I Can Do This

It is Sunday. I have about 2 more hours with the kids. I am tired. My fuse is about a centimeter long. Today has been miserable.

On the bright side, I haven’t felt like this in a long time.

Every day used to be like this. And I know why it’s happened again. Tessa has the croup. She stayed home from daycare on Wednesday and Thursday and I had to pick her up early on Friday. She’s been waking up at night, too. So I’ve been home every day. I’ve been tired. And even though I’ve been working, I’ve been home all the time and my life has been far more parenting than working. 

When I used to feel like this, it was before I had a job and even before the split. I managed the kids almost all the time then. I rarely got a chance to leave the house by myself, not even to run errands. It was all mom all the time and I was pretty miserable. It was easy back then to feel like I just wasn’t cut out for parenthood in general. I’ve had that feeling more than once. And there have been plenty of times where I felt like it was true. 

But the fact that I’ve gone through a lot of time where I haven’t felt like this shows me that I was wrong. 

I felt like I couldn’t do it when Graham was little, then came his diagnosis and I realized that I could do it, I just needed help. That’s exactly what it is. I can do it, I can even enjoy it. It just doesn’t happen all the time, it doesn’t happen when things get tough. 

I need a break. Or help. Or a change of scene. And these aren’t unreasonable. They aren’t too much to ask. They don’t make me a bad mother. 

It just makes it a bad day.

And that’s not so bad. 

Now just to survive the next few hours.

What Co-Parents Can Learn From Congress

congressI’m still new at this two-houses co-parenting stuff. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of bargaining and back and forth. It’s pretty much daily. And there are lots of changes and unexpected requests. 

Dealing with our constant negotiations large and small, contrasted with watching the US Congress muck up negotiations completely has me thinking about how their problems are relevant to parents who are no longer partners. There’s some of the same difficulties as you run into with feuding political parties. So perhaps we can learn from the mistakes are they making what we can avoid, because they certainly aren’t setting a positive example.

Don’t Be A ^#$@!$(&

This should go without saying, but dealing with the opposing party, whether political or just from the divorce, brings out the worst in all of us. Really, this is rule #1. It’s not a time to try and be a diva to get some TV coverage. 

It’s Not About You

Right up there with rule #1. It’s about the kids, right? It’s about keeping people safe, fed, clothed, housed and functional human beings. You have a lot on your plate, but more than the petty grievances and anger is the country (Congress) or children (parents) that you’re here to take care of in the first place.

Let The Past Rest

This isn’t the time to get mad about an argument you had a few years ago in, oh, say 2010. Especially if it’s one you’re still mad about losing. Sure, there’s years worth of slights and anger, pain and sorrow, but at some point you have to just move forward and decide to live for today.

Ultimatums Are Stupid

Negotiation and compromise are crucial. Sure, maybe you found the hill you’re willing to die on, but you having died on it isn’t going to make anything easier for anyone, especially when it means EVERYTHING SHUTS DOWN.

Come to the Table

Be willing to compromise. Even if the other side is being stupid and crazy, going through the motions is important. Be the bigger person. Sit down. Stay calm. Be fair. And if you do all those things it’s okay to set limits and refuse to give in to crazy.

Get Your Priorities In Order

If it’s important for the country/kids, it’s important. Even if you don’t like it. Period. Remember Rule #2? This isn’t about you.

Respect Each Other

You don’t have to love each other. There don’t have to be hugs. But you do have to act like adults and acknowledge that you’re both important to your country/kid and that the country/kid will be better off if you can work together. You have common ground as much as you don’t like to admit it.

No Finger-Pointing

Spending all your time telling everyone how the other side/person has created the entire problem completely and it’s all their fault is stupid. It makes you look bad. Don’t bring your squabbles out in public. Maybe your approval ratings would go up if you could do what adults are expected to do and work things out. 

You Don’t Have to Win All the Time

Sometimes you won’t get your way. Those are the breaks. Don’t be a jerk about it. 

Take One For the Team

One of the keys to negotiation is to give up a little to get what you want. This is compromise. You don’t have to give up everything. But if you show flexibility, you’re more likely to get it in return. If you step up when you’re needed, it’s more likely someone will have your back when you can’t manage on your own.

Make Things Happen

Don’t just sit back and twiddle your thumbs when you don’t want to deal. This is what you do when you’re a public servant/parent. You deal. Because people need you to deal. Sure, it can be thankless, but it’s worth it.

 

Since I’m still something of a newbie I’d love to hear any other tips you have to deal with co-parenting. Or, you know, if you just want to unleash a primal scream at Congress, you can do that, too.

Women, Infants and Children

It's ComplicatedI packed the iPad and I knew as I was packing it in the little canvas tote that I would feel like a jerk when I took it out. I packed it anyway. I was also bringing a 4-year-old who’d be sitting around for at least 30 minutes, possibly many more, so it seemed like the best option.

I did feel like a jerk when I pulled the iPad out. There I sat, calmly giving my name and my children’s birthdates, pulling a cable bill out of my bag to show proof of residence, handing over my driver’s license, answering questions. 2 hours later I would be handed a few sheets of paper that looked like checks. They were blue and business-like, but instead of “Pay to the Order of” they said things like “1 pound cheese” and “14 oz. brown rice.”

I wanted to explain that I hadn’t bought the iPad, that it had come from my husband’s work and that I had no real use for it and it was a good way to keep the kids busy at times like this and wasn’t that easier for everyone? But I didn’t say that. Instead I just sat next to my child who created a set of train tracks on a fancy touch screen and made sure all the paperwork was completed so I could receive WIC benefits for my children.

WIC

It wasn’t the easiest process since my situation is far from cut and dry. At the moment I am in a strange limbo. I have been left on my own financially for over a month. I have a little cushion that isn’t enough for next month’s bills. I have one maxed out credit card and one which must be paid off every month. I have virtually no money coming in. I cannot get unemployment because I’ve been home with my kids for nearly 2 years. I am in the process of divorcing but there is no child support order yet and waiting for any income is taking its toll.

I own very little. The car I’m driving isn’t in my name. I rent an apartment that I hope to be able to continue to stay in, since I can’t afford it anymore. I have a couple nice trappings: my laptop, my phone, my camera. But besides that I have a small amount of cheap furniture. I have things for the kids: more toys than I remember buying, clothes that will soon be stained and worn and too-small. I have my own wardrobe, which has more than enough pajamas but surprisingly little that is in season, still fits, and isn’t maternity-wear. The most expensive thing I own by far is my wedding ring, which I’m not sure I technically own, and even if I do I’m not sure what to do with it.

Most days I feel much the same as normal. I am just trying to keep my children busy so I don’t lose my mind. After they go to sleep I get an hour or so to myself before I head to bed as well. The long slog of each day, from mornings in pajamas to constant requests for snacks to buckling and unbuckling of carseat straps, is sometimes a blur. It’s a blur you can get lost in. It’s a blur where you are like everyone else and not the person who is being told that you can get your pound of cheese from any brand but soon the rules will change and it will be store-brand only.

My WIC checks make sure my children get plenty of milk and grain. There is no meat. And there is only $6 a month for fruits and vegetables. We normally spend more than $6 a week on produce. I am told there are places I can go where I can pay $2 in cash to get a bag of fruits and vegetables. I take the brochure, I will need it.

A nutritionist measures and weighs the kids. The baby is still short and I don’t know why, but her weight is good. The preschooler seems so skinny to me, but his height and weight are astonishingly average according to the charts. We talk about their eating habits. I tell her how they would live solely on berries if it were up to them. They are good milk drinkers. They don’t care much for meat. We are working on getting more beans. Cereal is a must since they don’t eat bread. I brag about my son’s love of crunchy vegetables. She assures me that string cheese is covered by the cheese allowance, good news for my crew.

The checks will help with a lot of our staples: milk, cereal, peanut butter, produce. It will help with the foods I’m trying to promote: beans, rice, cheese, eggs. It will be useless for many of the foods that get them through the day: pasta, yogurt, crackers. It gives us more juice than we need and I am already trying to think of how I can dilute it and pack it up for outings.

I make an appointment to come back in a month. I don’t know yet if I will need it, but the odds are I will. Even after I start getting child support payments I doubt there will be enough. The nutritionist, who seems young, unmarried, childless and kind, tells me that when people start with WIC they tend to stay for a while. She reminds me of myself in my mid-20’s, doing good work, helping people, trying to do something worthwhile. I didn’t ever expect to be the person on the other side of the desk. Still, it feels less strange than you’d think. I am a mother. I have two children. They need to eat. I need to make sure they eat. This will help. So I do it.

During the appointment we go from one desk to another to another. The children require constant managing, which also keeps everything feeling normal. The baby is walking now and she climbs up the set of 3 stairs in the waiting area then stands at the top and squawks to be picked up, since she hasn’t yet figured out how to go down them. The preschooler gets bored of the iPad, gets bored of his fire truck, goes through all his snacks, gets bored of everything else I have and won’t leave me alone until we get into the nutritionist’s office where there are new toys that he’s never seen that are infinitely more interesting than the ones he already owns. We could be in any office, in any appointment, trying to get through any day. We just happen to be here.

There is a little gold card on my key chain now. Next week I will go through another set of appointments to find out if we’re eligible for additional benefits. I have sent in many resumes, I will send in many more.

And yet life goes on with many of the trappings of ease and stability that it always had before. It is easy to feel like nothing is different. It often feels like that. And then Friday evening, after I leave the kids with their father and sit down and let myself relax I remember all the things I don’t let myself remember during the busy days of playdates and library visits.

I am intelligent, well-educated, competent, skilled and connected.

I do not know how I will pay my bills.

You work hard because you believe education and work and achievement will protect you, but it is not foolproof. You can make all the right choices and still end up barely able to keep your head above water.

But it’s weird how you can be frantically treading water for so long and not even notice because you can still breathe and all you think is Breathe in, Breathe out, Breathe in, Breathe out. And you carry on.

Off-Topic: The Supreme Court and Marriage Equality

Meh, I’ve already done one today. Why not two?

Actually, let me tell you why first. Because saying it’s all about love and freedom is oversimplification. Let’s talk about what the DOMA and Prop 8 decisions really say and really mean.

First: DOMA, aka the Defense of Marriage Act, aka US v. Windsor. The story behind this is about Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer, two women from New York who were married in Canada. When Spyer died, Windsor tried to get the surviving spouse tax exemption but was denied under DOMA. So she sued citing Section 3 of DOMA as unconstitutional.

What does Section 3 say?  As for Section 3, it provides a federal definition of marriage between a man and a woman. Meaning even those who are legally married in their state don’t have their marriages recognized by the federal government, which comes with a variety of implications, particularly when it comes to tax law.

There are some rather tricky issues of Standing in the DOMA case, since the federal government decided not to defend the case. Standing basically means if you have a right to bring a case in the first place. A different group came in seeking to defend DOMA and the Court in this case allowed them to proceed, in large part because not doing so would bring a huge amount of potential litigation on this same issue in federal courts all over the country. We’ll be talking about Standing a lot more in the Prop 8 case…

Back to DOMA.

So what makes the case that DOMA violates equal protection and due process?

  • A big thing that comes into play here is state vs. federal powers, like I mentioned in the Voting Rights post. The federal government has lots of power over things like taxes, that inevitably involve some decisions about families. But states have the stronger power to make decisions about families since it’s not something the federal government has direct power over through the Constitution. So it’s not really a situation where the Supremacy Clause is really going to protect the feds. This is much more of a State powered issue than a federal one. The fact that DOMA gets in the states’ business does not help it with the Court. 
  • DOMA also doesn’t exactly make any real effort to avoid being discriminatory. It has plain language trying to encourage and discourage the way states behave about something that isn’t in the federal powers.  It also uses words like “moral,” which doesn’t exactly help it in the legal department.
  • It creates a system where some marriage are legitimate in one way (state rules) and illegitimate in another (federal rules). This creates a second-class marriage group. That doesn’t sound very equal, does it?
  • It has a sweeping set of effects, everything from taxes to Social Security benefits to criminal law enforcement. In all these ways, same-sex couples have additional burdens that heterosexual couples do not.

Those are the major tenets of the Court’s ruling finding DOMA violates equal protection and due process.

Keep in mind: DOMA is not completely unconstitutional, just Section 3. There’s still Section 2, which isn’t at issue under this ruling. Section 2 allows states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages from other states. I really wouldn’t be surprised to see that come up, since the Constitution requires states to give Full Faith and Credit to what other states did when someone moves. That’s why heterosexual couples don’t have to get married again if you move from Missouri to Illinois and why you don’t have to take a new driver’s test when you get a license in a new state. 

And now let’s hit the Prop 8 ruling, shall we?

To start, a history refresher. Proposition 8 was a ballot initiative in California that would define marriage as between a man and a woman. After it was enacted, it was challenged in court by several same-sex couples. The officials named as defendants, including the governor and many local officials in charge of enforcing the law, refused to defend it. A group of Prop 8’s proponents stepped in and asked to intervene to defend it and they were allowed to do that by the lower court. The lower court had a bench trial (judge, no jury) and found Prop 8 unconstitutional. After that, the group of proponents appealed to the 9th Circuit. This is where it gets complicated. 

The 9th Circuit sent the question to the California Supreme Court of whether a group of proponents of a law could appeal its validity. Why did they do that? Basically the 9th Circuit asked California’s Courts if it was okay under California law for the proponents of a law to represent it when officials would not. And California said Yes.

So 9th circuit stood by the lower court decision and once again the proponents appealed, this time to the Supreme Court.

Phew.

So the first issue the Court looked at was whether the proponents had any right to be there. You see, you can’t just go to court about something unless you have “standing,” meaning a kind of grievance. And not just a general one. You can’t just sue because you dislike a law. (For example, to use our Voting Rights Act talk, I can’t sue about a voting law if I am not affected by it even if other people are. I have to be the one hurt in some way.) 

The Court was not terribly convinced that the Prop 8 proponents fit the bill. Once they handed their proposition to the state and it was voted on, they had no ownership of it or interest in it. It was the state’s, not theirs. And as none of them are same-sex couples, whether Prop 8 is up or down will not have a direct impact on them.

Even though California’s Supreme Court gave them permission to stand in and argue a case, the Supreme Court says that’s not enough to make them officials or stand-ins for officials. And it’s pretty hard core on that. (For example, it cites a case where a state didn’t pursue a defense but the President and Speaker of the State Legislature did. The Court said that was cool, but when they were no longer in office it said they were no longer officials of the State and couldn’t do that anymore.) The Court says, “Sorry, guys. The Court saying you can do it still isn’t official authorization.” Federal court, federal rules. End of story.

So yeah, the Prop 8 decision had NOTHING to do with marriage. Not a thing. It basically said you can’t appeal, so the lower decision stands. As for what California is going to do about that, the lower court ruling told the California officials to quit enforcing Prop 8 so you can expect same-sex marriages to begin again in California.

 

A final recap? DOMA’s Section 3 that sets a federal definition for marriage has been found unconstitutional. The lower court’s ruling finding Prop 8 unconstitutional remains standing because the Supreme Court refused to hear the issue.

As for what DIDN’T happen: state laws that restrict marriage definitions are still left standing. DOMA was a narrow federal-only ruling and the Prop 8 decision did not get into any marriage issues at all. DOMA Section 2 that allows states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages from other states also stands. 

And what about standing? Well, it’s hard to compare the two opinions. They’re using two separate rules of reasoning, one uses an exception to standing and one doesn’t. And they’re written by two different sets of justices without really referring to one another. So yeah, that’s one that sucks for the textbook writers…

So are we all cool then? This is not exactly a we-love-gay-day at the Supreme Court, just like yesterday wasn’t a we-hate-minorities-day. The decision of Equal Protection for DOMA is a pretty big deal, but it also relies a lot on more procedural issues. It’s not exactly a Separate isn’t Equal kind of decision, but it’s certainly more than a lot of people expected.

Off-Topic: The Supreme Court and the Voting Rights Act

Okay, guys. Let’s talk straight.

The Supreme Court’s decision on the Voting Rights Act. Last year I did a post about the Healthcare Ruling and people seemed to dig it. (Which I found kind of crazy, but hey.) And I’ve seen similar freakouts from people about the VRA ruling, and this way I can just link them all here. So. VRA Ruling. Here’s what it means and here’s what it doesn’t.

It doesn’t mean the Court hates minority voters. It doesn’t mean they’re scared because now blacks are voting. This is the kind of fearmongering that kills rational discussion and political progress. It isn’t actually much of a civil rights decision, it’s about what kind of rules Congress is allowed to pass. 

First, some history. The Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965. Section 2 has nationwide protections against discrimination. One portion of it, called Section 5, requires certain states and counties to have changes to their election law “precleared” through the Department of Justice or a judicial panel. This is based on a history of discrimination in these particular areas, specifically that they had some kind of test (like a literacy test, historically a method of excluding minority voters) for voting in 1964 or had less than 50% voter turnout in 1964 elections. Section 4 of the act decides which areas will be covered by Section 5. 

Both sections 4 and 5 were temporary, unlike the rest of the act, and expired in 5 years. But they were reauthorized. And that’s happened several times since without any change to Section 4’s formula. In fact, Congress’s 2006 reauthorization made Section 5 stricter.

After the 2006 reauthorization, a case from Texas made its way to the Supreme Court where they ruled narrowly but cautioned Congress. Their concerns aren’t about civil rights as much as they are about federalism, the balance of power between the states and the federal government. It’s a really weird balance, too. The rule is that federal law preempts state law. But the constitution limits the powers of the federal government and everything else goes to the states. The states in many ways are more powerful than the federal government. And this balance of allowing the proper powers between both is a serious highwire act. 

When it comes to voting, the federal government gets to be in charge of federal elections. Makes sense. But states get to decide an awful lot that goes into those elections, like where district lines are drawn. And states get powers over their own elections.

One of the big things about having 50 states is that just like we like to treat people equally, we like to treat states equally. It’s pretty suspicious when we do otherwise, which is why Sections 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act have been challenged several times. And why they fall under pretty heavy scrutiny by the Court.

A lot has changed since 1965. (And it’s worth noting that the data used in this case and Congress’s reauthorization are from the 2004 elections,  not the 2008 with increased minority turnout.) In Mississippi, for example, white voters had a 69.9% voter registration rate. And blacks? 6.7%. With that kind of problem, it’s hard to argue with the system put in place. But in 2004, white voters had a 72.3% voter registration rate and black voters had a 76.1% voter registration rate. That’s right, blacks are registered at a higher rate than whites now. It’s amazing progress. It’s in large part because of the Voter Registration Act. But it also leaves a question about how we address voter discrimination now. A system addressing voter registration isn’t really going to cut at the real issues of discrimination today.

Or consider how the DOJ deals with the preclearance cases it gets. In the first 10 years of the VRA, about 15% of new voting laws raised an objection. In the last 10 years? 0.16% 

What’s clear is that the issues the VRA was designed to address aren’t really relevant anymore. This isn’t to say there’s no voter discrimination and the Court makes it clear they’re not saying it’s all magically fixed.

But we’re living in an age of different discrimination. Not literacy tests, but district gerrymandering, voter ID laws, cutting back on voting times and locations.

So remember that recent Court case I mentioned? It was in 2009, after the recent authorization. And the Court told Congress, Get your act together. Update the VRA. And Congress didn’t. (Shocker.)

Worse, the government’s arguments in favor of keeping the current formula aren’t too strong. It was “reverse-engineered,” originally. Meaning they picked the places they wanted covered and then developed the formula so they’d be covered. Not exactly the fairest approach. And you can’t argue that those 1965 conditions are currently relevant. 

The new ruling tells Congress it has to pass a new formula if it wants to keep Section 5’s preclearance going. It needs to consider current needs and make sure it addresses them appropriately. Section 2, which affects everyone, is still in place. So it’s not like there are no protections. But that extra layer is gone, at least for now.

I know this isn’t very comforting if you’re looking at the reality of voter discrimination. It’s out there. It’s happening. But that wasn’t what the Court was ruling on. That wasn’t their job. That was Congress’s job and they did a not-so-hot job at it. They put protections in place that aren’t doing a whole lot to affect change and stop the kind of “second-generation” discrimination we see today.

When I was in law school, that first year I read so many decisions that got me angry and upset. I didn’t like what the outcomes meant. But Supreme Court rulings are a lot like parenting. I could give my kid a treat to calm them down every time things get tough when we’re at the grocery store. But I don’t do it. We have to play the long game as parents and it means we suffer through crap to end up with a kid that we want. And that’s how this stuff works. It sucks, it means that we may be dealing with a country that doesn’t have any extra VRA protections for a while. But we have to care about the means we use to get to the end. 

If you’re upset about the decision, the best thing you can do is contact your representatives and let them know that this needs to be a priority. That Congress needs to get moving and figure out a new Section 4 formula and decide how to deal with modern voter discrimination.