If I Could Save Time in a Bottle

Ari Half Moon Bay

“Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent.”
― Carl Sandburg

Ari-dona2

Ariel in 2013, with Dona.

Today is a special day.  The light of my life celebrates her nineteenth birthday.

It is such a cliche to ask where the time has gone.  Last week, I was looking at framed photographs of her through the years, and experienced nostalgia that was nearly panic, looking into the familiar eyes, the familiar face, the smile filled with baby teeth, of that beloved child.  That child is lost to me forever, at least those earlier versions.  Every year, she is replaced with the current, updated version of herself.  I love them all, but I cannot help but miss the Ariels of Birthdays Past, even as I love the current and future Ariel more every minute.

Today she is everything on my list of gratitudes.  Whenever I doubt myself, my life, my choices, I know I have this one thing that turned out perfectly because of me and in spite of me.

An earlier birthday girl also loved black horses.

An earlier birthday girl also loved black horses.

The funny thing about time is that the hours and days seem to pass so slowly sometimes, but the years pile up in a hurry.  We could probably adjust to it more easily if it were only the time that were passing, but in reality, with it, time drags everything into a constant evolution.

The baby who held my earlobe for security and played with pairs of plastic animals in the bathtub all too quickly became the toddler who told me, “Ah, shit!” from her car seat one January when I told her that Kiddieland was closed for the winter.

Ariel in the Summer of 2014.

Ariel in the Summer of 2014.

I remember the first time she insisted on walking into school on the first day of first grade without me, dressed in a purple down parka, with a backpack that was so big next to tiny her that it almost dragged the ground.  She trudged up the gothic stairs at the Lab School, her blonde curls bouncing in the wind, and when she didn’t even turn back to see me in the car line, I cried.  I want her to be independent.  I want her to not need me.  But maybe not just yet (even still).

Ariel on Dona in 2005, trusted friends ever since then.

Ariel on Dona in 2005, trusted friends ever since then.

When Ari was seven, we bought a pony that ended up being not suitable for a child.  We found this out when the pony spooked at the barn owner’s dog and sent me sailing in a fall that left me biting through the nerve in my lower lip, my helmet breaking (saving my nose), gravel embedded in my face, and a bruised kidney.  As I leaned over the bathroom sink trying to determine if the grit I was spitting out was my teeth or arena gravel, I heard the other barn kids asking Ariel if her mother was alright, to which she screamed, “Well she would be if it weren’t for your asshole dog!!”

Birthday Past 2013.

Birthday Past 2013.

I can recall a million tiny details.  A million moments in time that, when woven together, knit my favorite story of all time, a story where the heroine is a sassy, intelligent, resourceful and hilarious beauty with the golden tresses, the dazzling smile and sparkling blue eyes even better than a Disney princess.

I am grateful.  I am grateful for each moment and each memory.  I am grateful for all those bathroom stops we had to make on every road trip; I am grateful for the times we went to war over homework; I am grateful for the Halloween costumes and the pink birthday parties and the back to school shopping, and the friend dramas, and the messy bedroom and the undone chores and the done chores.  I wouldn’t trade a minute of it.

Ari and Byttersweet in 2008.

Ari and Byttersweet in 2008.

Today, she is a freshman in college and we are beginning the next chapter in this wonderful book.  I am so proud of you, Ari, and I am so grateful to have you for my daughter.  Happy Birthday.  I love you!

~ Mommy

PS – Yes, I am making you a flan instead of a birthday cake 🙂

ari and me

Ariel and me 1999.

Ariel in Summer 2014.  Photo © Visual Stimulus Photography

Ariel in Summer 2014. Photo © Visual Stimulus Photography

Ariel in 2011.  Photo © Visual Stimulus Photography

Ariel in 2011

Moving in the Season of Gratitude

DSC_0832-001Moving. Everybody hates moving, right? It is the menstruation of life events, not catastrophic like major illness or death in the family, but never good. No one likes moving.

My doctor tells me that death, divorce and moving are the three most stressful life events for people. Well, I got divorced in September and moved in October.  (I will uncharitably add that whose death occurs impacts how stressful it might or might not be…)

The divorce was life altering, for the better, the lifting of a huge amount of dead weight and an overall relief (even though the process is not fun for anyone, for sure).   Sometimes you do not realize what a burden something has become until the boulder is lifted from your chest.

Moving sucked, even though I am moving to a home I like better with a lot more space, better views, less traffic, and an indoor arena.

I acknowledge up front that moving is horrible for everyone, but indulge me for a moment while I lick my own wounds. Moving under a very tight time constraint with more dogs than you can count on one hand, horses, a smattering of snakes (one of which, sadly, escaped just before I moved and I was never able to find her), and a fractured ankle proved to be — um — challenging.

It rained, of course it  rained, on moving day.  In fact, it poured.  The trailer ball on the truck I rented to pull my horse trailer ended up being the wrong size.

Two of my bitches came into season just prior to the move, to ensure that everyone would be at their barking and howling best on moving day (and beyond).

My debit card got hacked (for the fifth time).

AT&T was supposed to be there on October 31st to install phones and internet.  They no-showed, but then arrived unexpectedly on November 1st with four other contractors.  They installed the phones but told me that they “did not have time” to do the internet, so they would come back in a few days.  When they came back on November 5th, the internet still did not work.  When I pressed them about this on the 6th, they confessed that they did not have any idea when it could be done.  Comcast said no.  Frontier said no.  My local independent provider said no.  DISH was too expensive.  So I called my friendly neighbor across the street and asked her what internet service she had.  Her response:  AT&T. frownie face here.>  I called AT&T back again and used a more motivating tone with them (which may or may not have involved mention of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act), and lo and behold, they installed DSL on November 11th!

In the mean time, I had no fenced area for the dogs.  For the first two weeks, at least one dog got loose each day.  Fortunately, I did manage to get them all back.

The barn cat I inherited (Theo) has a weepy eye, a wet cough, and two unwanted testicles, all of which need to go away.

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Minnie Pearl, Oprah, Brigitta, Marilyn, Scarlett, Miley, Vulture and the one without a name yet.

Because things were not interesting enough and I was apparently too idle, I purchased eight chickens to help fill my spare time.  Theo is very happy with this development.

To make a long story less long, I am no longer sleeping on the floor and I have a large, fenced pasture for the Sloughis to stretch their legs.  My dining room is still packed floor-to-ceiling like a hoarder show, but this, too, shall pass. (Or else, I can just seal that room off into a crypt.)  Somehow, I will make a Sloughi specialty show happen at my house this weekend.  Still a little sketchy on how all of that will work out.

So, as we gallop down the runway to my favorite holiday, here is what I am thankful for:

I am grateful for my brilliant and beautiful daughter, who on most days is the light of my life, and on the rest of the days teaches me ariel-morganpatience.

I am grateful for my amazing family and friends who are truly responsible for moving me, both physically and otherwise.

I am grateful for my animals.

I am grateful for simple things – like hot baths, strong coffee, clean sheets, the nicker of horses, the smell of hay, dry champagne and the dazzling, pink sunrises I see every morning over my pasture.

And I am grateful to you, my dear reader, for indulging me once again with your time and interest in reading this blog.

I hope your cup runneth over this holiday season with things for which to be thankful.

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Fools Believe and Liars Lie

legsin·fi·del·i·ty

[in-fi-del-i-tee] noun, plural in·fi·del·i·ties.
1. marital disloyalty; adultery;
2. unfaithfulness; disloyalty;
3. lack of religious faith;
4. a breach of trust or a disloyal act; transgression.

I started this blog by looking at the statistics. Somewhere between 18% and 60% of married Americans will have an extramarital affair during their marriage. Men cheat more than women. Two to 3% of all children born in this country are the product of infidelity. Only 3% of all mammals are monogamous, and, arguably, it is not the norm for humans. The numbers are staggering, but they tell us almost nothing.

The dictionary definition of infidelity is fairly predictable. In practice, however, it can be much more nuanced. Most people consider any sexual act with someone other than your partner and without your partner present to be infidelity, whether it is sex, oral sex, anal sex, etc. But there are grey areas, too. French kissing is generally over the line. What about a simple kiss? Embracing? Hand holding? And what about emotional infidelity?infidelity111

With the boom of the internet, and increasing reliance on electronic communication, it is disturbingly common for a person to feel a higher degree of intimacy with a person they have never met across the world than his or her neighbor just over the fence. It’s so easy to be amazing behind the mask of your keyboard. There are no fat days, no bad hair days, and no facial blemishes. Your eyebrows can be untweezed, You can be three inches taller and twenty pounds lighter.  Your Brazilian can go Amazon. You don’t even have to wear deodorant. You can always edit yourself before you thoughtlessly put your foot in your mouth, and you can place total faith in those benign, little emoticons to convey just exactly how each word and sentence should be interpreted.

infidelity1I am a family law attorney.  The issue of infidelity arises in nearly every dissolution case.  Sometimes it is a single affair that is the coup de gras that ends a relationship.  Sometimes one spouse has been aware for years that marriage has not really affected the other spouse’s dating life or pursuit of other sexual partners (sometimes prostitutes, same-sex prostitutes, and even transgendered prostitutes).  The who that a person cheats with is usually (but not always) less important to their partner than the fact of the cheating.

It’s peculiar that the partner of a cheater sometimes grapples with what I call the Fool’s Dilemma:  whether s/he cheated in the context of a love affair, a relationship with meaning, or s/he cheated with someone who “didn’t matter.”  In the former case, it is not just a sin of the flesh, it is a complete betrayal of intimacy, the forging of an emotional attachment with another person.  In the latter case, if the cheater risked the entire relationship for a meaningless sexual encounter, what is the value of the primary relationship?  The answer to the Fool’s Dilemma is immaterial, because it is the devaluation of the primary relationship that is at issue.

And therein lies the problem:  the devaluation of the relationship.  Betrayal.  Because cheating is not about sex per se.  The problem with cheating is that it is merely a symptom of deceit.  Deceit is a many-headed, ravenous beast that feeds on self esteem, trust, anxiety, depression, and of course, jealousy.MBDABLA EC004

In many marriages, the paramour has a higher degree of intimacy on some levels than the spouse, because she usually knows about the existence of the wife, yet the wife does not know about her.  This is not always the case.  Recall the dramatic New Year’s Eve scene in the 1986 film, About Last Night, when Elizabeth Perkins’ character cries in the bathroom, “He’s going back to his wife,” and Demi Moore replies, “His wife?  I didn’t know he was married.”  Elizabeth Perkins wails, “Neither did I!”  This is less common.

infidelity1_2Infidelity is rarely an isolated affair.  Once a partner passes the threshold of cheating, the second time is easier and the third time easier yet. Pretty soon, the partner engaged in the deceit becomes so habituated to it, that it evolves into a norm.  In many of these cases, a person who has repeated affairs has a partner who has learned to tolerate it for a number of reasons.  She may be financially dependent; there may be minor children of the primary relationship; she may no longer be sexually interested in her partner and is grateful for him to pursue those endeavors elsewhere.  In other cases, a cheater is matched with a partner who chooses to believe convincing (or not-so-convincing) lies rather than confront the truth.  The believer  can be a willing participant in the deception.

And we cannot forget the paramour.  The paramour makes a conscious decision to engage in a relationship with a person who is primarily involved with another person.  The paramour chooses to be the B cast.  This is true regardless of what the cheater says.  If the primary relationship is on the cliff, or if the primary partner is no longer in love is of no import.  The cheater chooses to take on a paramour rather than terminate the dysfunctional relationship, and the paramour is de facto the second string.

However, regardless of whether or not the partners in a relationship accept infidelity, it is necessarily accompanied by an erosion of infidelity5intimacy.  Relationships are fed on intimacy and the more effort that each partner puts into the other, the more both prosper emotionally and intellectually from the relationship.  Grass is greener where you water it.  If the goal is to connect to your partner, then any deception is contrary to that goal, whether the deception is an extramarital affair, a lie about anything that matters to the other person. (Obviously, I am not talking about surprise parties and the like.)  Deceit is tantamount to betrayal, and that many headed beast can ruin a relationship and crush the emotional well being of the betrayed.

In my eleven years on the bar, I have seen dozens, if not hundreds, of examples of infidelity at the end of marriages and domestic partnerships.  This is not something that occurs in a vacuum.  Deceit is a slippery slope that begins with trepidation and soon gathers steam.  Disengaging from the habit, once it’s established is extraordinarily unlikely.  I do not believe in sex addiction, but habitual lying is a side effect of many personality disorders and may be as difficult to overcome as any psychological addiction.

Circling back to our definition, infidelity in practice truly is any breach of trust or a disloyal act.  Not only are we defined by the choices we make, our relationships are defined by them as well.

Fairy Tales, Frogs, Corn Flakes and Horseradish

The garden of allah

“In fairy tales, the princesses kiss the frogs, and the frogs become princes. In real life,the princesses kiss princes, and the princes turn into frogs.” ~ Paul Coehlo, By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept

We are not princesses.  They are not princes.  Therein lies the rub.

By princesses, I don’t mean the lily white dancing nymph who sings to bluebirds and mice like we see in Disney films.  But neither do I mean the demanding, spoiled, pejorative type of princess, either.  I mean the type of princess that makes up whatever kind of fantasy is conjured in the immature male ideal:  she is a combination of the good parts of his mother, a Sports Illustrated super model, and his favorite porn star.

She is a restaurant quality chef; she is immune to body fat, cellulite, bad hair, bad breath, and acne; her breasts are full and high, nipples
perfect wife alert like rosy sentries at full attention over an impossibly tiny waist; and she could slake the lust of Zeus himself in the bedroom.  She is Florence Nightingale when he ails.  She doesn’t nag.  She doesn’t get headaches.  She never says a cross word about his mother or his friends.  She does not compete with him on any level, and if she were to do so, she is incapable of beating him.  And for the love of God, in the unlikely event that she menstruates, she certainly never gets PMS. Great expectations, or not so great, as the case may be.

jaime2To be fair, the Prince Charming ideal trained into the minds of little girls is similarly unrealistic:   The heart throb millionaire who charges across the drawbridge on his white horse singing a ballad of love everlasting while his washboard abs ripple beneath his armor like the taut muscles of a Derby colt.

Failed expectations foment unhappiness.

Unrealistic expectations impact reality, and the impact on women is different from the impact on men.  Society conditions girls to view themselves differently (a topic for a later blog) as well as the way they view and perceive relationships.

There is a dearth of literature published on the topic of intimate human relationships, ranging from an evolutionary perspective, to light psychology to fluff pieces in Vogue seeking to explain the relational differences that exist between the sexes.  At the same time we struggle to reconcile the disparity between the Princess Ideal and the actual self, we compromise in our relationships.  We strive to be the Princess Ideal and at the same time to manage a career, to be mothers, sisters, daughters, friends and (dare I wish it?) to find our soul mates.

While it may seem flattering to be admired on a pedestal, it is folly to be held to a standard that remains steadfastly unattainable.  Perfection is consuming, and falling from grace has produced catastrophic results since biblical times.

Knowing what you want and wanting what you get are necessary to happiness.  By the time you’ve licked the new off your partner, you had better have learned to love what’s beneath the surface or your relationship is doomed.  This all seems so tautological, but the trick is knowing what you want in spite of the multiple layers of social conditioning that have taught us that you have to have the Princess Ideal or Prince Charming.

What happens when Prince Charming’s money stops entertaining you and you never really liked his ballad?   (Let’s face it, a six-pack stomach is only going to take you so far.)  We don’t all want the archetype, even if we don’t know it, and winning the prize is just accumulating more trash if it’s not what you wanted in the first place.  As Dolly Parton so eloquently put it in the movie Straight Talk, “It’s like you’re allergic to cornflakes so you start to buy different stuff like a can of peas, but when you open up the can of the peas, inside cornflakes.  So you pick a TV dinner and open it up, and, cornflakes. . .The girls you go out with… outside all different packages but inside… cornflakes.”  Prince Charming is really . . .  Cornflakes.

miseryBut it gets a bit worse, because Cornflakes has a preconceived notion about you, too.  And maybe all that stuff that looked so good on paper when he first met you is not working out so well for him now.  For example, your assertiveness is now controlling.  Your intelligence  he now views as a challenge.  He loved the idea of marrying a career woman, but now he resents that you’re not Suzy Homemaker.  The independence he once admired, is now aloofness, coldness, or maybe even selfishness.  Cornflakes wants you parked on the sofa next to him while he watches TV  (only breaking to fix his mother’s recipe for meatloaf) until he goes to bed where he will want to have four minutes of sex before he is snoring.  This is not what Cornflakes bargained for either.

It’s no small wonder that only 25% of women orgasm during sex and 5%-10% of women do not orgasm at all  (Lloyd).  There is more to life than being a surrogate mother and an occasional semen receptacle.  It’s not surprising that approximately 50% of all marriages end in divorce  (National Center for Health Statistics).

Failed relationships are influenced by many things, but misconceptions about what your partner should be must be a major factor.   Women are conditioned to think that anything less than Prince Charming is “settling,” but the concept of Prince Charming is a trick.  He’s really a huge, toxic, warty toad, all dressed up in tasty packaging.  We are told from the beginning that we should marry doctors and lawyers. What about men who are honest and trustworthy, who make you laugh, who are empathic, and who accept you for what you are?  What about the qualities that really count on a daily basis?  Rather than relying an archetypal Prince Charming defined by the same society that made you play with Barbie and Ken (who is gay, by the way), we should all be forming realistic expectations about what we really want and finding that person.

Cornflakes become more like bitter herbs in the long run, and horseradish will make you cry.

Remembering Daddy

I don’t know where to begin our story.  It’s hard to tell, full of private details that I would prefer to keep to myself.  But I cannot talk about this without being honest and keeping you secret is so much work.

You died on October 2, 2012.  It was  a Tuesday.

Three weeks before, I had a dream that I got a phone call telling me that you died.  It was so real to me that I checked public death records for you the following day.  When I finally picked up my voice mail messages on September 26th and I heard for the first time the two messages left by a nurse on September 10th telling me that you were in failing health, I was very worried, or maybe apprehensive is a better word.  Of course I did not want you to be sick.  But if I am honest, my first concern was that you would want to come stay with me, and I was afraid about that.

You’ve done such horrible things.  Your temper is tattooed into my mind’s eye.  It has changed who I am.  I have had nightmares my entire life.   I remember one night in Campbell when you had flown into a rage against our mum.  Mark and I were huddled up in your bedroom meticulously unwrapping and destroying a whole carton of your Pall Mall cigarettes.  I am not sure if we intended to punish you or if we were just so frightened that we had to destroy something.  You have been present in every bad partner I have chosen, every dangerous decision I’ve ever made, every scandalous act I’ve ever committed, every moment of self loathing, and all of my “proximity” issues.

I think part of my love for animals is hard wired into my DNA.  You and Mum both always told me that when I was two years old, someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I replied, “A horse.”  My favorite way to ride in our old Dodge Dart was with the window open, my head hanging out, and panting like  a dog.  I hated dolls and spent my childhood galloping around the neighborhood, snorting and whinnying.  But part of it, too, was that you helped teach me to prefer the honest and uncomplicated company of animals over that of humans, and with only a handful of exceptions, I am still like that today.

I’ve said and written so often that we are defined by the choices we make, that our priorities determine our character.  I’ve said that at journey’s end, it is all that we are.  I am struggling with this because you made so many bad choices.  You paid for those choices with everything that ever meant anything to you.  You did not have a good life.  I can’t believe, I don’t believe, that at the end, it is all that you were.  There was another side to you, too, and I remember that side better.

Our cousin, Lyda, wrote to me the day that you died, and she said, “I remember how much he doted on his little girl!  You are always so brave and strong, you will use that to go through these sad places.”  It’s true that you made me resilient.  I will never say that your temper was a blessing, but as a result of it, I have never backed away from anything in my life. I face my fears head on.  I will ride into any storm without hesitation.

And you doted on me. You really did.  I cannot remember you ever telling me no to anything, ever in my life.  You spoiled me terribly.  Never once, not once, did you ever lose your temper with me.  That must have been hard.  I make everybody mad, but not you.

I remember when I was very small that you took me to a bird sanctuary and a little duckling swam up to me and I picked it up.  When I asked you if we could keep him, you put him in your pocket and we went home with our stolen duckling.  That was Huey.  He ended up being a girl.  I remember all the hours you slept in the car at Half Moon Bay waiting for me while I went horseback riding on the beach. I loved going fishing with you.  On boats and on piers, getting up at the crack of dawn.  You used to buy that weird bait. I think it was fish eggs of some kind dyed fluorescent pink or yellow.  Sometimes we caught nothing and we would buy fresh fish from a local fisherman and come back and tell Boo Boo that we “got” them (always careful to avoid the distinction between “bought” and “caught”).  And my first day at Montessori, I kicked Mrs. Delanerol and ran out of the building after you. I ran to you and not my mother.

I am having a really hard time with your death.  Everything was so complicated.  Neither Mark nor I had seen you or spoken to you since 1989.  I had written some letters, sent some cards and some photos.  I am sad.  I have regrets.

I talked to Mark for a long time on the phone the other night.  He is trying to help me.  Mark said that your last act was one of tremendous will, courage and strength and it has changed our lives again.  He said that you gave us a gift that I must now accept.  Mark told me that the end was not a random act.  It was your plan.  We know that you had given up a long time ago, at least months ago.  You wanted to die.  You said it.   “I am waiting to die now. I never thought I would live this long.”  But in spite of the discomfort and the desolation, you waited for us to say goodbye because you knew we needed it. And 48 hours after we saw you for the last time, you died.

I wish I had Mark’s conviction.  He will probably convince me eventually.  I have always found him to be very persuasive.  (How else was it that, without exception, as children he always got to be Batman and I was always Robin? )  The last words you said to us were, “That’s your grandfather,” when Mark showed you a photograph of Kung Kung.

I wish that you had been able to speak to me. I wish that you had given me some sign that you knew me.  You recognized Mark instantly, both in person and when I mentioned his name.  Mark feels sure that you knew me.  I want to believe him.  You were very interested in all of the photos I showed you of your granddaughters whom you never met.  Maybe Mark is right because I don’t think you would have been so interested in those photos unless you understood who they were.  I really hope so.

It’s autumn now and the leaves are turning.  It’s such a nostalgic time of year, so suited to melancholy.  Today was your birthday.  You would have been 77.

I remember so many things so clearly.  It’s probably because you were not around to make that many memories, and  I have to get as much mileage as I can out of the ones I have.  You used to sing to me, “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You.”  And you told me I was beautiful, but you told me I was smart and that was more important.

The last thing I said to you was, “I love you, Daddy.”  I am glad for that.  And I am glad that I saw you, even if it was so short.  I wish things had not been so complicated.  You are part of me.  I’m sorry I stayed away so long.  I don’t know what your religious beliefs were at the end.  I have to think that you still believed strongly in what you learned from Godmother. I still have her book that you gave to me.  So maybe you can hear me now.  If so, you should know that I am sorry and I love you and thank you, Daddy.  October 19, 1935 ~ October 2, 2012.

Connections

” But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world . . .”    ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Le Petit Prince.

I have been fussing with this blog for several months now.  It has remained stubbornly and steadfastly just out of reach, shrouded in a foggy, opaque haze.  It’s an unfamiliar feeling.  I have never had writer’s block in my life. To a fault, I have an over-abundance of things to say at all times.

The question is about connections.  Why do some connections work, and some decidedly do not?  I am not talking only about romantic relationships.  It’s also true for parent-child relationships, relationships with other family members, and friends.  But certainly, it applies most pointedly to those relationships we find most intimate.  I suppose that my career causes me to examine these issues at close range across a broad cross section of clients, but truthfully, my personal situation provokes more introspection from me at the moment.

Those of you who know me know already that I love to be a little sanctimonious, so I started this mess in the third person, and tried to make an analogy to dressage.  The analogy is good, I think, so I will include it, but staying in the third person is difficult this time around and doing so would feel very evangelistic.  Blogging is, after all, one of the most self-indulgent things I can think of because no one but me, my closest friends and my family care so much about what I have to say.  (Probably more the former than the latter two.)

Okay, so here is the dressage analogy:

One of the fundamentals of dressage is the contact between the rider’s hands and the horse’s mouth.  Ideally, it should be a light, elastic, and continuous contact that remains alive enough to allow extremely nuanced communication but is totally free of interference or leverage.  This connection forms the basis of the relationship between the horse and rider because it keeps the channel of communication open at all times.  A proper connection can be elusive, usually because the rider is incapable of maintaining it without becoming overbearing.  Many horses are started with an improper connection and sorting out their connection problems becomes a lifelong endeavor.  The proper connection for each horse may be a little different: some firmer and some lighter.

Mastering the connection is really tricky because the reward for the horse is to return to a totally neutral position: no interference from hands or body.  This allows the horse to move the most freely, to use its back.  Incidentally, it is in this harmony that the horse’s back is the softest and the rider is the most comfortable and the most able to absorb the movement through the seat bones and the abdominals.  Most riders, due to lack of physical fitness or skill, leverage themselves off of the horse’s mouth, using the reins as a counter weight to maintain balance.  No communication can happen in the presence of such unyielding pressure.

The opposite problem happens when the connection drops entirely.  It can be very frightening to the horse (or the rider) when the other suddenly drops the connection. There is no more communication and the channel is closed. You do not know what will happen next.  When a horse does it, it usually means it’s going to grab its ass and run.  When a rider does it, it might mean that the bubble in the reins will be followed by a very sharp correction or it might mean that ineptitude is causing the rider to allow her hands to bounce mercilessly against the horse’s mouth.

Do you understand?  This is the only way to have a healthy connection.  The elastic feel on the reins. I am here for you.  The channel is open and we can talk, but I will not interfere with you.  If you make a mistake, I will use this channel to put you back on course.  Otherwise, you are free.  I am always here for you.  It is reciprocal.  If the rider makes the wrong move, the horse may lean on the bit, or may become stiff or lose rhythm.  If the horse makes the wrong move, this sweet connection over the back allows the rider to correct the horse with minimal aids.  Both are exquisitely in tune with each other when the proper connection is maintained.

This is the entire foundation for every healthy relationship: to maintain a sufficient connection such that both parties feel connected but to allow enough freedom so that neither feels overwhelmed.  It is not easier in human relationships than it is in dressage.  Plus, the use of whips and spurs are generally discouraged no matter how effective they are as aids.

I don’t mean to be flippant.  These proximity issues lurk in every divorce I have seen.  These and priorities.  I have talked about priorities before.  (See “You Vote With Your Feet” from May 2012.)  Do you mind if I refresh your recollection?

pri·or·i·ty

A priority is something that is given special attention.  It can also be defined as the right to precede others in order, rank, privilege, etc., something that takes precedence.  We are defined by the choices we make.  Our priorities determine the quality of our personal relationships, our professional integrity, our character itself.  At journey’s end, it is all that we are.

So, when I explained over the course of three years that my daughter is part of me and your failure to develop any kind of positive relationship with her was a deal breaker, you should have known I meant that.  When have you ever known me to back away from anything?  She is my top priority and I will demonstrate that every time.  For those who cannot understand her, bless your hearts; I wish you well.

Priorities are really important.  People are so full of words and nonsense, and I say this as an expert because I am an attorney.  I am paid for thinking up new ways to string words together.  Words have meaning, but that meaning only counts if there is integrity behind the words.  Otherwise they are just wasted calories.  Perhaps Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said it best, “Words are the source of misunderstandings.”  Sometimes deliberately so.  Sometimes because people are ham-handed and careless.

It is so easy to say that you love someone and to tell them how important they are.  It is much harder to live it.   And prioritizing someone does not mean losing yourself to a thousand cuts until you cannot recognize the person in the mirror.  That is co-dependence, I believe.

Prioritizing someone means maintaining the connection. It means that you do not overwhelm them, but that the channel is open at all times.  It means that if you need me, I am here.  Always.  It means that I will reciprocally trust you not abuse that connection.  I will not see how many times I can send the distress call from my ivory tower just to see you charge up on your white horse, no matter how heroic and compelling that image is.

Prioritizing means that if something is truly important to you, I will make it important to me, too. It means that if I make you a promise, I will never, ever break it. It means that if I say I will call, I will call. If I say I will be there, I will be there.  It means that in this world where everyone wants something from you, you can depend on me to care about how you feel.  It means I will not forget you. I will not be too busy for you.  I will not lie to you. I will not deceive you.  I will be loyal to you and to your priorities.  No matter what else is happening, I will maintain the connection.  The channel is open always for you.

That is the answer.  Relationships lose their harmony when there is a failure to maintain the proper connection, when one party is overbearing or controlling or when one party lets go.  In addition, relationships fail when one or both parties fail to make the other a priority in a tangible, reliable way.  The grass is not greener on the other side of the fence.  The grass is greener where it is watered and nurtured.  It is greener where connections are properly maintained and where the capacity to prioritize the other person is notable and constant.

” It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye. . .It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important. . . you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed. You are responsible for your rose . . .”   ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Le Petit Prince.

He’s Back

Sometimes things become possible if we want them bad enough.”   ~ T. S. Eliot

He’s back.  The entire month of July was spent in Addison’s purgatory with Djingo.  I was sure he would die this time.  On Wednesday he seemed to turn a corner and began to eat some cooked barley and chicken.  I was hopeful until Thursday when he vomited what seemed to be everything he had eaten in the past 48 hours.  Then Friday he started eating again – couscous and hamburger, and right now he is eating like a champ.  It’s still couscous and meat, but if that’s what he wants to eat, then that’s what I will feed him.  Of course it’s couscous, Sloughis are, after all, Moroccan.

I am thankful to everyone for their good wishes and especially those of you who took the time to let me know you were sending him your support through phone calls, emails and text messages, especially my beloved friend, Ermine, Djingo’s breeder, who has lived this month with me.  I have the best friends in the world.  I am especially thankful to the best vet in the world, Dr. Kurt Klepitsch, for being an extraordinary veterinarian, professional and human being.  And I am thankful to Djingo, for deciding to stay.

My Letter to Djingo . . .

“And I believe that angels breathe;
And that love will live on and never leave.”  ~ Josh Groban

Djingo on July 19, 2012

Thursday.  Right now, you are sleeping at the foot of my bed, so weak tonight that I had to carry you up the stairs.  So weak that you could not take your tablets and I had to dribble water into your mouth from a bottle to help you swallow.  It has been three days since you’ve eaten anything.  On Monday you ate a little braised lamb that I made for you, but by Tuesday you wouldn’t touch it.  And not roasted chicken and not canned dog food and not jarred baby food.  We changed your prescriptions on Tuesday.  You should be responding by now, but you’re not.

But every time I think I should stop trying and let you go, you find some way to tell me that you’d like to try a little bit more. I wish you would stay with me, and I keep begging you to try a little bit harder.

Djordan (top) and Djingo (bottom) in 2006.

A friend of mine asked me a few weeks ago how I could be bonded to each of my dogs when there are so many of you.  I don’t know how, but I am.  I have a unique attachment to each one of you.  I suppose that the emotions that I don’t have so readily available in the majority of my human relationships I have in abundance for you, which is why I need you to stay.

This began on November 23, 2010, when one careless person could not muster enough effort to close the slide bolt on the barn door and your brother, Djordan escaped and never came home again. I was teaching in the city and no one bothered to call me until he had been missing for over two hours. Djordan was struck by a car two blocks from home.  Although he was wearing two collars with tags, the person who hit him left him like trash in the middle of the road.  It was two days before Thanksgiving and Ariel and I cried non stop for Djordan for four straight days.   I hope that failure to close a gate didn’t kill you both

Djordan (left) and Djingo (right)

that night.

The onset of Addison’s disease is almost always triggered by a traumatic event.  You had no way to know that your brother had been killed, but after a week, you started to crash.  Within thirty days, you were not eating.  You grew an entire layer of white hairs beneath your black coat, and you wouldn’t get up.  The vet confirmed Addison’s and it took several weeks to bring you back around, but you’ve never been the same. You aged so much from that event.

You have never been a quitter. You’ve overcome more adversity than any other dog in our household.  You were originally placed in a home not far from us with an older, spayed female named Batna.  When you were five months old, an intruder broke into that home.  Batna attacked him. but you both escaped and were at large for several days.  Then the couple that had you developed marital problems and the husband threw you out.  Animal control picked you up.  Your prior family refused to come and get you.  So I came and got you until I could return you to Ermine because she was having back surgery.  And you became my first “foster failure.”

You weren’t even here for a month before you broke your leg being chased by Djordan in the back yard.  Because I love you, I am not going to try to recall how much it cost to have your leg surgically repaired with a plate and screws.  The break never healed correctly and now it has arthritis to boot.  But you get around okay.

Of course you hated vets after that.  You were not crazy about people in general.  If I said your name,

Djordan (left) and Djingo (right), playing in the snow.

you ran from me, so I started calling you Djingo instead of Dakir.

Back in those days, when I took you to dog class, you had to be muzzled because you were so fearful that you would try to nail anyone who looked at you directly and placed themselves within striking distance. Your temperament was so good, though, that when I finally persuaded you that no one would hurt you, you became the consummate show dog, the best show dog I’ve ever had the privilege of  accompanying in the ring.  You were a real showman, tail wagging the whole time and at the end of a class, you always jumped into my arms.

Finishing  his UKC Championship under Judge Jeanne Heger.

I have to brag about you a little.  You overcame your ring fears so well that you went on to become an all-breed Best-in-Show Winner, a multiple Best-in-Specialty-Show winner, the first UKC Grand Champion Sloughi in history; you won 13 Group Firsts, multiple Group Placements, and 28 Bests of Breed.  You were the #1 UKC Sloughi for 2006 and you were the UKC Top Ten Best of Breed Winner for 2006.  You were the #1 Sloughi in the US for 2007 in ASLA, UKC and ARBA.  And in 2007, your son won the ASLA National Specialty and your daughter was the UKC Top Ten Best of Breed Winner.  You never let me down in the ring, and you loved being a show dog.

Djingo on his second birthday in 2007.

But the best part about you didn’t happen in the show ring.  It never does.  The best part about you is that you are a smart, sweet, and loving member of our family.  You’ve been a great watch dog.  You’ve scared peculiar strangers off from Ariel and me.  (Sometimes you did so when we did not think we were in any great peril, but we trusted your judgment.) And you are my friend.  I don’t want you to go.

Saturday.  A couple of days have elapsed since Thursday when I started writing this letter.  It’s now Saturday night. You ate a little chicken on Thursday night and a little more on Friday.  Today, I got you to eat three meals of roasted chicken, but they are very small meals.  It’s not enough to sustain you.  Nonetheless, your eyes are a little shinier and you seem to have a tiny bit more energy.  I’m still waiting for you to pass that point when I know that you are heading with purpose out of the woods. I really hope it’s soon because I don’t know how much longer you can go like this. I am going to keep trying and I will write again when I know.

Djingo and Ariel napping.

One of my favorite pictures of Djingo.

Djingo in 2007 at the dunes in Michigan.

Free Advice (You Get What You Pay For)

Many times, professionalism precludes me from honestly answering some of the questions that are asked of me in my line of work.  However, behind the safety of my laptop, I am emboldened.  Plus, I feel it is a public service to attorneys and clients alike 😉

So, we’ll do this as a list.

  1. There is nothing that you can do married that you cannot do single except for filing a joint income tax return (a privilege that as of 2013 was also extended – at long last – to homosexual spouses).
  2. Commitment is a state of the mind and a state of the heart.  Marriage licenses are not like auto warranties.
  3. Don’t ask a question if you do not want to receive a truthful answer.  Lying convincingly is a poor substitute and you should not seek it.  When someone has the integrity to answer a question truthfully, don’t punish that person for honesty. It may not seem like it, but you are much better off dealing with the truth, no matter how bad it might sound.
  4. I am an attorney, not Tinkerbell.  I do not have a magic wand. I do not have fairy dust.  I can get you divorced from your spouse. I cannot transform your spouse into a better person, a better parent, or anything else for that matter.  You married the asshole. You can divorce the asshole. Or you can stay married.  But the leopard will not change its spots.
  5. If your spouse is a a cheater, no matter how much you nag, no matter how much you fight about it, that person will still be a cheater.  If you try to prevent that person from cheating, he or she will still cheat. (Refer to No. 4 above.)  You have two choices:  stay married to the cheater and accept it, or end your relationship.
  6. If you have spent your entire marriage indulging your spouse’s every financial whim, do not complain after 20 years that she spends too much.  You created the spending junkie.
  7. Just because your spouse does not get along with you does not necessarily make him or her a bad parent, and provided that the children are not in danger, they have the right to have relationships with both of their parents.
  8. A court of law is not going to penalize your spouse in your divorce proceedings for being the “at fault” party ethically or emotionally in your break up.
  9. Your attorney is not a therapist.  If you need psychological or emotional support, a therapist might be a better (and cheaper) choice to spend time talking to about your feelings.  If you are having situational depression or anxiety, you should see a physician about managing it and possibly getting a prescription.  If you need to spend an extraordinary amount of time telling me how you feel, you should give me your prescription.
  10. You cannot change people.  And you should not want to try.  If you do not like the person you are with, then get away from that person.  Don’t marry people whom you do not like because you cannot change them and the things that you do not like about them will not become more endearing over time.
  11. Your country club membership is not really the cornerstone of your life.
  12. Sex is the lubricant that keeps relationships functioning.  If you or your spouse has become sexually disinterested, you probably have a problem.
  13. However, great sex is not a guarantee that things are going perfectly. (Although it might make you more tolerant of the rough spots…)
  14. This one is directed at women:  Men like pornography. Period.  It does not make them sexually deviant.
  15. Don’t marry a woman for her beauty.  Show me a perfect “10,” and I will show you a man who is tired of [you fill in the verb] her.  I have represented those men in their divorces.  Once you’ve licked the new off of someone, there had better be more than looks that interest you.
  16. Don’t marry a man for his money.  You will get sick of his money.  Even if you don’t, once you get sick of the man attached to the money, there had better be more than money there to interest you.
  17. Pets are not children under the law, even if you buy them Halloween costumes.
  18. Do not abuse support staff.  They are part of the team that manages your case and services your needs.  Plus, they will tell me about it and it will not reflect well on you.
  19. Don’t fall in love with your attorney.  You are paying a lot of money for me to prioritize you.  Without the money, I promise I would be less attentive to your needs.
  20. Judges are not kind and merciful gods who will clearly see that you are righteous the moment we approach the bench.  We still need to prepare your case and prepare your evidence and present you in the best possible light.
  21. I will not conduct myself unethically and risk my law license no matter how much money you offer to pay me.
  22. Don’t ever lie to your attorney.
  23. I can only worry about one thing at a time, and that is your case, or my bill.

A Thousand Tiny Reasons

As an attorney who practices family law, people frequently ask me if I can predict which relationships will succeed and which will fail.  The answer, of course, is no.  Relationships fail when one party reaches the limit to what he or she can personally tolerate.  Once the balance tips in the direction of failure, only heroic efforts will reverse gravity’s pull.

The way couples behave when they are happy is almost irrelevant.  It’s easy to be nice when things are going smoothly and before you’ve licked the new off of someone.  Much more can be gleaned by the way people fight.  The couple that, while angry, continues in the direction of problem solving, is likely to last longer than the couple that takes off the gloves and says every angry word that comes to mind in the midst of conflict.  “I am really angry at you,”  is significantly different from, “You’re an asshole,” although contextually, they probably mean the same thing.

Relationships seldom crash on the rocks of one major event.  It is almost never an act of in flagrante delicto.  What kills relationships is death by a thousand cuts, the slow erosion of shoreline over time by the lapping waves of small conflict.  It’s the compromises that you make that turn you into someone you cannot recognize, the thousands of inconsiderations forgiven, the recidivist failure to prioritize your priorities.   They happen in such small increments that you don’t realize you are bargaining away not only your happiness, but your identity.  At that point either the idea of change is too traumatic or frightening or the relationship finds its conclusion.

The other side of the coin is also true, the thousands of tiny miracles that knit together and fill life with meaning.  You seldom know in the middle of it when you are creating a memory that will last a lifetime.  When Ariel was a baby, I remember exquisitely the first time I realized while I was holding her that she was holding me back.   It’s the way your father brought you water every evening when you were a child (and a teenager – and maybe even a young adult).   It’s the way your mother read you The Black Stallion books in the bathroom every night as a child because you were afraid that sharks would come up the drain of the bath tub.  It’s the way someone pronounces pecan the southern way that will make you hear it in that voice and pull you back to the same table at the same restaurant for the rest of your life every time you see the word or bake a pie.  It’s the comforting weight of your favorite dog’s head in your lap when you are stressed, the familiar, sassy buck from your favorite horse.

Like the thousand cuts, it is usually not the big events that stick with you forever.  It’s a thousand tiny moments in time that your memory captures for life, but only if you pay attention to them.  You never know when you don’t take a call from a close friend because you are too caught up in the details of your own life that that friend will die of a drug overdose before you find the time to call her back.  You never know when you are in the last conversation you will have with someone who makes a difference in your life.

Time marches on with a quickening pace and once it’s gone, you can never get it back.  Those thousand tiny miracles are really more than a thousand or thousands.  They are infinite, but you have a finite amount of space in which to fit them.  The key then, to happiness, is making room for as many of them as you can.