Standing in line at my local Jewel-Osco store (think Publix, Safeway, or HEB if you're not from here), I was fuming. Itching the poor growth on my shabby facsimile of a beard, I was becoming unglued. What started with eye-rolling quickly led to taking an aggressive physical stance as I inched toward the customer in front of me. Soon, extremely audible and excessive exhaling began and I came to sound like Al Gore sighing in that one debate in 2000 with GWB. After what felt like minutes of torture (in reality about 20 seconds) - I snapped. "Hey, buddy! Would you just move the fucking cart - I'm not gettin' any younger here!"I lost it over a random guy in front of me who wasn't paying attention and let his shopping cart linger too long in the checkout lane and beyond the customary time norms we all abide by in the unwritten but well understood "Rules for Grocery Shopping."
In a related episode, I was driving the car with Vanessa and our son once. It was a hectic suburban Saturday in the zone of a shopping mall. Because suburban planners are sadists, they design parking lots at restaurants to be as inefficient, anxiety-inducing and accident prone as possible. Trying to navigate this vehicular mine field with a toddler in back, dodging errant pedestrians meandering through the lot on the way to their cars, I was on the emotional equivalent of a Homeland Security Red Level. A gaggle of slow moving people were congregated in the lot chatting. They were blocking a primo parking spot by the Chick-Fil-A and also violating the norms of the also unwritten but well accepted "Rules for Behavior in Parking Lots." After waiting for what felt like minutes (in reality about 10 seconds) - I lowered my window and screamed at the loquacious raconteur who held this throng in thrall with his no doubt witty takes on the latest Avengers film, "Hey, jag off! You wanna' move?!" Displeased with breaking his train of thought, or at being called a name in front of people, he yelled at me, "Hey buddy, watch the language, there's kids around." To which I immediately yelled back, "Oh, fuck off!" I then punched the gas pedal and screamed to Vanessa - "screw it, we're going to Red Robin!"
Why do I mention these embarrassing (but too common for me) episodes? First, because we all do it (don't we? - please tell me we do...), even if we don't resort to blue language in front of children. Second, because it leads me to today's brief report from the world of divorce before the Memorial Day holiday.
I lost my cool on those days. I could've selected about 1,500 other episodes of similar tenor and tone. I lose my cool often in these ways. I'm a guy that kind of just generally lives on a medium simmer. I do not lose my cool with our son and I rarely lose it with Vanessa - but I lose it with strangers. In the car, at the store, in the parking lot, the doctor's office, the DMV, the restaurant. Public life for me is like navigating an obstacle course.
This weekend, divorced parents across this nation will mark the unofficial start of summer with Memorial Day. There will be parties, grilling, boating, traveling and fun. It is a great holiday - especially for those of us in the north who are coming out of hibernation and dusting off our bermuda shorts and squinting at the blinding paleness of our sun-starved skin. But Memorial Day is also one of the Even/Odd holidays in the divorce world. Parents often split Memorial Day, Labor Day, President's Day and other such holidays in an annual even/odd rotation.
And despite the fact there is a document that clearly spells out who gets this day, when the day (or weekend) starts, and when it ends - there will be blowups. Maybe, Aunt Jenny is having her 63rd birthday at the Benihana and everyone is going to TopGolf after. Perhaps, Cousin Lou is getting married for the sixth time in Reno and the clan is gathering there. It could be that there is a soccer tournament in New Jersey. Or a dance competition in Omaha. There are things in life that happen that don't care about the divorce decree or custody judgment. And so moms and dads sometimes ask to change the schedule.
Sadly, a lot of moms and dads lose their cool over this. "Follow the judgment!" "The document controls!" "Read the decree!" -- one side asks for some consideration (and yes, sometimes it is lame) and the other side often withholds it (also sometimes for lame reasons). I am not here to tell you what is lame or not - I am a guy that screams at people in Chick-Fil-A parking lots and grocery checkouts.
I am here to tell you that you we lawyers get a lot of emails and calls around holiday times. From men and women facing the Cuban Missile Crisis of holiday issues. But think about me in those silly episodes above and then think about your holiday issue. Is it really so important that your 16 year old be able to go sit in a crappy restaurant for some Aunt he never sees and doesn't like on a birthday that isn't that important (really)? Does your daughter really need to go watch her cousin do what she's seen him do five times already? Or - do you really need to keep the kid at home for backyard grilling this year yet again when he or she could be doing that soccer or dance thing.
I know when it is your life and your issues - things feel important. I felt my parking spot was vital. I had worked a long day and was late to pick up my son when I lost it at the Jewel-Osco. But, what I needed then and perhaps some parents need this weekend is a little perspective. There are a lot of holidays in a kid's life. There are a lot experiences they will enjoy. Is it worth racking up legal bills over a weekend? Is it worth working yourself up into a froth and lather and sending hateful emails and texts to the ex?
What is it all really about? I suggest that in these instances, like mine, we humans are reacting because the world isn't bending to our will and going the way we want. It is a temper tantrum of sorts. But it is in times like these that we should take a breath and pause and think - what is going on here, really? Why am I acting the way that I am? What does my kid really want to do as opposed to what I want to do? Don't worry about the ex and what he or she wants or why.
Try and be flexible. Yes, you have a court order. Yes, it is supposed to control. But life happens. In parking lots and grocery stores -- and certainly with your kids. So don't be like me. Don't be that jerk. Take it easy. And enjoy your weekend. Life's short.
One day soon you won't even remember that Memorial Day weekend in 2018. But your kid will remember a lot. You'd be surprised... Be easy on yourself and your ex. See you next week.