Saturday, November 3, 2012

Saturday Musings, 03 November 2012

Good morning,

The week floated to a smooth ending with a bookstore opening and a pleasant dinner with a young lady who became my daughter when I married a year and a half ago. I don't dismiss the importance of my son, but the two young people whom I call my children-in-law enrich my life. Having a daughter had always been a dream of mine. Having several children stood next on my bucket list, and now I have them: my "actual" son sandwiched in age between my two "step" children. The pictures scattered through my living room show that our family has grown.

The mother-son energy that crackled and livened my home had just begun to ebb when these two joined the fold: my stepson in his junior year of high school, my stepdaughter just finishing her four-year degree which she deftly pursued while working full-time. Before my recent marriage, I had gathered my son's friends, and the children of my friends, to comprise my flock. They know who they are -- these pseudo sons and daughters that deepened my appreciation for young people. They maintain their importance to me; my son's best friend of many years, Chris, will always be "my second son"; his sisters, Caitlin and Jennie, will never lose their place as the girls whom I took shopping for several teenage rites of passage, which their mother allowed with her heart of gold. And then there is Laura: Laura, daughter of my friend Elisabeth, who worked for me for several years, who cleaned my house time and time again, and who orchestrated my entire wedding with radiant joy and tireless dedication.

All of these young people hold a special place in my heart, each their own, each indispensable, like wooden blocks slid into a tower, integral and crucial.

All of them crowded around me as I read a lengthy transcript this week full of accusations leveled at a father trying to secure his own place in the life of his daughter. The deposition burned with the mother's scorn. Page after page filled with accusations about his preference for the children of his second marriage. Answering my questions, she spoke to him: You've got them now, why do you need my baby? she chided him, thinly disguised as her venomous litany of reasons she should be the custodial parent. Never mind that my client and she had not been a couple for ten years. Never mind that he has been fighting for a more active role in their daughter's life for most of that decade. Never mind that he has never missed a child support payment, or failed to provide extra funds when the child needed them. Never mind that their child has an entire room full of her own clothes, books and toys at his house, each identical in quality to those of his other children. He left us! she did not say, and though my heart felt heavy for her grief, I could not help but conclude that she resented his abandonment of her.

Orderly piles of trial documents adorn the window sills in my office. Judgments hit my inbox; motions pepper my files. The black and white belie the true color of their contents: Green for envy, red for rage, blue for sorrow. Give me more money! scream parents who really only desire the restoration of their failed marriage. You can't have more time with our children! comes the vicious cry of a parent who really wants to know why the other parent does not want to spend time with the grieving spouse. If I can't have him, he can't have them, they never say, though their true sentiment escapes no one.

I tell my clients that I understand. I'm on my third marriage! I proclaim, never mentioning that my child came from neither of my first marriages, and I raised him without his birth father through no choice of mine, through no choice of my son. I never had to share holidays except with the family-by-choice whom we gathered around us. I never had to get any one's approval for haircuts, or school choices, or medical procedures. I walk around my house, lifting small framed pictures and dusty objects from tables or wall hooks, thinking, Here is Patrick in the sixth grade; here is the stained glass he made for me in kindergarten; here is the award he won for writing; here is the fragile bird he made from leaves, the poem he wrote of his name, the sketch of us done at the Farmer's market in Rochester. Through some of those years, a stepfather took the pictures. Through some of those years, a surrogate aunt provided his summer berth. Through some of those years, the halls of our home held no one's footsteps but his and mine.

Client after client sits across from me with bewilderment stamped on weary faces, and anxiety spilling from red-rimmed eyes. They crave answers that I can only fabricate with reasonable conviction. They ask whether they will get time with their children, whether the other parent will consult them before choosing activities, whether they will witness the glory of their children's endeavors. I do not guarantee the success of my efforts or the reasonableness of their former spouse's decision-making. My only promise lies in the many paragraphs of my six-page contract, distilled to one two-word commitment: hard work.

I stood in the doorway of my office last evening, cross-body leather bag pulling one shoulder, tablet cradled in the crook of my arm. I ran my gaze around, checking to see if everything that needed to be done before the week's simpering end had, indeed, been done. Outside my windows, the chattering folks of Westport Friday night already drifted to and from the nearby bars, on foot, in cars, on bicycles, by bus. Down the hall, my analyst husband still crunched his numbers; any minute, the phone would ring to announce the arrival of my stepdaughter. But still I stood.

I tried a three-day motion-to-modify several weeks ago, pending cross-motions filed by ex-partners over the parenting and custody of their son and daughter. The case had been pending for four years. Grief flew in each direction; cross-accusations, psychological testing, denials of access, anger, fury, rage, resentment. In the end, the judge punted. He found for neither, and reinstated a five-year-old custodial decree. I spent only a year with the case; the other party's attorney had been in the case off and on for its life; the guardian saw the entire expanse and recommended the judge's decision. Did he do the right thing? my client asked me, when I talked with him about the order. I honestly don't know. But he did something; and now they can all continue living, especially the children.

I never wanted to be a lawyer, let alone a family law practitioner. I set out to be a writer. My high school yearbook, if it still exists on the cluttered shelves of any 1973 graduate of Corpus Christi High School in Jennings, Missouri, bears my life-long ambition: To get a poem published in The New Yorker. I only went to law school to have a paying career. I became a divorce lawyer after learning how important fathers are, by contrast with my child's lack of his. I did not predict the awful sorrows I would witness, nor the gallons of happiness that I could engender with one small result.

The judgment from that terrible trial sat in the middle of the oak table that serves as my desk last evening, awaiting the drafting of a long letter to my client, something I meant to do before the last mail of the day but had failed to finish. At the very moment when its accusing presence caught my eye, the phone rang. Snatching up the receiver, I pressed the button that activated the security lock on the front panel, admitting my dinner companion. I turned out the light, and quietly closed the door.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

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The Missouri Mugwump™

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I've been many things in my life: A child, a daughter, a friend; a wife, a mother, a lawyer and a pet-owner. I've given my best to many things and my worst to a few. I live in Brookside, in an airplane bungalow. I'm an eternal optimist and a sometime-poet. If I ever got a poem published in The New Yorker, I would die a happy woman. I'm a proud supporter of the Arts in Kansas City. I vote Democrat, fly the American flag, cry at Hallmark commercials, and recycle.