Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Spring Break at Grandma's House

On Saturday we flew from Denver to Sacramento, leaving beautiful sunny weather and landing in a torrential downpour.  Everything looked flooded and grey.  It was the start of our Spring Break, and we were spending it with Grandma and Grandpa. 

Saturday was M's 7th birthday.  The night before, she opened the presents I gave her (dolls and clothes) and we had cupcakes for dessert.  Her dad and her dad's mom gave M books for her birthday that had arrived earlier that week from Amazon.  Saturday morning we got up and finished packing, and then took a taxi to D.I.A.  M has traveled a lot and is a great traveler, so she sat in the back of the taxi quietly for the long drive to the airport, and then we went through security.  By now, the routine is familiar:  have your ID and boarding passes ready, take off your shoes, put your stuff in the bins and push them along the conveyor belt to be xrayed, walk through the scanner, wait on the other side to retrieve your stuff, put your shoes back on. 

We took the underground train to the gate and then found a place to have lunch.  After lunch, we found our departure doors and sat down to play cards.  Finally, they announced boarding and we found our seats on the plane.  We flew Frontier, which is only 4 seats across with an aisle down the middle, so M got the window and I had the aisle.  She was wearing her "Birthday Girl!" pin, so just about every person we passed wished her a happy birthday.  At the end of the 2.5 hour flight the attendant gave M a foil-wrapped stack of chocolate chip cookies, which delighted her.

Dad, Mom, and my younger brother met us on the curb and we dashed through the rain to throw the bags in the trunk of their car and get in.  The drive back to Auburn took about an hour, while we chatted about the flight and the weather.  It's been about 3 years since I've seen my brother, who is what we used to call Retarded.  He's not able to speak, but communicates through a combination of sounds and gestures, and I've always been able to understand him.  Maybe that's a result of only being three years older and closest in age.  He had filled out since the last time I'd seen him and looks a lot better; I was happy to see that moving from San Jose to Auburn seems to agree with him. 

My mother, who's been fighting Lymphoma for the past 15 months, sat in the back seat with M and me on the ride back to their house.  She looks good too, but I know this can be deceiving.  Still, it was good to see her getting around without her wheelchair, walker, or cane.

At first, we just hoped the rain would stop and sat around and caught up with the local doings and told stories about what we've been up to.  My folks were delighted to see M and took us to a Chinese restaurant for her birthday dinner, and there was a beautiful chocolate cake from the best bakery in town waiting for us when we got home.  My mother gave her more books and she got a Target gift card.

For the past several days, we've been just hanging out with my folks, talking, watching a few movies and Jeopardy, playing cards, and making meals.  It's been lovely to be able to abandon the alarm clock and the watch, and simply move through the days without having anything that I NEED to do.  M is sharing a bed with me and has been velcroed to my side throughout the nights, so I haven't been sleeping well, but there haven't been many demands on me, so I'm doing okay. 

My brother went back to his home on Monday, and M and I drove down to Sacramento to see my dear friend S.  We lucked out and three kids in his culdesac were available to play, and so the kids ran around and had a great time while the grownups got to talk.  S lives in a gorgeous neighborhood and has great friends, and no matter how long I get to stay, I always wish I could stay longer.  We got home about bedtime, just time to pop M in the bath and then go to bed.

Today I drove my mother and M down to Kaiser in Roseville to get her blood drawn.  Although she's been recovering well from the surgery she had back in Jan. 2010 to remove spinal tumors, the other stuff hasn't been going as well.  The last round of Chemo she was scheduled for had to be cancelled because her platelet count was far lower than it should be.  Today's blood work was to see if the numbers had come up so she could try again, but this afternoon she got the report that her platelet count is even lower than before.  We are waiting to hear if her Chemo will be delayed again, but we all feel certain it will be.

She says that the weird thing is that she feels better than she's felt in a long time.  I can see  how she is able to get around much better lately; we went to lunch after Kaiser and then stopped by Toys R Us so that M could buy a Backyardigans DVD, and Mom was not as tired out as I expected her to be.  She is downstairs now, talking to M as she plays.  My dad is not home yet from golfing.  They are both 74.

We fly home on Friday.  It will be our last weekend in the rental and I am supposed to close on the new townhouse on Monday, then back to work and school on Tuesday.  I plan to move into the new place on the following Saturday.  I know that like every body does, I will go about my business, take care of the things I need to take of, and hope for the best.  But I wonder if my mother will ever see my new place, or if this will be our last visit.  There is no way of knowing... we can't predict the future.  I'm glad we are here now.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

"Divine" Intervention - Buster Update

My daughter’s dad is extremely passive-aggressive. Getting him to participate in anything is difficult, frustrating, and often futile. I figured out long ago to pick my battles. Knowing I would be doing all of the heavy lifting, and really wanting to minimize the drama and aggravation, I issued a proclamation when we split up: I wouldn’t take him to court unless he made me do it. And I’ve pretty much not asked him to do anything I had no hope of him ever doing. My idea of being a parent and his are so vastly different, that I don’t even think of him that way. He’s been more of a place-holder than anything. Someone M can point to and say “that’s who my dad is.” Instead of not knowing. Which I decided was better. Doesn’t mean it’s been easier.

As is his pattern, at first things went along relatively smoothly. I moved the baby and myself to California (with his full cooperation and blessing), and he stayed behind in Colorado. This was 2005. We stayed in contact and he kept up his side of our arrangement. Then, once he was faced with real decisions, he fell apart. I had found a good job in the fall of 2005, had found a good daycare for M, and was working toward putting my life back together. He wasn’t doing so well. For all of 2006 there was no contact, no financial contribution, and no sign that things were going to improve. At the end of 2006, I decided that time was up, and I opened a case in California to enforce Child Support.

The first time (early 2005) he’d been confronted with the reality of Child Support, he declared “If I pay that, I won’t be able to live INDOORS!” in his usual dramatic fashion. It was clear that it never crossed his mind how much my part amounted to. I guess he thinks that I will always “just manage”, in my own magical way. So in 2006, when California sent him the paperwork, he declared “extreme poverty” and was given a final monthly payment amount that was ludicrous. Had I been in a position to really depend on his financial contribution, we’d have been in big trouble. As it was, I put it in a savings account and used it when I moved back to Colorado.

Since 2006, he’s been pretty quiet about his activities and circumstances. He told me that he was trying to become a teacher, but that the program directors in Colorado had told him he wasn’t suited to teaching. As per usual, he decided they didn’t know what they were talking about. I know that at some point, he moved back in with his (very well off) parents in Massachusetts. More often than not, he’s been unemployed. I heard he’d entered another teaching program in MA. Most of what I know about him, I figure out from a combination of little hints he drops after the fact, stuff other people tell me, and my own research. A while back, I proposed a regular webcam call between him and M, and he’s participated in that on a regular basis. His first visit after our split was in September 2008. The second one was February 2010. The third was this past December.

Just prior to the last visit, he told me he’d moved to Colorado. Prior to that, he told me he was moving to Florida, but the Florida thing didn’t pan out. He ended up in a bitty little place not far from Durango, on a Native American reservation, teaching at the high school, which is over six hours away from here. Still, I had no address, no local phone #, and no real information about what he was doing or where he was living. I had left the Child Support Case open in California, because in order to move it back to Colorado I would need his data. I didn’t know when I’d be able to move the case, but they knew I’d moved back and wanted to move the case as soon as I was able. Then, the state of California implemented a new bill.

He was notified that he was going to have to put M on his health insurance. She’s always been on mine, and he hasn’t had a job, so this particular wrinkle was new for him. Apparently the state of California believes that Non-Custodial Parents should be more involved in their children’s insurance needs. And to that end, are making it mandatory that the NCPs provide coverage. The bill to him for this? $500 a month, nearly double what he pays for Child Support.

Funny how quickly he contacted me to get me involved.

I agree that it makes no sense for him to put M on his insurance, regardless of the cost. The money they were going to take out of his shiny new paycheck was simply a waste. But in order to correct this situation, I’d have to file new paperwork in Colorado, and he had no other choice. He had to give me his details.

Being that we are starting year five of this Child Support arrangement, I asked for a review of the order. Now that he’s actually working, I doubt he still qualifies for his special poverty discount. Dozens of pages of forms were filled out and properly filed, and then there was nothing to do but wait and see.

Monday afternoon, when I’d finished with the inspection of the new property and checked the mail, there was a fat envelope waiting for me from Colorado Child Support. They’d finished their review and agreed an increase was appropriate. I just had to sign the papers and get them notarized and returned to them. Of course, Buster has the option to agree or fight it, but I am hoping that the past couple months of having his check garnished will have persuaded him to agree that the new amount is better than what California was demanding, and just sign it already. A girl can hope.

What can I say? The extra money would be nice. The new amount would almost cover M’s before- & after-school care expenses. I know better than to be expectant, but I do get a little chuckle out of the circumstances. I know that had he not been “over a barrel” he would have never willingly forked over his financial information, let alone his mailing address. Since he’s always known mine, it seems fair. In real life, nothing is fair, but every once in a while, the universe throws me a bone.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

When the waiting IS the hardest part

In the past month, my neighbors to the West have been worse than ever.  Most nights they wake me up some time around 2 or 3 a.m.  I get up for work at 5:30, so this has been wearing me out.  I know that they know that I planned to move out, and I suspect that this made them feel a certain license to let their freak flags fly, because I know that they are well aware of my complaints against them. 

The real estate deal finally collapsed under the weight of the HOA's non-certification.  The lender finally became too skittish about lending to a property that was so sketchy, even though the unit itself is sound and my application is already approved.  I'm sad about the loss of living on the edge of the greenbelt.  I wanted to listen to coyotes howl in the moonlight, take my (future) dog for walks there daily, and be so close to the bit of wild nature that is still here in Colorado.  I get teary every time I think about letting go of that dream.  The houses near by that are for sale are out of my price-range, so I was limited to looking at townhouses.

By Friday I was so worn out.  I'd already signed 3 contract extensions and answered numerous questions.  I'd packed up most of the stuff that is going into boxes, arranged for the installation of utilities at the new address, and scheduled movers.  I'd completed the final walk-through and was ready to head over to the title office to close.  And then it fell apart. 

I was crying as I called the companies to cancel the installations that had been scheduled for the next day.  Still, I couldn't help but be amused that even as the customer service reps expressed their condolences, they all urged me to "have a nice day!" as they ended the calls.  When I went to pick up M from afterschool care, I stopped to talk to the Director, as she's become my friend and was waiting to hear that I'd finally closed.
It really helps me when a friend reacts in a genuine way to something that has happened to me.  I have so many relationships that have filters on them, including - unfortunately - my family, so I think I maybe think about or notice it more than other people who are lucky enough to have someone(s) ready at-hand who will get mad for/with them, show that they are upset, or express the very emotions that we try so hard to keep in check while we are at work and out in the "world." 

I told M right away in the most gentle but straightforward way that I knew how.  She cried and protested, and we agreed that it sucked and was so disappointing.  I didn't grow up with people who would let me feel and express what I felt, and I will not do that to my child.  But being the grownup in this situation,  I had to manage this turn of events and decide what to do.  I had talked to my leasing office and knew I'd need to figure something out by Monday.
Still, there we were with Friday night staring us in the face, sad and at a loss, wondering what to do next.  I wallowed in my disappointment for the evening.  But my realtor had asked me what my plan was, and if I wanted to keep looking at properties, and I said yes.

So, Saturday morning we met her at another complex a little farther away.  The location is a lot closer to retail and a main artery, and I had initially dismissed it in favor of the areas closer to where we are now.  Still, the complex is laid out so that no one can speed through it in their car; it is tucked back from the street and doesn't connect through, which avoids through-traffic.  There are lots of mature trees, and space between the buildings.  Every unit has a garage and is two-story, and the percentage of rentals is very low.

We walked through a unit that had been remodeled.  The kitchen had been gutted and redone completely.  I usually shy away from those because I rarely share the same taste as the remodeler, but in this case I was pleasantly surprised.  Except for the stainless steel refrigerator, the finishes were ones I would have picked myself.  The cliche of granite-and-stainless wasn't executed with such relentlessness in this particular remodel, and the overall effect is softer than many I've seen.  The dining room is beautiful, the fireplace re-facing is modern, and the colors are soft and current.  The unit has 3 bedrooms and a two-car garage and a basement.  The feature that got me hooked, however, was the outdoor space.  It is big enough - and private enough - that I could have adequate space for a dog, a fire pit, and plenty of potted plants.  That was the thing that was noticeably missing in the other property; all it had was a balcony.

I was also excited that it has an attic fan and a humidifier system installed with the central heating/airconditioning.  The front room is small but the third bedroom is enticing.  I used to have an office in my house in Edgewater, and the thought of moving my computer and files out of the living room makes me happy. 

I put an offer on it Saturday afternoon, and the inspection is tomorrow.  I so much hope that it all goes well.  Not only do I want to move, and I have a rapidly shrinking deadline, but I've also  paid for one inspection already, and I have yet to receive back my Earnest Money from the first property.  Since I terminated my lease early, I have an extra month's rent to pay for the "privilege" of moving sooner, and this new property is 15K more than the original one, so my closing costs will be higher. 

To say that I just want to put this all behind me is an understatement, to be sure.  We drove by the place today on the way to the grocery store, and I noticed they were having an open house.  The realtor who is representing the seller markets himself as a "bulldog," and I couldn't help dropping in for a quick look at how it was going.  The place was crawling with elderly folks, and Bulldog was a little long in the tooth, too.  I told M to not say anything, that we were "undercover," and we walked around a bit.  I noticed the old folks were straining a bit with the stairs, and spent a long time inspecting the basement.  M was offended that people were touring "our" house, but I explained that they didn't know it was ours.  I admit I felt the same way.  I asked the realtor as we were leaving how long the place had been on the market and he said 4 weeks, but he did add that it was under contract.  So that made me happy.  He wanted to know if I wanted to be emailed any more information, but I told him I'd be in touch.

Tomorrow is the inspection, so I figure we'll be in touch pretty soon!