Friday, July 17, 2009

Conversations. Again.

So I'm talking to my dad on the phone and trying to not give anything away to the nearly four-year-old sprite in the room, since it's her upcoming birthday we're talking about.

At the same time, I'm trying to figure out when I might actually expect my parents at my house (they are apparently stuck until my sister, brother-in-law and cousin return) and get the kids dressed. Large Fry is dressed, but I had to send her to the potty because of the pee-pee dance she was doing, so I switched to getting Medium Fry dressed rather than doing Large Fry's hair.

As I'm trying to talk to Dad, I get Medium's diaper changed and shorts on. Before I can get her shirt on, she taps her chest on the left. "A freckle!"

I look. "No, honey, that's not a freckle."

"A freckle?"

"No, that's not a freckle."

"A freckle." She sounds determined now.

"No, Medium Fry. That's not a freckle."

She points to her twin, who is still in her nightie. "Small Fry's freckle?"

"No, Small Fry doesn't have a freckle there either."

"Large Fry's freckle?"

"No, Large Fry doesn't have a freckle there either."

By now, Dad is chuckling, just from hearing my side of the conversation. (Although, my BlackBerry carries sound really well, and Medium was close enough, so he probably caught most of it.) "Well, what IS it, Auntie J? Why don't you tell them?"

I tell Medium Fry once again that it's NOT a freckle. Neither is the matching spot on the other side of her chest.

"Because," I say to Dad, " I don't want them to know that word just yet!"

"Oh," he says, with a chuckle. He takes about two more seconds to think, and as it sinks in, he says, "Ohhhhhhhhhhhh!" before breaking out into a full laugh.

Yeah. That "freckle," Dad.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Yeah, it took this long to think about putting this to pixel.

It's been a over a year now since the Fries moved in with Hubby and me. With my sister-in-law's assignment to South Korea, we expected to be caring for the girls until she rotated back to the States in early January 2010. At least.

That all changed on June 10, when my brother's annoyance with our refusal to allow him to invite himself into our Memorial Day plans--when he couldn't be bothered to come see his kids on any of his scheduled days since the beginning of May, and only let us know ONCE that he wasn't coming--boiled over. He and my sister-in-law, for the first time in their marriage, agreed we were jerks, and deliberately avoiding their phone calls (I say it's hard to avoid calls that DON'T come), and we "wanted [our] lives back," and they both legally revoked the powers of attorney we held for guardianship of the girls.

Then they transferred guardianship to my sister-in-law's mother, in part because it was time for SIL's family to "step up to the plate" and help care for the girls, in part because "[we] obviously needed [our] lives back," and in part because we had no parenting experience whatsoever whereas SIL's mother had five children.

Let me explain a little about SIL's mother.

Multiple DUI convictions, and two DUI charges within the last year. (And, most recently, a charge for simple assault and harassment other than physical contact, but she wasn't formally charged with that until last week.) Five children, yes, but all of them have different fathers. One has been in juvenile detention for at least the last four years. She's lost all of them to social services more than once, including losing the two minor sons in her custody to social services for a number of months when she was jailed for a parole violation four years ago. She's unemployed. At the time, last we knew, her live-in boyfriend was also unemployed. NONE of what SIL has usually had to say about her own mother is good. Oh, and with two kids who've had past asthmatic-type issues (due to parental stupidity) and have nebulizers, it's a great idea to have them live with their maternal grandmother whose live-in boyfriend smokes like a chimney, and does so in the house.

Mother of the year, no doubt.

And this is who they wanted to take custody of their kids.


Because they'd reached a custody agreement that would aid in speeding up their uncontested divorce (every other weekend and summers for Bro, and everything else for SIL). And SIL was going to be back in the States in early July under a compassionate reassignment. So the kids would only be with her mother for a few weeks.

We had "almost" a week to "prepare" the Fries for the move (to someone they've seen five times in the last year, who they don't really know from a hole in the wall) and say our goodbyes, according to my brother's letter. They were giving us that week out of their "deep gratitude" for all we've done over the last year.

How generous of them. SIL, who didn't support her children financially until Bro filed an IG complaint. Bro, who's given less than $100 over the last year towards the support of his children, and initially refused to even buy them Christmas presents because he "couldn't afford it," until my mother had a conniption and pointed out that he worked at Target, had a 40% discount, and he could go to the Dollar Spot.

And we have no parenting experience? What did they think we've been doing? We threw the birthday parties. We bought the Christmas presents that made their Christmas good, and more than just a pair of Cinderella socks and some little containers of generic Play-Doh and clothes that were already bordering on too small. Someone had to parent these kids! Since they lived with us, that fell to us. We've loved and disciplined and raised them over the last thirteen months. What were we? Babysitters? If that's the case, they owe us a truckload of money--at least $90 grand, and that's just for ME.

Hubby was so distressed that he actually tore his shirt.

So. We met with our attorney that afternoon. I sat in her conference room, shaking and crying. And by the close of business Friday, we'd filed a petition for special relief to keep the kids with us and a suit for full custody.

Not something we wanted to do. We'd hoped the Fries' parents would have the good sense to realize neither of them were equipped to be parents, and the kids had a stable home, and leaving them right where they are is probably in the best interests of the children.

My brother had come to that conclusion back in January. We knew it wouldn't last, especially with the way my SIL responded. (Her objections to the idea were solely that SHE would look bad for giving up her children, and, and she couldn't have any more since she'd had her tubes tied when the twins were born by C-section. Um, tubal ligations aren't goof-proof, and they ARE reversible. But not a single word was said about how the kids being yanked out of our home would be good for THEM.) And, of course, with her telling him how we're constantly and deliberately avoiding her calls (again, hard to avoid something that doesn't happen; she called all of ONCE between May 4 and June 10) and his skewed perception of the events of Memorial Day weekend, all of a sudden we were the enemy.

And for the first time in their four-year marriage, they not only believe each other 100%, but they also support each other 100%.

But then, they have a common enemy: us.

I could detail the horror stories that were part of our petition for custody. Suffice to say, SIL's response to the petition made all kinds of fun allegations, denying the things we knew to be true, and alleging all sorts of stuff that we could prove false (like the fact that the girls were never developmentally behind or underweight).

The judge signed the protection order on June 16th. We had custody of the kids until the custody presentation.

We went before the judge on June 25, for a custody presentation. SIL had managed to wrangle about two weeks' leave and was there for the hearing. She showed up in full dress greens. Our attorney and hers spent half an hour wrestling over a visitation schedule for the remaining ten days that SIL would be in town. (Mind you, she gave me four hours' warning that she was in town and wanted to see the kids daily. Visitation was supposed to be supervised, and at my folks', and they were out of town. SIL didn't tell anyone but her own mother that she was coming back to the States.) The judge had said the previous day, in a conference call with both attorneys, that he saw no reason for SIL's visits to be supervised, since we weren't alleging abuse.

Abuse? No. Neglect? Oh, yes. Not to mention that we were terribly concerned that she wouldn't abide by the visitation agreement and actually bring the kids back. She clearly had no qualms about lying to the court through her attorney! The judge scheduled a phone conference with our respective attorneys at 8a on 7/2 to discuss the final custody agreement.

I threw up after court.

Hubby then left for nine days on 6/26. My folks were still in Boston. I got to handle this by myself, and came unglued. I'd already planned to pack up the Fries and go stay with Mom and Dad while Hubby was gone, so I didn't have to be a single mommy pro tem for the entire time Hubby was away. Now I had to deal with SIL, who would want to be a huggy and lovey and act like nothing was wrong, like she did with Hubby when he dropped off the kids with her on 6/25.

Interesting, that visit. She was so adamant about having the kids THAT DAY, and yet, she was woefully unprepared. Her vehicle had only two rear seat belts, and a front passenger airbag. There was no way she could legally transport the kids anywhere.

Mom and Dad recruited my uncle and their neighbors to help me with the custody exchanges until they returned from Boston. To say that those ten days with my sister-in-law confused and upset the kids is an understatement. SIL gave them very little other than soda to drink (which we rarely gave them), even after being told how much the Fries love milk. She gave Large Fry a pacifier on her last day of visitation, most likely because Large Fry got upset and started crying and wouldn't stop. Large Fry turns four next Monday, and hasn't used a pacifier at all in nearly a year. (Which, I should point out, SIL knew.) She lost one of Medium Fry's duckies when she took the girls into Lancaster, because despite her "very close" relationship with her children (according to her court documents), she didn't know how EXTREMELY important that little yellow duckie is to her middle child, and didn't even know it was gone until I asked where it was when Mom & I picked up the kids that afternoon.

Small Fry, who is easily the most emotionally sensitive of the three, was so confused and upset that I had to rock her to sleep 90% of the time because she wouldn't settle down unless I did. Medium Fry threw increased numbers of frustration tantrums. Large Fry got an upset stomach from the increase in carbonated drinks and her own stress.

SIL's attorney submitted an eleven-page document with their requested stipulations, the most annoying of which would've required us to spend even MORE money than what we were already spending to care for the girls (SIL's allotment isn't enough to completely cover the added expense of raising three little girls, and then she dropped it to just over what her court papers say is what the Army requires). Hubby was still in the wilds of Ohio with minimal cell phone availability. Mom, Dad and I got frustrated real fast.

It took the Fries nearly a week to acclimate to being back at home. Large Fry was so upset that she got physically sick the first night home.

Once they got settled, I fell apart.

The judge's order came down on Monday last week. We have shared legal custody of the Fries. SIL has primary physical custody, provided she entrusts the Fries to our care while she is in Korea. Bro's visitation continues. There's a nasty visitation schedule established for SIL should she come back to the States for less than a month. Oh well. For the moment, the Fries are safe.

Next up is a hearing in early October. Our attorney was adamant that the girls could not be returned to their mother's custody without a hearing. Hubby and I will likely testify. Mom will testify. Dad's relieved he doesn't have to, and admits it makes sense for Mom to be the one, since she's more detail-oriented. Of course, the October hearing date is based upon SIL's assertion that she will get her compassionate reassignment--at this point, she has only applied for one--and be back at either Fort Meade (MD) or Fort Dix (NJ) by mid-September. Our research indicates that she likely does not meet the criteria for a compassionate reassignment, but of course, that's only if she tells the truth in her application, and she's shown she's not too bound by the idea of the truth.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


Medium Fry: Unca D, I wanna watch "SpongeBob."

Hubby: You'll have to ask Auntie J.

Medium Fry: Auntie J, I wanna watch "SpongeBob."

Me: Auntie J is the one who convinced Uncle D no more "SpongeBob."

Medium Fry (looking impish): I yuv yew bewwy mush!

Me: I love you very much, too, but no "SpongeBob."