Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Tot School - C is for Cars and Cookies

This is actually my third week of Tot School at home, but the first time that I was finally able to take pictures and document everything that we did.  I am very happy with all of the things my trio of tots learned this week.  I do need to add my disclaimer: I snag most of my ideas from Hand Over The Cookies and 1+1+1=1

We took our first trip to the library last weekend.  Ant was working that morning, so I ventured into our local library with three children under the age of four who had never been to a library before.  Oh, and I wouldn't want to forget to mention that it took FOR-FREAKING-EVER because the picture books for small children aren't in order on shelves.  That would make entirely too much sense.  Instead, they are in about twenty different child-high bins so that small children can get them out and put them back as they please.  So not only did I have to try to keep an eye on three toddlers and encourage them to be quiet the entire time, but I also had to search through several bins of unorganized books just to find a few that fit our category.

On the bright side, these books were a hit.  My plan was to read just one book each day, but instead we reach each book every night.  I doubt we'll ever have to try hard to encourage our children to enjoy books.

What I count as "writing" is really more letter-recognition than writing.  But this really is the toddler version of what writing would be.  We traced "C" and "c", found all of the C's in a giant letter "C", and outlined our Cc sheet with Play-Doh--by far their favorite activity.  They like to poke the Play-Doh, and they don't even realize that while they're poking and making fingerprints, they are also outlining the letter "C".

We attempted to draw lines on the worksheets below.  Ace is really good at this concept.  The younger two, could use some work.

Our first art project was a combination of two ideas I saw on other blogs.  I taped off the letter "C" on a sheet of paper, and let them drive toy cars through paint to make car tracks all over the page.  After the pages had dried, I lifted off the tape and we had very decorative letter C's that went along with our car theme.  We do one of these "tape-off" projects for each letter and hang the results in the kids' rooms.
(Although one would think that the pink and purple art would be Jellybean's... it's actually Dango's project.  Yes, I let them pick their own colors.  Dango loves the color pink, and since his daddy won't let him actually wear pink, he uses his art to express his passion for the color.)

I thought of the other art project all on my own, and the kids really like it.  Especially because it involved glue.  Each child colored two cookies and then we glued them onto a plate that I printed from Google Images. 
We also did some color-matching, trying to match crayons to the colored cookies below.  Ace (3 years) got about 8/10 right.  Dango (2.5 years) only got about 2/10 right without my help.  And Jellybean (23 months) got exactly zero right, and just tried to scribble all over the page, then threw a fit when I took the page away.  Ah, yes, Terrible Two's, I can hear you coming.

Toddler math mostly involves counting and a little number recognition.  This week, I taped paper cookies on the wall and we counted all 15 of them.  We even counted in French!  Dango loves counting in French.  Ace and Jellybean are usually annoyed with it, giving me looks like, "what're we in Canada?!"

Not that these kids need any help being active... they always have more energy than I do, that's for sure.  But sometimes a little guidance with their physical activities helps.  This week, we tried to play "Red Light Green Light" to go along with our cars theme.  It didn't go over so well.  Dango and Jellybean, being only 2.5 and almost 2, pretty much just ran around no matter what light I said.  Ace got the giggles every time I said "green light" and couldn't go anywhere.  But it did give us a chance to talk about traffic lights and which colors mean what.

This week I tried to get them to play along with the musical game "Who Took The Cookies From The Cookie Jar" in which I pretty much recited the whole thing and they just giggled a lot when I said their name.  A for effort, right?

Our big "science project" was to bake some cookies.  That's a pretty big deal when you're a little kid.  Just adding an egg or stirring the batter makes those cookies taste so much sweeter to them.  We even baked some C shaped cookies.

At the end of our week, our completed work looks something like this:

Everyone is doing something fun!
Tot School

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

On Being A Step-Parent

The thing about being a step-parent is... well, it's pretty much bullshit. 

A step-parent holds all of the shared responsibilities as the other parent--financial, moral, as well as putting up with eye rolls and backtalk--but does not have any real parental decision-making powers.  At the end of the day, if I think Ace needs to attend Preschool A over Preschool B, my opinion is only a small part of Ant's decision-making process.  Being the biological parent and legal custodian, these are his decisions to make.  I'm not saying this is wrong... it's just how it is.

So, although a step-parent has played an active role in potty training, spent beaucoup dollars on birthday parties and rushed a fevered toddler to the ER... there are many cases in which it is evident that you are not actually the parent, regardless of what parental roles you have taken on. 

So in the midst of various situations in which you are constantly reminded that "your children" aren't really yours, you are expected to love and treat them as your own.  (And you absolutely should.) Especially if you have your own biological child in the household.  Because if you treat any of them differently or unfairly or in a way that could be misconstrued as unfair in any way, shape or form, not only will the children feel it and probably feel sad or awkward, but your spouse is likely to fly off the handle in defense of his/her children.

Even if your family is significantly less dysfunctional than the rest of us and you've managed to create a completely equal atmosphere for all children in the household, you still aren't their "real parent" and the kids know that.  It doesn't matter that their biological mother (or egg donor) has never paid a dime to support them, supplied with with food or clothing, picked them up for visitation on a regular basis or even attended their last birthday party... she is still Mommy when she does get around to giving a shit about them and she is going to be held in a very special place in their hearts.  (And she absolutely should be.)

As a very involved step-mom, I know that I too will have a special place in the boys' hearts.  And when they're 22 and 23, they will likely have a better grasp of the situation and love me in the same way they would love a biological mother.  But for now, at the ages of 2 and 3, Mommy is the superhero who shows up once a month to whisk them away for a weekend at her house, and Amie is their evil step-mother who makes them follow the rules again when they come home.  And it would be an evil thing of me to point out otherwise.  So I won't.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

At Home Toddler Photo Session

It was a boring Monday afternoon with nothing to do... so I dressed the kiddos in the dorkiest clothing I could find and took them outside for a DIY toddler photo session.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Cost of a Custody Battle

I can finally kiss good-bye the stress and anxiety of the custody/visitation case.  But I still have a stack of bills to pay, so I won't be forgetting this experience anytime soon.  For those of you who are curious about the financial side of a custody/visitation case, below is a breakdown of everything this has cost me.

Lawyer fees:                          $3,422.83
Guardian Ad Litem Fees:          $445.00
Startup Fee with Safe House:      $15.00
TOTAL:                                 $3,912.83

*Also, a $10 parking ticket that I received when my parking meter ran out while I was waiting for W. to show up to court.  (Which he never did.)

**Also, some of my dignity. 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

You Capture - White

Beth assigned us white for the topic of this week's You Capture, so I decided to dedicate this post to our man Dango--our little toe-head. 

Most of the time, we just call him blonde.  But this boy's hair is white.
And his cowlicks are nearly impossible to control.  Dango's hair has an agenda of it's own, and no amount of spray or mousse is going to change it's mind.
To see the white in everyone else's lives, check out You Capture.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Did You Find Me?

I transferred my best posts over from Dirty Diapers, Pureed Peas and Other Joys of Motherhood.  I hope my followers will continue following me here.

Leave a comment and let me know that you've found me!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Custody and Visitation Dispute: It's SO Over!

Tuesday was our final trial.  No seriously, it's actually over this time.

As I presumed, W. was a no-show.  The courts ordered that he is permitted supervised visitation after her jumps through a number of hoops, including paying off his portion of the fees to the guardian ad litem, submit to a hair follicle drug test and coming back to court or mediation to set up an official visitation schedule.  Even after all of those steps, W. will only be receiving supervised visitation with Jellybean as the court ordered.  And if he didn't care enough to jump through those (same exact) hoops while we were in the middle of the court case, I just don't see him starting all over anytime soon. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Dealing With A Bi-Polar Ex: FML

Someone please shoot me.  Just shoot me in the face and get it all over with now.

Today, just three weeks after terminating the visitation schedule and failing to show up to our pretrial, W. sent me the following text message.  (Yes, this is how he actually types.  I'm pretty sure he may be mentally challenged.)

"Hey amie its w. This is my new number. If its 0k with u maybe u w00d let babysitter watch me c jellybean. it w00d mean l0t t0 me. If n0t i understand."


Dear W.

Please, for the love of God, make up your f*****g mind.  If you are going to attempt to be something more than a sperm-donor, that would be just fabulous for Jellybean.  However, you will have to excuse me if I don't believe you, as you have made this "attempt" about 67 times in the past year.  Just sayin'.

If you are going to realize that you are a worthless piece of s**t and back out, that would be equally fabulous for Jellybean.  I am assuming that it would be more emotionally and mentally beneficial for her to never see you at all rather than have you pop in and out of her life randomly, loving her for a day or two and then disappearing for weeks at a time.  And if you choose to back out all together, this would be a prime opportunity to do so, as she currently has no idea who you are.  When shown photos, she just looks confused and asks if the picture is of her uncle.  Don't be offended, it's nothing personal.  It's just that you've been pretty useless throughout her entire life and, well, she doesn't know any better.

Oh, and since you failed to show up for court or basically do anything that you were supposed to, I am forced to spend even more money on this ordeal.  You know, money that could go towards providing for our my daughter. (That little girl that I was always nagging you about raising and whatnot.)  So if you could pull your head out of your a** long enough to get everything taken care of, that would be just phenomenal.

Please accept my most sincere congratulations on getting what you've always wanted: me off your back and Jellybean off your lap.  I sure hope you are enjoying yourself.  And if you are interested in any sound advice, and I'd say that by now it is fairly obvious that you aren't, I highly recommend that you take this opportunity and run.  We wouldn't want anymore unwanted responsibility and all that baby-raising bulls*** to interfere with your drinking and drugging.

Once again, congratulations on your glamorous new life.  Hope it was worth it.

With All My Respect,

Friday, June 3, 2011

How To Impress The Guardian Ad Litem Part VI: Do What They Say!

At our last court date, I finally received the report from the guardian ad litem that I'd been so patiently awaiting.  If you read my last post, then you are already aware that W. failed to show up to the pretrial.  If you've read anything on this blog before, then you aren't surprised.

Apparently, showing up for court isn't the only thing that W. hasn't been doing.  According to the report from the guardian, W. never paid the $250 retainer, returned her phone calls, accepted the documents she mailed to him or completed the court-ordered hair follicle test.  What he did manage to do is set up a meeting with the guardian ad litem (to which he never showed up at all), then later completely terminate his visitation schedule with Jellybean, telling the guardian that he is done with the whole ordeal.

Although the reports from Safe House stated that W. appeared to be responsible and reliable during his visits there, the guardian ad litem stated in her report that she could not recommend unsupervised visitation at this time.  Let's face it, throughout the time that we have been in the court system (just since October) W. has had resided at three different addresses, bounced back and forth with two different employers, and went an extended period of time without a reliable phone number.  He has also bounced back and forth--on record--between wanting to be a part of Jellybean's life and backing out all together.  If this doesn't scream UNSTABLE, then I don't know what does. 

This report is a vital piece of information--not only to our case, but to the judgemental eyes that have been watching over my shoulder.  Yes, even though I'm the reliable parent who is looking out for my child, I have still received some pretty harsh judgement..  It's only natural, I suppose.  Friends and relatives of W. wouldn't want to admit that it is their guy who screwed up.  So they deem me a wicked baby-hoarder, using my child as a tool to punish my poor, innocent ex who just wants to love his family, dammit! 

Truthfully, it really wouldn't matter if I were a wicked baby-hoarder, using my child as a tool and such.  The court system isn't going to throw out a good parent.  Or even a half-ass parent who may be capable of keeping their child alive for a few hours.  His parental rights or lack thereof is in no way my decision.  All I can do, is present the evidence (See: this, this, THIS, this, and this.) and let the courts decide what is best according to the law. 

Your final tip in How To Impress The Guardian Ad Litem is to do whatever he/she says.  Easy enough for all of you parents who are worth half a lick.  For the rest of you, well, you probably don't care enough to be researching this kind of information, so likely aren't even here.  Best of luck to all of you who are looking out for your child(ren)!

Introduction to How To Impress The Guardian Ad Litem
Part I: The Initial Meeting
Part II: Preparing For The Home Inspection
Part III: The Home Inspection & Parent/Child Interaction
Part IV: Consulting The Witnesses
Part V: Drug Testing

Friday, May 27, 2011

Custody & Visitation Dispute: When Your Baby Daddy Is A Piece Of You-Know-What

Of course, fighting for supervised visitation between your daughter and her father can be an easy fight when your baby daddy is as big of a mess as mine.  For a while there, he really had some people fooled.  He was attending his visits at Safe House pretty regularly, and almost always provided dinner during their visits.  But W. is a notorious screw-up, and those of us who know him well enough knew he would screw this up eventually.  As I had hoped, he screwed it up before he was granted unsupervised visitation.

At our last court date when our guardian ad litem was appointed, both W. and I were instructed to provide her with our current addresses and phone numbers, as well as $250 each.  The address which he provided the guardian was the address to his mom's house, instead of his sister's house where he was living just a couple of months ago.  The information she mailed to him was sent back to her office and deemed "refused."  W. was unable to provide her with a current phone number other than his work number, which she called multiple times and never received a call back. 

Eventually, she gave up on the information that he had provided her and asked me for any contact information that I may have had.  I gave her his old cell phone number as well as his sister's phone number.  I also took the time to express to her my concern that if W. were to have my baby girl for the weekend, how would I get a hold of him?  What if he needed to contact someone in the event of an emergency?  And where exactly would they be staying that night? 

The first Wednesday in May, I received a phone call from Safe House to inform me that W. had cancelled visitation for the day.  The following Wednesday, I received another phone call to notify me of W.'s cancellation.  Finally, I received yet another phone call the following week to inform me that our visitation schedule had been terminated.  Since everything was planned to be settled at our upcoming court date, there was no need to worry about rescheduling lost visitation time.

When I woke up the morning of our court date, I was pumped.  I thought, This is it!  This is the end!  No more court dates, no more wondering, no more drama!  This was to be the do-all-end-all of this battle.  Or at least it would have been... if W. had shown up. 

(C'mon... where's your surprised face?)

In a normal case with a judge, we would have been able to move forward without W.'s presence.  But this complicated situation becomes even more complicated because the judge that was assigned to our case retired last month and we were stuck with a magistrate.  Apparently, a magistrate would have been able to help us move forward but only with W. present. 

Don't feel bad if you're lost, because I'm right there with you.  This was as much as I was able to understand from what my lawyer explained to me and I'm pretty sure she was dumbing it down a bit.  All I really know now is that we have been assigned yet another court date (our fifth one for those of you keeping score) with a judge.  I have been told that we can move forward with or without W.'s presence.  However, at this point I am losing hope that this endeavor will ever actually end--this all very well could be a conspiracy in which W. has joined forces with my lawyer to ensure that I will be forever broke and in a constant state of wondering what the f*ck is going to happen.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

How To Impress The Guardian Ad Litem Part V: Drug Testing

In a custody/visitation dispute, if one parent is accused of abusing illegal drugs, then both parents are required to be tested.  Since W.'s long-term drug use is one of my grounds for supervised visitation, the court system has ordered that we both submit to a 90-day hair follicle test. 

Drug testing is a real possibility in any case involving children.  To be frank, this part freakin' sucks.  I said goodbye to $60 and a small chunk of my hair, and I wasn't doing drugs in the first place! 

So Part V of How To Impress a Guardian Ad Litem: Drugs are bad.

Introduction to How To Impress The Guardian Ad Litem
Part I: The Initial Meeting
Part II: Preparing For The Home Inspection
Part III: The Home Inspection & Parent/Child Interaction
Part IV: Consulting The Witnesses

Part VI: Do What The Guardian Tells You

Saturday, May 21, 2011

How To Impress The Guardian Ad Litem Part IV: Consulting The Witnesses

In Part I of this discussion, I pointed out that witnesses are an important piece to the puzzle.  Your guardian ad litem will probably request up to four witnesses who may be related to your case.  Do not skimp on this part, it is very important! 

I would advise you to not to list any family members as witnesses, unless they were present to witness a particular act of violence or something key to your case.  Otherwise, it would be best to compose a list of other people involved in your life, maybe babysitters, employers, neighbors and mutual acquaintances between you and your ex.  Make sure you ask each individual for their permission before submitting their information to the guardian.

The guardian ad litem sent letters to each of my witnesses to let them know that whatever they say is not confidential and will ultimately be shared with each party.  Sometimes people don't have the heart to tell you that they don't want to be involved--so instead of calling the witnesses, she gives them a no-pressure way to back out of the situation by asking them to contact her at their convenience.  She also sent letter to my babysitter, who provides full-time daycare for my daughter while I am at work. 

My first witness was my boss. She has been my employer for four years and can attest to the fact that I hold down a steady job, am responsible, and am always looking out for my daughter. She can also attest that any time Jellybean has had a doctor appointment or has been sick, I have been the parent to call off work to take care of her.

My second witness was a woman that I babysit for. I have babysat her five children for the past two to three years. She has known me to be reliable and trusts me to take care of her children. She can attest that any time I have babysat for her since the birth of my daughter, I have had to bring her with me because her dad would not watch her. Even during overnight stays.

My third witness is my neighbor. She and her family have been our friends/neighbors since we moved into the area two years ago. She was more so W.'s friend in the beginning, as he got to know everyone in the neighborhood better than I did. W. has even spoken with her a little bit about the abuse he received from his parents as a child. After our daughter was born and as time went on, she was there to witness W.'s lack of interest in Jellybean, the late nights out, and the purposely not coming home until her bedtime.

My fourth and final witness is a good friend of mine. She has been my friend for the past two or three years and was one of the few people with whom I shared my problems through a difficult time. She can attest to the fact that, even when W. and I were together, Jellybean came with my everywhere because he would not stay home with her.

I noticed that my witnesses and the guardian had played phone tag for a few days before they were finally able to speak.  There came a moment when I began to worry that she wasn't going to gather all of the necessary information from them.  But she followed through and made sure to speak in depth with each of them.  She asked questions regarding what qualities they admire about me, what they think makes me a good custodial parent, my interaction with Jellybean, any known interaction between W. and Jellybean, how Jellybean is progressing for her age, any behavioral issues they have noticed and if they think the separation has affected Jellybean in any way. 

My babysitter also had the opportunity to speak with the guardian ad litem.  The questions that the guardian asked Babysitter were more directly related to Jellybean and her well being.  She made sure that Jellybean has been hitting her developmental marks for her age, that she is healthy, eats well and is well taken care of.  Also, to assure that Jellybean is healthy and well taken care of, the guardian was sure to speak with Jellybean's primary physician, something you should also be prepared for.

A great deal of your guardian's recommendation will depend on third-party statements, so the answers given by these witnesses are more valuable than the diamond ring you used to wear.

Introduction to How To Impress The Guardian Ad Litem
Part I: The Initial Meeting
Part II: Preparing For The Home Inspection
Part III: The Home Inspection & Parent/Child Interaction

Part V: Drug Testing
Part VI: Do What The Guardian Tells You

Thursday, May 12, 2011

How To Impress The Guardian Ad Litem Part III: The Home Inspection & Parent/Child Interaction

In order to compose a full report, the guardian ad litem needs to inspect each home and also see how the child interacts with each parent.  The guardian will typically speak with the child(ren) in confidence in order to see his/her perspective on parents and living arrangements.  Our case is different for two reasons: 1) Jellybean can barely string two words together, let alone form sentences.  Interviewing her would be, well, pointless; and 2) W. only sees Jellybean through supervised visitation at Safe House, so the guardian cannot witness their interaction at his home.

So on the Wednesday before Easter, the guardian visited W. and Jellybean at Safe House.  I am really, really, really glad the guardian picked that particular Wednesday to visit Safe House.  Being the Wednesday before Easter, every child left that building with an Easter basket from their non-custodial parent... except mine.  I hope that is something the guardian noticed.  Don't get me wrong--all three of our kids received Easter baskets from me and Ant, my parents, Ant's parents and even our babysitter.  There was certainly no shortage of Easter baskets this year.  It's just something that a supposed "dad" should do for his child.  Period.

The guardian will have to schedule another date to inspect wherever W.'s grungy ass is living these days.  She told me at our initial meeting that whether or not he has prepared for her possible overnight stays, for instance, by providing her a room or her own bed, will be a major deciding factor regarding unsupervised visitation and overnight stays.  Her point is that if he really wants Schedule A, he better have something ready for her if/when that happens.

She did, however, have the opportunity to visit my home on the Monday after Easter.  After hours of preparing for her inspection, I was confident and ready.  To my surprise, she didn't examine any single room in my house.  She didn't look in the kitchen to make sure that healthy snacks are available, or peek into the bathroom to be sure that there aren't cleaning products on a low shelf.  In fact, it appeared that there was no sort of evaluation at all.  I'm sure she noticed little things, like the cleanliness of our home, outlet covers in all sockets, etc.  All the same, I find myself feeling a bit bummed out that she didn't even so much as glance at the kitchen I scrubbed for hours.  Although she brought a pen and pad with her, she didn't write down a single thing.  Instead, she sat on the floor with me and Jellybean while we played with her dollhouse and read almost every Dr. Seuss book in the book shelf. 

I have to assume that her lack of interest in all of the things that I prepared for is due to the fact that no one is questioning my ability to take care of Jellybean.  No one has even so much as suggested that I am anything close to an unfit parent, so why would she waste her time with a detailed inspection of a home from which the child will not be removed?  Either that, or it was so clean upon first glance that she didn't even need to inspect the rest of the house--because, really, we went a little overkill on the cleaning.

All I can do now is wait.  I will not see the report from the guardian ad litem or even Safe House until we go back to court. I understand that this is how the system works, but I can't help but feel frusterated.  Sometimes I feel like, as her mother, I should be permitted to demand answers.  But, the guardian ad litem and the people at Safe House are the ones who are able to give Jellybean a voice and speak out for what is best for her--so it's probably a good idea to keep my mouth shut and avoid pissing off the people who are going to help our case.

I hope that these posts will help someone, whether you are following me as I go through this journey or whether Google leads you to this article two years down the road.  I feel like maybe I should add a disclaimer to tell everyone that I am no expert, just a regular mom trying to raise my daughter in the most stable situation possible.  And I hope that by sharing my thoughts and experiences I may shed some light on the situation for those of you who are going through something similar.  Or, at the very least, let you know that you are not alone.  No matter what time it is or where you are, somewhere out there is another frusterated and confused woman who just wants to do the right thing for her kids. 

Introduction to How To Impress The Guardian Ad Litem
Part I: The Initial Meeting
Part II: Preparing For The Home Inspection

Part IV: Consulting The Witnesses
Part V: Drug Testing
Part VI: Do What The Guardian Tells You

Thursday, May 5, 2011

How To Impress The Guardian Ad Litem Part II: Preparing For The Home Inspection

In order to compose a full report, a guardian ad litem must inspect the homes of each parent.  Our home inspection was scheduled for the Monday after Easter.  Which meant that our usual half-ass clean-up routine wasn't going to cut it. 

Having three children under the age of three means that cleaning the apartment a week before the inspection would have been pointless--it would have inevitably be destroyed within two hours.  I'm afraid when you have this many toddlers, the only way to guarantee that the house will stay clean, is to clean it after they go to sleep and tie them to chairs up awakening.  So after hours of running around doing the family 'thang, we stayed up until 1:00 in the morning to scrub the place down.

I have since discussed this situation with other people who have been through the system. They have brought to my attention the fact that if a guardian ad litem comes into your home and sees it looking perfectly spic-and-span, she is probably going to know that you went through all of the extra trouble just to impress her and will assume that your home is never that clean. And, let's face it, she would be absolutely right to assume that. It is my argument, however, that a guardian ad litem will expect your family to do a little extra cleaning prior to her arrival and if you leave it looking as half-ass as it normally does, she will probably assume that your home is even less clean on a daily basis. It is up to you which side you take on this. We chose to play it safe and ultra-clean the house.

I mentioned before that I have searched the internet up and down for an article about what the guardian will be looking for specifically.  The only thing I have learned after hours of searching, is that the guardian ad litem is looking for a child-friendly home in which your child(ren) will thrive and succeed.  Pretty generic, I know.  So we came up with our own interpretation of what that means.

Children's Rooms
The guardian ad litem will be looking for a kid-friendly home. This, of course, begins in the child's room.
The guardian wants to make sure that each child has his/her own space and their own bed.  I feel like I shouldn't even have to point out that boys should have separate rooms from girls, which may not be an issue with children so young, but no matter how old they are I just find that... weird.

Baby or safety-proofing is vital. We made sure that all outlet protectors were plugged in, the blinds chords were wrapped up and out of reach, and only age-appropriate toys were at the kids' level. I wiped down the dresser and even took the time to wipe out each speck of dust between the bars of Jellybean's crib. The floors were swept, beds were made, and books and educational toys were displayed neatly on shelves.

Now, Ant went a little overboard and began reorganizing closets.  I thought that was just a tad overdoing it, as I'm sure we wouldn't be judged for having disorganized closet space.  But, I guess we needed a good spring-cleaning anyway and I didn't have to do it so more power to 'im.

I thought the bathroom would be a biggie. The tub, sink and toilet were given a good scrub down. Instead of a lock on the bathroom cabinet, all cleaners were put on the top shelf of the linen closet and the bathroom cabinet was filled with bath toys and baby lotion. A large, green octopus with purple polka dots is our spout cover, and--although the tub is clean--we spread a few toys across the tub for the kid-friendly look.  I debated for a moment on putting away the naked-baby-butt-photos we have proudly displayed on the bathroom shelf...  But I don't know a mom that doesn't have a few of those for public display so I just left them.

Living Room
Since this is typically where our family spends the majority of our time, most of the baby-proofing and safety concerns were already taken care of. There is usually one bin of toys left out in the open, a stack of Nick Jr. DVDs near the TV, and a thousand baby pictures covering the walls. Aside from scrubbing fruit punch stains out of the carpet and wiping a few fingerprints off the walls, this room was ready from the get-go.

Parents' Bedroom
Our apartment is oddly designed. The first floor is our bedroom (which was actually a second living room that we had to convert into a bedroom when Ant and the boys moved in) and the rest of the apartment, including the kitchen, living room, bathroom and kids' bedrooms, are all located upstairs.  Yes, that is different and, yes, it is an enormous pain in the ass. 

Anyway, unless your children are spending a great deal of time in your bedroom--and I really don't see why they should--then a quick cleanup will probably suffice.  Since our bedroom is on an entirely different floor than the rest of our home and the children are not allowed anywhere near the staircase, our bedroom is pretty much a kid-free zone. 

Obviously, this room is pretty important.  This is where you prepare food for your family, this is where your children eat and the kitchen table is where they do many of their activities.  I stayed up until 1:00 a.m. scrubbing this room down.  You all know the basics, mop the floor, wipe off the counters, etc.  But if you're going for a really clean look, don't pass over:
  • Dirty fingerprints on the refrigerator door. (It doesn't hurt to quickly wipe out the inside either!)
  • Inside of the microwave--I guarantee you have spaghetti-o splats.
  • The wall near where the children sit.  You might be surprised at the splattered food you missed before. 
  • The wall and floor near the garbage can.
It is important to make sure your fridge is fully stocked with milk and juice.  Your cupboards should also be full of nutritious snacks but we also kept in a few junk-foody snacks because, well, we do give the kids an occasional bowl of Cheetos and that's normal, so why hide it?  To even things out, we also set a bowl of fruit on the kitchen table.

Back to the "kid-friendly look," we set out their Disney place mats and put a few colored pictures on the refrigerator. 

So we didn't get to bed until after 1:00 Monday morning, but we could sleep sound knowing that we were 100% ready for this inspection.

Introduction to How To Impress The Guardian Ad Litem
Part I: The Initial Meeting

Part III: The Home Inspection & Parent/Child Interaction
Part IV: Consulting The Witnesses
Part V: Drug Testing
Part VI: Do What The Guardian Tells You

Thursday, April 28, 2011

How To Impress The Guardian Ad Litem Part I: Initial Meeting

In Part I of How To Impress The Guardian Ad Litem, I will be discussing the initial meeting.  Which, as everything does in the court system, costs some big bucks. 

The cost of the guardian ad litem probably varies depending on the court and the guardian that has been assigned to your case.  The judge ordered both W. and I to pay $250 to our guardian within seven days of our last court date.  (For the mathematically challenged, that means the money was due by the fourteenth of April.)  This money will work as a retainer, much like when you pay a lawyer.  It is important to be prompt in everything while you are in the court system.

As I've mentioned before, you need to always be respectful to your guardian ad litem.  In fact, you should be respectful of everyone else when you're around your guardian.  This means no bashing your ex.  It is one thing to state the facts, but bashing the father of your child(ren) is disrespectful to both your ex and your child(ren).  The guardian will not look upon this lightly.  Even though my daughter is only eighteen months old, I requested that the guardian and I first meet without Jellybean's presence so that she would not have to hear anything negative about her father.  This is something that the guardians are trained to look for specifically, so we agreed to meet at her office without Jellybean, and she thought that it was great that I would think of that.
During our first meeting, I filled out several forms with all of my information: past drug use, alcohol use, if I smoke cigarettes, who is living in my household, health concerns, etc.  I had to fill out the same information about W., and I also had to fill out another form about Jellybean. 

The guardian will then ask you what your concerns are and why you are fighting for whatever it is you are fighting for--in my case, it is restricted visitation under supervision based on W.'s drug/alcohol abuse and psychological instability.  This is your chance to be heard, so don't blow it.  I told her the facts about the situation.  I told her that W. has admitted that he cannot handle taking care of her on his own, that he has never taken her to the doctor or given her a bath, that he has never gotten up with her in the middle of the night.  I told her about all the times I asked him to sit with her so I could shower or use the bathroom and he left her in the pack-n-play to cry by herself. 

What you don't want to do, is go into detail about how things didn't work out between you two.  She doesn't want to know that he cheated on you with your best friend on your birthday or that you smashed his Xbox to pieces or anything related to that matter.  Those types of issues are between you and your ex, and have nothing to do with the well-being of the child.  So, please, don't ramble on like a crazy lady and show just how hurt and broken he left you.  This will make you look like a scorned woman who was left so hurt by an ex that you are now being vengeful and using your child to hurt him. (And if that is what you are doing, then shame on you.)

Another important piece to this puzzle are your witnesses.  Do not skimp on this part, it is very important.  My guardian requested up to four witnesses who would have any information related to my case.  I decided not to use any family members as witnesses.  Your family will side up with you on anything and everyone knows that.  I chose a mixture of business associates, friends and neighbors.

My first witness is my boss.  She has been my employer for four years and can attest to the fact that I hold down a steady job, am responsible, and am always looking out for my daughter.  She can also attest that any time Jellybean has had a doctor appointment or has been sick, I have been the one to call off work to take care of her.

My second witness is a woman that I babysit for.  I have babysat her five children for the past two to three years.  She has known be to be reliable and trusts me to take care of her children.  She can attest that any time I have babysat for her since the birth of my daughter, I have had to bring her with me because her dad would not watch her.  Even during overnight stays.

My third witness is my neighbor.  She and her family have been our friends/neighbors since we moved into the area two years ago.  She was more so W.'s friend in the beginning, as he got to know everyone better than I did.  W. has even spoken with her a little bit about the abuse he received from his parents as a child.  After our daughter was born and as time went on, she was there to witness W.'s lack of interest in Jellybean, the late nights out, and the purposely not coming home until her bedtime.

My fourth and final witness is a good friend of mine.  She has been my friend for the past two or three years and was one of the few people with whom I shared my problems through a difficult time.  She can attest to the fact that, even when W. and I were together, Jellybean came with my everywhere because he would not stay home with her.

These are the kinds of witnesses that you will want to have in your case.  Make sure you ask each individual for their permission before submitting their information to your guardian.  The guardian told me that she will mail letters out to each of them to let them know that whatever they say is not confidential and will ultimately be shared with each party.  Sometimes people don't have the heart to tell you that they don't want to be involved--so instead of calling the witnesses, she gives them a no-pressure way to back out of the situation by asking them to contact her at their convenience. 

After speaking with her for about an hour, she told me that our next step was for her to see how Jellybean interacts with each parent and she will also need to inspect each home.

Introduction to How To Impress The Guardian Ad Litem

Part II: Preparing For The Home Inspection
Part III: The Home Inspection & Parent/Child Interaction
Part IV: Consulting The Witnesses
Part V: Drug Testing
Part VI: Do What The Guardian Tells You

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

How To Impress The Guardian Ad Litem.

For those of you just joining us in this never-ending divorce/custody/visitation/bullshit battle, you can catch up here, here, here and here.  And most recently, here.  All caught up?  Good.  Then you already know that we have been assigned a Guardian Ad Litem, who is basically a court-appointed lawyer for the best interest of the child.  She doesn't care about me, she doesn't care about W.  She just cares about what is best for Jellybean.  Which is great.

In order to get a full report, the guardian needs to hear both sides of the story from each parent.  She also needs to do a home inspection of each home and to see how the child interacts with each parent.  In most cases, the guardian will speak privately with the child(ren), but since my child cannot form real sentences, she probably won't be interviewing her.  After all that, she will write a report on the entire situation and make a recommendation to the court.

I have scoured the internet looking for some sort of reading material on how to impress the Guardian Ad Litem.  There is absolutely nothing out there.  Not that I am trying to hide anything, I just want to be as prepared as humanly possible.  And since there isn't anything out there, it looks like it's up to me. 

So begins my series of How To Impress The Guardian Ad Litem.

The most important thing to remember is that this lady is going to make or break your case.  Whether you are fighting for custody, trying to obtain visitation, or aiming to keep someone potentially dangerous out of your child's life, she is your lifeline and the court is likely to make a decision based on her report.  (And by "likely to" I mean your entire case depends on that report.)  She's kind of a big deal. 

The second most important thing about a guardian ad litem is that she is there for your child(ren), not you.  Nor is she siding up with the other parent.  She doesn't care that he cheated on you with your best friend on your birthday or that you threw all of his belongings out the window when you caught him.  So don't waste her time or your breath going on and on about such things.  She is looking out for the best interest of your child, which is what you should be focused on as well; so you two should see eye-to-eye on many things based on this point.

The last important piece of information that I would like to point out about a guardian ad litem, is that time is money.  And her time is worth about $100/hour.  You can be respectful to your bank account by being respectful of her time.

Part I: The Initial Meeting
Part II: Preparing For The Home Inspection
Part III: The Home Inspection & Parent/Child Interaction
Part IV: Consulting The Witnesses
Part V: Drug Testing
Part VI: Do What The Guardian Tells You

Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter (It's More Fun With Kids!)

Holidays are difficult in blended families.  You have to make sure that everyone gets to see the kids and the kids get to see everyone.

So on Saturday, we spent the day at my parents' house in M-Ville.  They got Easter baskets filled with candy, coloring books, and other misc. toys.  And these awesome golf sets.

My parents held an indoor Easter egg hunt (which, for their age group, was really more of an Easter egg pick-up).  Ace figured out how to unwrap candy wrappers and took it upon himself to distribute candy to his younger siblings.  I'm not sure if he was doing this to be nice, or to get them involved so that if he got in trouble he would have accomplices.  Nevertheless, the kids had candy for breakfast and lunch.  Which may be considered bad parenting, but I'm not terribly concerned. 

After our nutritious lunch of chocolate and marshmallow, it was time to color eggs.  (I love our faces in this picture...)


I stole the muffin pan idea from my friend at Hand Over The Cookies!.

The kids all had a ton of fun and they were disappointed when we were done coloring eggs.  But, for the life of me, I cannot capture a picture of them having fun.  Ever.  Here are Dango and Ace looking like they've been working the grind for twelve hours and have just had enough.

My dad got this cool egg-spinner from WalMart for about $5.  Ant and Dango took it for a spin.  (Get it?)


That egg spinner made some very cool eggs.  So with all of the after-Easter sales going on, it might be a good idea to snatch one up for next year.

The next morning (Easter Sunday) was a blur.  The kids got their baskets for 10 minutes before we rushed out the door to Ant's mom and step dad's house in H. Town.  Where they each got another basket and these delicious marshmallow lollipops.

Ed picked up the boys minutes later and we headed to my mom's house for ham, then home to clean clean clean before the Guardian Ad Litem arrives to inspect our home.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Working Vs. Staying At Home

There seems to be an ongoing war between working moms and stay-at-home moms.  There are pros and cons to each side and I'm not bashing either choice--mostly because we moms are defensive creatures and I'd like to spare myself the wrath of hundreds of women weilding soccer schedules and brief cases.  But I digress...

When you look past the turned-up noses and passive-aggressive comments, I'd say that a great deal of this dispute can be chalked up to envy.  Because we all want what's best for our kids.  We want more time with them.  We want to be there for every milestone, every fever, every boo boo.  And when we can't be, we end up feeling like less of a parent.

When the stay-at-home mom down the street tells me about all the time she spends with little Tommy each day and how her structured lessons and playtime have really payed off because he is only two but already knows his ABC's, can count to 100, is fully potty-trained and even drives her to the grocery store on Tuesdays... well, I feel just a little inadequate.  Between working full time and taking care of three toddlers, there are days when we all eat T.V. dinners and go to bed without baths.
On the other side of the fence, whether or not we want to spoil our children, we still want material things for them.  You know, the whole "roof and food" thing.  And whether you have chosen to pursue a career or you are working for minimum wage to barely make rent, you have to admit that getting out of a house full of kids is what is keeping you out of the nuthouse at the moment.  We all know that the more career-driven women in this world can make a stay-at-home mom feel like she is barely contributing to the world.  Like she has no excuse to be exhausted and her house should be spic-and-span because she is home "all day with nothing to do."

I have mad respect for the stay-at-home moms. (Unless you're a stay-at-home-mom with two kids who are both in school for six hours a day and you still send laundry home with your mom because you "just can't find the time!" while you were spending two hours on Facebook this morning--you suck.)  Moms who stay home with their small children all day, every day, for years at a time must have a patience level far superior to my own.  On my day off, I feel like all I do is make meals, clean up after meals, change diapers and pick up the same toys over and over and over.  And while I'm doing these things non-stop all day long, I get to enjoy the constant soundtrack of temper tantrums, expensive things being broken, and the Dora The Explorer theme song.  All day. 

Back to my point--there is no need for the snide comments, the snooty-patooty attitude, or this "war" in general.  Whether you're at home pulling your hair out, or at work wishing you were home, you will never be 100% satisfied with your situation.  We are all going to screw our kids up one way or another, and they'll all hate us when they're teenagers anyway.  So let's just agree to smile at each other as we drop our children off for therapy, and concentrate on bashing the real crazy bitches out there: the work-at-home moms.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Yet Another Pretrial

For those of you who have been following along in my divorce/custody battle, you may remember that yesterday was our third pretrial.  This time we were seen by the judge.

First of all, I would like to point out that at each pretrial, W. has stylishly arrived in dirty pants and a greasy work jacket.  I know he thinks he is making the statement, "Look at me!  I'm a workin' man!"  But mostly he is stating, "Look at me!  I forgot to shower this morning!"

Once again, W. was unrepresented.  I'm not sure if it is due to inability to pay, lack of family support, or just plain stupidity.  Whatever the matter, he has chosen to represent himself in this battle.  (The judge even quoted Abraham Lincoln, "A man who represents himself has a fool for a client.")  So instead of understanding the proper protocol, i.e. when to stand, when to say "Your Honor" and when to shut the hell up, W. just wings it.  Believe me, there is no greater cure for my anxiety than watching him make an ass out of himself.

Upon entering the courtroom unshowered and unrepresented, W. starts the pretrial off right by interrupting my lawyer while she was making statement of the fact that he never filed an answer.  "I did too file an answer!"  That kind of thing tends to piss off a judge.  He allowed my lawyer to finish her statement and then asked W., "Mr. ____, you claim that you did file an answer?"


"And when did you file this answer?"

"This morning."

"...You filed it just this morning??"

"Yes.  I have the papers right here."

The judge stared at W. so hard, I thought daggers might actually shoot from his eyes.  "Mr. ____, you had 28 days after October 7 to file an answer.  I think you're a little late."

This isn't the first time that W. has delayed things by waiting until (quite literally) the last minute to complete court orders.  While I understand that doing so only makes him look worse, it still frustrates me to no end.
However, there was a bit of relieving news that managed to shine through the bullshit.  The judge clarified with W. that this is not a battle over custody, only a battle regarding visitation.  W. concurred.  You see, in the State of Ohio, custody and visitation are two wholly separate issues.  Whether his lawyer-less ass realizes it or not, if he is only fighting for unsupervised visitation then I will be rewarded with sole legal custody. 

The judge appointed a guardian ad litem  to the case and ordered her to bring her full report to the next pretrial on May 26. 

At the last minute, a representative from the Safe House (where W. and Jellybean have participated in supervised visitation since November) stood up an announced that although cases are only supposed to go through Safe House for 90 days, our case has been there for five months.  The judge said that he would take that into advisory.  Later, my lawyer explained to me that this simply means that he didn't feel like making a decision on that so he is going to pretend like he is considering it but really his mind is made up until the next pretrial.

So once again, we are left waiting.  Waiting for the guardian ad litem to examine our households.  Waiting for court on May 26.  And waiting for W. to screw up in between.  That is the one way in which W. has never let me down.  He always screws up.

For those of you who haven't been following along with me for the past six months and might think that I am being a bit vindictive here, you can see why here, here, and especially here.  I am not trying to remove him from her life, I am simply trying to make sure that I keep my little Jellybean safe.  That, my friends, is the #1 goal of a 22-year-old-full-time-working mom with a precious little girl.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Posh Tots: For Tots Who Are Posh And Parents Who Are Out of Their Minds

If you haven't shopped at http://www.poshtots.com/, then you simply haven't lived.

They believe that a child's room isn't just a place to sleep.  It's a place to play, learn and dream; an environment where a child can enjoy all the simple pleasures of being a child.  And the only way to accomplish that for your children is to purchase items that are at equal or greater value of your family's vehicle.  Or local school bus.  Whatever.

My child's ass will never be changed on anything less than the Braided Vintage Versatile Dresser/Changing Table WITH Gold Accents for $3,542.00.  I mean, she just might break out in hives if she were to be changed on any surface that wasn't accented with gold. 

And I would be absolutely mortified if I were the only mom at the playground without a diaper tote made from 100% calf skin leather for $169.00.  Because if at least three baby cows weren't slaughtered to create this product, it simply isn't fit to hold my child's diapers and Cheerios!

If your little princess isn't drifting into dreamland in one of these bad boys, then you clearly just don't love her enough.  Okay, seriously?  Who the hell would actually purchase this for their spoiled brat?  Is this website even making money?  They won't even list the price, which means that this probably costs significantly more than your average two-story house, given that they will shamelessly list the prices of beds costing upwards of $50,000.  And why is this bed being modeled outside?  That is the only way I would consider purchasing a bed so ridiculous: if I were forcing my daughter to sleep outside. 

And if you love these products but your child is getting a little too old for the La Belle Au Bois Dormant Coach Bed, Posh Tots thought ahead with their line of beds specifically for tweens starting at $4,000.00. 

Of course, when your tween turns into a full-fledged teen (you know, two years from now) you will have to purchase him or her a real bed for a teenager because, well, otherwise it would just be embarrassing.

Seriously, Posh Tots, get real.  The only people who are buying your ridiculously-overpriced-hand-crafted-from-the-skin-of-dead-baby-animals-plated-with-gold-that-was-shat-out-of-the-ass-of-the-queen-of-England-but-daddy-all-of-the-other-kids-have-a-chandelier-in-their-bedrooms-and-besides-I-didn't-even-get-a-new-pony-this-year-merchandise are people who dress their kids like this:

So if you have three years' salary to spend, lottery money to blow, or if you want a good laugh, check out Posh Tot's website.