Saturday, July 26, 2008

Hide and Seek

Right now, I am so angry that I am speechless. I have a great big hole where my heart should be.
Ten years ago, on February 21, 1998, I ovulated despite using the oral contraceptive pill (Marvelon.) I vomited after taking my pill, moved house the next day and decided to take a chance and not get the morning-after pill. I found out I was pregnant the day my father was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumour. Abortion was not an option for me- in my superstitious, young and vulnerable mind, the only chance my dad had of fighting the tumour was for his whole family, everyone who loved him, to fight for life and to show that life was important. My boyfriend agreed. We had been living together for a while and he made the decision to support me and raise our baby together. We were guided by my father's wishes and chose to marry. Two weeks to the day of our wedding, I got the phone call from my mother, telling me to come now. Dad died the following day, July 24th, 1998.
On my wedding day, my father asked my new husband if he would look after me and the new baby, do everything he could for us. Given that we all knew dad was dying at that point, it was a deathbed promise- something I cannot imagine breaking under any circumstances. He has.
In the past decade, my ex-husband has been what's politely known as "marginally employed". There were long periods of time when we were together when he was not looking for work or in work, he was consistently resistant to claiming government benefits that would require him to sign on because of the stigma attached and we were constantly in debt and eating for a very few pounds a week. It was hell. Eventually I got my act together and took a job,  which put food on the family's table though seriously cut into the time I could spend with our year-old baby. I'm the daughter of a working mother, and I seriously, seriously believe that babies need their mums at home. He took that from me. Our second son was born, again unplanned, and he remained unemployed. Our circumstances forced me to return to the workplace at 3 months postpartum. My baby developed eczema, so severe it was lifethreatening. He was given formula sometimes. He nearly died as a result of his health conditions. It was one of the worst times in my life, for this and so many reasons.
Fast forward a few years, and I got him out of my life- he chose to move back up to his parents house, despite them having offered to set him up in a flat near us. At this point, I was several thousand pounds in debt. Promises, so many promises were made about finances, work, jobs, the lot. His sci-fi collection were to be sold to pay off our debts. None of this materialised. He got a job, paid a small amount of child support, found a new partner. Her daughter's after-school club closed down- so my ex-husband took over the responsibility for caring for her, and so stopped paying child support. At this point, my wonderful Steve and I got together and started working on paying off the debts I had incurred in my first marriage.
It has continued this way ever since. In 2005 I involved the Child Support Agency after he spent six months in work without either seeing his sons or paying a penny in child support. He has always insisted that I transport our sons half-way to him, even during the times when I did not own a car because I couldn't afford it. The amounts he offered me to get me to stop the CSA claim were, frankly, insulting.
The final straw came when he claimed to be more hard-up than usual, lied about asking the CSA to review our case and then started trying to bully me into accepting a lower amount of money. As things currently stand, I have received the most disgusting email I have ever read in my life, which accuses me of trying to stop him from seeing his children.  He makes it clear that further contact with the boys who love him (I love children. They really do love unconditionally) is entirely dependent upon me complying with his wishes and telling the child support agency that I will accept direct payments- at this point, he will make lower payments. If I do not do this, the infrequent visits, birthday presents, weekly phone calls will all stop.
I am livid. He was given the option to walk away from parental responsibility back in 98, and he refused. The same offer was repeated in 2000, when I was pregnant with Isaac, and one more time in 2002 when we broke up. Now he wants it? Jeez.
Women, read my story. Next time you meet a young woman pregnant by an unsuitable young man, don't offer them judgement, or opinions. Help to keep the unsuitable men out of the joint bank account and away from the babies. I am strong, and I have raised these beautiful wonderful talented empathic infuriating and unbelievably noisy boys by myself so far- I could have done it all along. If I had, I would have spared them the pain that I have brought upon them now.
Men- see notes to women. In addition, though, if you hear a friend complaining about how hard done by he is, please give him a reality check. Parenting is the hardest job in the world, and crap like this makes it a million times worse. I love my sons so much, and I wish I could find a way of sparing them this.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

When a Knight Won His Spurs

Well, we did it. DH graduated from university (again) on Saturday- though as we pointed out, this is getting to be somewhat of a habit for him now. I am so proud to be married to him though- the way that he chose a path that he wanted to follow, even though it's high-stress and nowhere near as lucrative as the work he was doing in financial services back in London. I'm proud of the way that he's juggled his academic work with the demands of a young family, and I love the way he treats children and young people as- you know- actual PEOPLE. He rocks my world, and I'm putting that information out there on the internet where everyone will see it and he'll be horrendously embarrassed next time he raids my blog to show his colleagues pictures of the children. 
We spent Sunday night mellowing out in front of the TV, with him doing a little bit of prep for one of his classes (for my husband is not only going-to-be-a-teacher, but he started his contract at the start of the month.) and me spinning away. The first ever Folk Day at the Proms was on, and it was blindingly good. It's been a long time since I've heard music that really made me want to pick up my sax and blow, but that night did it for me. In particular, Martin Simpson's rendition of "When a Knight Won His Spurs" was magical, given the huge life events in our family recently. It's now 10 years since I left university, 10 years next week that my dad died and I'm feeling acutely conscious right now that in this decade, time has passed me by. I didn't really have my twenties in the traditional, running-around sense, and there's a lot I've forgotten, a lot of paths unfollowed. I don't regret a moment of the time that I spent raising my children, but I'm feeling a real sense now that it's time for me to raise and nurture myself, my mental abilities and to see what I could be, given the space and time and nurturing, how I could shine. I'm reading The Artists Way by Julia Cameron at the moment, and working through the exercises and really enjoying them. It's a scary, exciting, terrifying time for me right now.