Sticky note from hell

Let me tell you how a little yellow piece of paper ruined my day.



This is what I found on Girl from the West’s progress report when I attended parent-teacher conferences last week. This was handed to me by school staff after I stood in a line with other parents. Well, why not just hand me a big, red letter A to attach to my shirt?

Not wanting to draw public attention to this gaffe, this bullshit, I took my papers and headed to the school office.

“Why is this here?” I asked the principal’s secretary, pointing to the offensive sticky note.

“Well, are you divorced?” she asked, looking over her bifocals and assuming a tone.

“Yes, I am. What does that have to do with anything?” I asked.

“Does your child live with you?” she prodded.

I gave her the Cliffs Notes version of our custody arrangement. Both my ex and I have equal rights. I just happen to live outside the school district boundaries. It is factually wrong to call me “non-custodial.”

“Well, this is just part of how our computer system works,” she explained. “We have to distinguish between the parents when we issue more than one copy of a document.”

So many questions and profanities erupted inside my head at this moment. A few spilled out.

“So, you’re telling me your computer issued a hand-written sticky note and used robotic arms to place it on this report?” I asked. 

“No. A person put this note on the envelope so we’d know why there were two of them in the pile,” she said.

“Who cares why there are two of them? Why does that matter?” I ask. ” I think seeing ‘To the parents of:’ and two separate addresses tells all that anyone needs to know, don’t you think?”

“Well, we need to know,” she said again, with an increasingly condescending tone.

I offered an idea: “How about ‘Mother’ and ‘Father’ on the envelope? Wouldn’t that be nicer?”

She just wasn’t getting it.

Before each school year we fill out forms that spell out what administrators need to know about our child’s living arrangements. I understand this is for student safety and school security. What I don’t get is why any sort of label needs to be affixed to anything beyond that point. 

I try one more time to clarify. “Do you realize how insulting this is? How rude and insensitive? Do you have a copy of our divorce decree? How dare you assume to know what our custody arrangement is. Does my ex-husband have a big blue ribbon on his report declaring him “custodial parent.”

“M’am, there’s nothing we can do about it here,” she said, now clearly irritated with me. I could just hear her thinking: “Get your possibly drug-addicted, abusive, non-custodial ass out of this office.”

But this is not over. Not by a long shot. As I resisted slapping her holier-than-thou face, I asked for the name of the person who might be able to do something about this.

A phone call later that day to a district administrator helped clarify the matter about as much as adding mud to a pile of dirt. This is how our system operates is all they could come up with. You are either a custodial parent or a non-custodial parent. End of story. We can’t both be custodial parents? Nope. System doesn’t work that way.

The administrator tells me the system was put in place well before joint legal and physical custody became common. In a time, apparently, where one parent was issued a halo and the other got the horns and pitchfork. I was assured that a new system soon would be in place that would take “my situation” into consideration,.

By the mere fact that I am divorced from her father and do not live in my older daughter’s school district, I am declared a second-class citizen. Those with access to this information (and it could be parent volunteers) could draw very inaccurate conclusions about my fitness as a parent. I mean, what does “non-custodial” mean to you?

This particularly hurts because I drive almost 200 miles each week to get her to and from school, to attend her plays, award ceremonies, concerts and meet with her teachers. When she was younger, I volunteered in her classroom, chaperoned field trips and participated in organized activities such as Girl Scouts.

How many other divorced parents get these damned stickies from hell? 

I’m angry. I’m not buying their story. And I plan to be a big pain in their ass all school year until my Scarlet Letter is removed. Wish me luck.

Vulnerable mom

My motherhood has always been as vulnerable as a featherless hatchling twitching on the pavement. My introduction to it with Girl from the West came about by surprise, so I was caught off-guard and scrambled for months to embrace the notion that I — rock ‘n’ roll zombie at the time — was going to be a mom.

Following the birthing experience, I became a WORKING MOTHER and often felt the wrath of those who looked down upon moms who paid others to raise their offspring whilst they pursued careers to pay for their fancy shoes and expensive highlights.

Not long after, I was a DIVORCED MOM and a PART-TIME MOM, the former was fact backed up by court records, the latter was a label thrown at me by those who didn’t support my decision to end the marriage and share custody.

Then Girl from the West was old enough to join after-school activities. This is where I learned I was not only SINGLE MOM, but also FAKE MOM because my oldest daughter and I didn’t share the same last name. It didn’t matter that we had the same eyes, nose and laugh. I was a fake for sure according to one Brownie Scout. I suspected a few of the moms in that troop thought the same thing.

Of course, the FAKE MOM label is perpetuated now with the arrival of Girl from the East, who was born to another woman in China and legally became my daughter in 2006. We don’t share the same eyes, nose or laugh, but we certainly have the same last name. We share just as much love as any child born to me.

Still rather new to me is the STAY-AT-HOME MOM label, which is self-imposed since it’s how I answer the cocktail-party question of: What do you do?

Last weekend, Teleflora sponsored a Mother’s Day contest on NBC that asked viewers to nominate women in various categories, including the NON-MOM. I guess this is a more awkward way of saying “fake mom” when referring to an adoptive mother or other non-traditional caregiver. After a barrage of complaints, the sponsor issued a fine-print apology and correction to “adopting mom.”

In defense of all this, I call myself a MOM ZOMBIE. I do this partly because most of the time I’m staggering around in a sleep-deprived stupor. Some of it is my own doing. I stay up too late doing stuff I hate to give up: reading, exercising, making out with the Internet. I also have a big caffeine habit.

I also do it because sometimes I have to numb myself to the negative labels attached to my caregiver/nurturer role. Despite what the world and a few random Brownies wish to call me, I love my children and would do anything for them. They call me “mom” and that’s all that matters.