Thursday, January 31, 2013

Embracing Change

In the business world, you either keep evolving or you become extinct, it is that simple.  It has been the same in the animal kingdom for centuries-- either you adapt to your changing environment, or you will die.  Change is a normal part of life, and especially within families, it is a naturally recurring theme-- kids grow up, they move out, they get married, then maybe they will add to the family by having kids of their own; in the meantime, someone may get sick, die or divorce.  Families are constantly being restructured with a variety of different characters-- and this is precisely what has kept me so intrigued in the field of family law, but I've recently come to learn that not everyone shares my enthusiasm in these changes.

I think blended families is a misnomer-- it sort of conjures up the impression of everyone being thrown into a blender at once, and out comes this amazing smoothie.  Yeah, well not so much-- I think a better image would be to think of a fruit salad in progress.  Think more of a banana that is reluctantly co-existing with an orange, then some strawberries enter the mix along with a slightly acidic pineapple, and ever so slowly you need to convince the various fruit parts to appreciate the benefits they all bring to each other when combined into one happy family. 

With the sale of my home behind me, and big changes ahead, I am increasingly cognizant of the advice so many of my thoughtful colleagues have given me throughout the years-- particularly the need to proceed slowly when little ones are involved.  I guess I took it for granted that we all embrace change as a reality of life, but actually most do not.  In fact, many see it as scary versus exciting-- especially children that might fear the unknown.  Preparing our kids for life is our duty as parents, so I'm not at all backing down from this challenge-- this is an important life lesson, but it is one I unwittingly took for granted all these years.  While embracing change is a key life skill, it is not inherent in everyone.  Here's hoping I'm as good at teaching as I am at doing...

Friday, January 25, 2013

Embracing Equal Rights

This week, President Obama made history by being the first-ever to mention gay rights in an Inauguration Speech.  It was such an amazing moment to share with my son and brother, as we stood less than a mile away from the President while he emphasized the need for all of us to continue working together to promote equal rights for all.

While progress has definitely been made in the past decade, with about 13 states now recognzing gay marriages, we still have the issue of DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) that prevents gay couples from obtaining many federal privileges that so many of us take for granted.   Thankfully, there are now two key cases pending Supreme Court review this Spring, which may lead to further progress on the gay rights movement.

I believe that the more people understand what is at stake here, the less conflict there will be about the need to support this cause, which seeks to provide equal treatment under the law for all.  In that vein, it was an honor and privilege for me do my part this week by having Michele Zavos as a guest for my upcoming tv show.  Michele has been a dedicated advocate for the LGTB community in the DC Area for over 30 years, and our segment will air next Wednesday and Thursday evening for Montgomery Municipal Cable.  Hope you will all tune in! 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

How do we develop our kids Social IQ?

Cathi Cohen's book "Raising Your Kids Social IQ" is such a great resource for all parents!  We re-aired the segment on this a couple of time.  Here is the link to our tv interview on this topic:

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Avoiding Disappointment on Valentine's Day

In 2013, I am embracing the mantra that we are each responsible for our own happiness.  I refuse to let others rain on my parade.  With this in mind, I gently reminded my date about a week ago that Valentine's Day is coming up and that I'd like for us to celebrate with a dinner out.  Understanding that we have other obligations, I wanted to make sure we picked a day that worked with our schedules, and then I asked whether he wanted to make the reservation or if I should-- it didn't matter to me either way, I just wanted it done.  A week later, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that he had taken care of our plans, and then it struck me-- wow, I've come such a long way! Gone are the days when I expect anyone to read my mind, and I am no longer wasting time and energy worrying about whether plans are in the works or not.  It is so much easier to just put it all out there, and I can only hope others wishing to remain sane will do the same.

Valentines' Day is now three weeks away, and I"m sure most women are thinking about the lingerie they want to buy, the special something they will bake for their special someone, or the gift.  If you are anything like me, the card and gift have already been purchased.  Ok, I realize I'm a bit weird, but more importantly here is the thing about most guys--  it is probably not even on their radar yet-- not at all, unless of course, they are getting ready to pop the question on that day.

I used to think that guys were just pigs, and that it was my special mission to find the exception to that rule.  Well, in the past few years I've adjusted my thinking a bit-- they aren't actually cruel, it's just that most are clueless.  We can either choose to get mad about that fact, or we can accept that reality and do our part to clue them in.  I've chosen the latter approach these past few years, and I don't think it is a coincidence that adopting this new attitude is how I finally find myself much happier.

Now for those that are not in a committed relationship right now, I encourage you to avoid bashing the day, as I once did.  Literally, one year I took a heart shaped pinata and smacked the crap out of it while hosting an anti-V day party.  That led to some really bad love karma that year, and so I learned to just embrace V-day as a more global celebration of love in general.  So, whether it is with a bunch of friends, your children, your family, siblings, whatever, find a loved one to share Valentine's Day and embrace it as your day, however you choose to celebrate it.  A positive attitude will lead to positive things, and it will avoid the sting of disappointment-- I promise.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Planning a Second Wedding

Fifteen years ago, I went to the DC courthouse to apply for my first marriage license at 25.  This week, I found myself walking down that same corridor and sitting in the same office waiting to get my second one.  As I waited for them to call me, I could not help but think about how different I am as a 40 year old bride-- so much wiser, calmer and totally no nonsense.  This maturity and insight has come at a hefty price, and I can only hope that it will pay off the second time around.

This time, we are doing immediate family only, and I am so much clearer about how I want things to be for us and what is really important.  While I hope people will be happy for us, I honestly don't care what they think-- I really no longer care about meeting anyone else's expectations anymore, just the ones we set for ourselves.  In this mindframe, it is quite liberating to plan this event without any input from outside forces-- no negotiating on religious beliefs or worrying about what we'll be like as parents.  We've already been there, done that.  We are who we are, and we are not having any more kids, so the pressure is truly off, and this time it is just a celebration about finding love again.

Even though this is a second wedding, there are many firsts for me-- including most importantly that I will have my brothers there, and my dad will get to give me away, now that the whole family has been reunited. I don't think I fully understood this 15 years ago, but there was definitely a hole in my heart the last go around when they were not in my life, and so it is with great joy that we will all get to share this special day together this summer.

Meanwhile, the groom here is still just coming to understand that when I say "low-key" that does not mean "no-key." At first he was a bit shocked to learn that I was hunting down some musicians and photographers for the event, but as a true sign that he's come such a long way in understanding me, the second he saw my puppy-dog eyes he just said, "whatever makes you happy honey."  If he can embrace that mantra, we will be just fine.

So it is that with the help of many friends, this event is quickly coming together, and soon I will be turning my focus towards finding that perfect dress-- but NOT your fluffy, ridiculously expensive type that you only wear once.  I refuse to waste money on things like that, or flowers that will die, or favors that no one will keep.  It is not that this day isn't special, but there are some major behind-the-scenes complexities involved with the merger of households and blending of families that deserve far more of our resources than a one-day affair.

In the end, Ive come to realize that the naive 25 year old girl with the butterflies in her stomach, who believed love would just conquer all was doomed from the beginning.  In that marriage bureau someone should have clued her in to the facts of life.   Love doesn't conquer all, and in order to have the happily-ever-after, you need to embrace two key realities: (1) no one is perfect, so you need to practice the ability to forgive and (2) the art of compromise is key to having a marriage survive.  It's taken me the last 7 years while flying solo to fully grasp these points, and now I need to try to and heed my wise godfather's advice: you are responsible for 80% of your happiness, and your groom is responsible for 20%.  I think I had those percentages reversed the first time around, but not this time.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Staying Positive-- it's more than just an attitude

Most people who know me consider me a pretty upbeat, energetic person, and yet if you delved into my life story there are plenty of moments when I could have gone to a very dark place.  I know that I am not alone-- we all have challenges in life and our own crosses to bear, but the choice is solely ours as to how we let things affect us.

This past weekend, as I gave my grandmother's eulogy, many may have been surprised that I did not cry once, and my voice barely cracked during my speech.  It is not that I am made of steel, but I have survived all these years by always trying to focus on the positive.  How many people get to grow up with their grandmother the way that I did?  What a gift that she got to be with us for 97 years, and that my son will always have his special memories of being with her.  She got to see me through most major stages of life, and what more could I ask for?

Since I've returned from my trip to New York, I have been making great strides with my wedding plans.  Why?  Because this is my way of coping-- to maintain a balanced attitude about life I will go out of my way to make sure that the good outweighs the bad.  I don't know how I became wired this way, but this much I know-- it is my way of surviving.

Nothing will work out perfectly according to our plans or our timeframes, so we have to accept these facts and play with the hand we are dealt in life.  Many would say I started off with a pretty crappy hand-- and I would agree.  Yet look at how things have turned out.  Hopefully my story proves that you can turn a seemingly losing hand into a winning won, as long as you stay focused and positive.  

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Why do some opt for a litigated divorce?

Here is the link to this week's segment, where we covered why some people chose to litigate their divorce.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Dark Side of Divorce

Tonight on Making It Last, I get to discuss the nasty part of my job-- litigation.  Unlike in Collaborative cases or my mediated divorces, the cases that go to court are truly unpleasant.  These are the 20% that could not resolve things amicably.  Their anger often leaves me quite baffled as to how these people ever even fell in love and thought it would be a good idea to raise children together.  By the time these parties are heading to the courthouse steps, there is a complete lack trust and they are usually very emotional.  These are the most challenging clients, and sadly when they can't rein in their emotions, many will wind up spending much more than necessary by racking up legal fees fighting one court battle after another.

I can understand that people would want to fight about custody-- if one person wants sole custody, or they can't agree on a time-sharing schedule, these are real concerns that any parent would want to address regardless of the sticker price, but the other issues really need to be viewed as a business transaction.  Essentially what you have is a partnership that is dissolving, and as a result we have in most states pretty established guidelines for determing child support, alimony and property division.  Sadly, there are some people who simply can't reach an agreement on these issues, and so they may well need to defer to a judge to make the ultimate decision on these matters-- but they have to understand that this comes at a hefty price, both from a financial and emotional perspective.

Most good family law attorneys in the DC Area charge between $275-$575per hour, and we require a retainer to be placed in trust for the work to be performed.  Itemized statements are sent out on a regular basis accounting for the work done, and sadly this can add up quickly-- you pay not just for court appearances, but for every email, call, letter, document drafted, research, deposition, and discovery.  The national average is over $20,000 per party to litigate a matter, and in DC we are well above that national average with some cases generating over $300,000 in legal fees.  This is why it is always important to have a reality check and run a cost-benefit analysis.

Throughout the years, I have learned a lot about humanity by observing well over 1,000 marriages fall apart in the DC Area.  Thanks to some of these horrible cases, I really have learned the importance of not letting your emotions get the best of you.  That said, I've also come to understand that we all make mistakes, and it is better to forgive and move on that to let the anger eat away at your heart.  Every day I try to get people to avoid the dark side, and although I may not always succeed, most of my clients are able to see the light and forge ahead to a brighter place. It is easy to be tempted by the dark side, so I applaud you all that have chosen not to go there.  It is a choice-- and how you choose to end a marriage is a defining moment not just for you, but your entire family, so please choose wisely.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Celebration of Life Ceremonies

Six months ago, by total serendipity, I ran into Donna Vincent Roa at Starbucks one lovely afternoon.  She gave me a copy of her book, "The Ultimate To Do List When Your Loved One Dies."
I'd never had a close family member die and thought it would make for a great tv segment.  What really struck me was how she emphasized that we needed to view funerals as a celebration of life ceremony.  I imagine it is a lot easier for us to view it this way when you have someone that has lived a very full life.  This is definitely the case with my grandmother, who died this weekend, just two months shy of her 98th birthday.

Little did I know how much calm Donna's words would bring me this week, and hopefully she will be there with me in spirit as I do my best to celebrate my grandmother's life with the eulogy this Saturday. 

For anyone that will have to go through this, I highly recommend Donna's book, and here is the segment we aired just a few months ago:

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Packing Up The Red Tent

I haven't read the Red Tent in a long time, but it is a book that I will always cherish-- it's about the importance of sharing stories, particularly for women.  While the men were out and about finding ways to provide for their families, the women in the red tent were busy preparing meals and caring for all the children.  While doing this work, the women would talk about all their trials and tribulations in life, and in this way they found comfort and learned from one another's experiences.  This is also how family legends were passed down from generation to generation.  Unfortunately, I think this beautiful tradition is quickly being relegated to the occasional family gatherings-- weddings, funerals and holidays-- while the rest of the time we are all just too busy acting as hunters outside the red rent and coming home to focus on our own nuclear families.  In my own life, I've seen this moment coming for some time, and today is the day, with the passing of my grandmother, that I will remember as the day we truly packed up the rent tent in my house.

My grandmother was born in 1915 to a poor South American farmer.  She was one of nine children, many of whom she helped raise after her own mother, my name sake, passed away in her early 40's.  She came to the United States 45 years ago, and after I was born, she became responsible for raising me while my mother worked.  Despite my pleadings, my grandmother never bothered to learn English or drive a car, and so I became her interpretor while we either rode the bus or walked everywhere together, and during those tirps she always entertained me with her story-telling abilities. 

Everyone loved my grandmother, and I hated the fact (early on) that they all called her "Abuela."  I was her only grandchild, and I wanted the sole and exclusive use of that name, but she did not tolerate my princess hissy fits, so I quickly had to come to accept that I would have to share her with others. She went out of her way to help everyone, not just her family, and she volunteered at a local nursing home and our local church until just a few years ago.

For my entire 40 years of life she was convinced that she was going to die at any moment, and she never failed to remind me that death was the surest thing in life.  Removing that fear is probably among the greatest gifts she gave to me.  The other great gift she gave me was teaching me about faith and conviction:  This woman dragged me to church every day until I finally started full time school, but that didn't get me out of going to church on Sundays or saying my prayers every night.  She prayed a rosary and read the Bible every day-- that was her center, and despite all the eloquent arguments that I developed over time to challenge some of her beliefs, she never waivered in her faith.

She may never have understood the point in a lot of my endeavors-- but then again, how could she?  Her priority was always family and community service.  She never graduated high school, did not care about fame or fortune, and didn't derive much joy from fancy clothes or restaurants.  Material things never impressed her, and I am sure that for many years she worried that I'd lost my grounding.  In fact, some may say that perhaps she held on as long as she did until she was reassured that I'd found my way back onto the right track. 

After her stroke two weeks ago, she never fully recovered, but even in the end she made sure not to ruin things for others, so she managed to make it through the holidays for us.  Up til now, she truly is the toughest cookie I've ever met-- even at under 100 lbs and only 4'9" she managed to measure up beyond anyone's expectations.  So it is with great relief that before her death, I was able to tell her that I'd found my dad and reconciled with my mother.  I know she was happy to see me learn to appreciate the importance of a family and how cool it is to be a big sister.   I am so grateful that she got to see me become a mother, and that she was able to enjoy many years with my son, who will never forget his adoring "Tita." 

My guiding light may no longer be with me here on Earth, but I know she is still there lighting my path in the darkness outside our red tent.  Her stories and her actions shaped me far more than many realize probably because I left the tent to become a hunter, but make no mistake about it-- I carry that that red tent everywhere I go-- it is packed up in my heart.       



Thursday, January 3, 2013

College Tracks- this non profit rocks!

The stats are in now in for 2012, and two of my tv shows last year were in the top 10 most viewed for Montgomery Municipal Cable.  Not bad, considering I didn't launch "Making It Last" until August 2012-- oh yeah, and no one ever taught me a thing about broadcasting in law school.  All I can say is that if it were not for the support of all my friends and colleagues, I would never have had such an amazing year.

So, for 2013 I'm calling on my peers once again.  I'd like to feature a few more local non-profits and their causes.  College Tracks was my first, and their mission is so amazing: to help kids through the whole college application process.  That segment was among the top 10 most viewed videos last month.  For those that missed it, here is the link:

Anyone wishing to promote their local non-profit that helps families in the DC Area should contact me, as I am now in the process of lining up segments for the Spring 2013.  To everyone that has made the show such a success & allowed me to have so much fun in the process, a big thank you!!!  Here's to an awesome 2013.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Gay Marriages Finally become Legal in MD

Today is a momentous day-- not just for gay couples in Maryland-- but for all of us that care at all about justice and equal rights.  Three states enacted a new law by popular vote this past election that now allow for gay marriages, and I am so proud to be among one of those who voted in favor of this law as a resident of the State of Maryland.  I believe this now brings the total count to 13 states-- which is a big step forward considering none permitted gay marriages prior to 2004.

Unfortunately, there is still a lot of progress to be made, as the majority of our 50 states still do not permit gay marriages and DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) still prevents these couples from obtaining many federal privileges that so many of us take for granted.   Thanks to DOMA, which was enacted in 1996, federal law only recognizes a marriage between a man and a woman.  This means that  gay couples cannot file a joint tax return, sponsor a spouse for citizenship or obtain Social Security benefits through a partner.  Why should law abiding citizens that want to be in a committed relationship be denied any of the rights the rest of us enjoy simply because of their sexual orientation?  How is that any different from denying someone rights based on their sex, race or religion???

I realize there are still many out there that do not share my opinion, and all I can say is that we are all entitled to our own opinions.  Fortunately for me, I get to make mine quite public, and so it is with great pleasure that I get to host a special show on this topic at the end of the month with one of the leading proponents of this movement in the DC Area.  To everyone that helped make today possible, I just want to say thanks, and to all you who now feel a little less like a second-class citizen, my sincere congrats!