that I would somehow pay, and the conversation ended.

Here’s the thing: being told K. will “never forgive” me should be laughable, right? This is the man who betrayed me and our marriage, who abandoned his kids, who’s repeatedly denied my requests to spend more time with them, who just last week skipped the chance to spend his regular, agreed-upon day with them because he had made dinner plans with friends instead.

(Here was that conversation:

“I choose not to this week.”

“What are you telling them by doing that? They expect to see you!”

“That nothing is guaranteed.”

“So it’s more important for you to have dinner with S. and C. this week than it is for you to parent your kids?”

“Yes.”)

Regardless of what he says about some brighter future where he’s more involved, he isn’t now and won’t be the foreseeable future; more to the point, he chooses, when he has a choice, to NOT see his kids and NOT maintain their security (because apparently teaching a three-year-old and a one-year-old that nothing is certain, including his presence and involvement, is a valuable lesson?).

So my friends say, and I tend to agree with them, that K.’s threats of not forgiving me should inspire nothing but the desire to laugh in his face. And they’re right. But here’s the thing: I don’t want to make him angry. I do want him to see the kids. I’m not out to get him. And when he told me that, I wasn’t just worried. I was scared. Because somehow, somewhere, I internalized the idea that his gender makes him more powerful or formidable or worthy or valid than me. Despite myself. And because I also internalized the idea that It Is Not Okay for a Woman to Piss Off a Man You Dumb Bitch.

And I continue to be scared. Scared of his ire. Scared he’ll take it out on me or, worse, the kids (well, he probably will take it out on me by absenting himself more, at least during times when it’s less essential, like after bedtime on Weds. when he’s supposed to let me go out and do some “night parenting time”). Scared that he’ll do this and get away with it. Scared that somehow, despite the laws and my sole legal custody and all of his lateness and excuses and declining to come and not seeing that the kids should be his first priority, the judge might side with him.

Because he’s a man. And I’m not. And that means there are still a lot of people in this world who think his word is worth more than mine.

Hello, readers.

You may have noticed that I became password-protected for a while. Don’t worry; you didn’t miss anything. The last two weeks have been eventful, and a combination of no time (less K. parenting plus extra work) and a sort of interior retreat (the interior landscape of my psyche right now is very similar to that scene in Superman II when the earthquake eats Lois Lane; not sure if I’m the earthquake, Lois, or Superman) have kept me from writing. I’ve also realized that not writing makes me even more of a wreck than usual, so I’ll be updating soon.

The reason I password-protected the blog, though, is that I became aware that someone I know whom I had not invited to read it was doing so. This is an anonymous blog, and I’m aware that there are readers who’ve never met me; I’ve also shared the URL with several friends and relations. However, having someone I know, but with whom I have never shared that I have a blog, reading it without telling me as much gives me the screaming heebie-jeebies. I mean, come on, Internets: have some honor. If you know me, and you are reading my anonymous blog without even mentioning it, that’s some serious breach of friendship there. Don’t. If I had wanted you to know if was mine, I would have told you, right? Or if it’s really totally okay for you to be reading it, then you should be able to mention it to me.

But I am not so much for trying to control these things, long-term. So I’ve made the blog public again. To each his conscience.

Anyway. More to come soon. Thanks to the people in the world who have expressed their caring.

Divorce date: April 28.

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