Welcome to the Koenig|Dunne blog. We have three different blog series for you to find inspiration and encouragement as you go on this journey:
- Doing Divorce, A thoughtful discussion about divorce: Angela Dunne provides practical advice based on real examples of what she and her clients have faced through the transition of divorce.
- Divorce Made Simple: Our attorneys breakdown the divorce process in a way that is easy to understand.
- NEXT: An Empowerment Series: Attorney and life coach Susan Koenig guides, supports, and inspires you on the journey of creating a life you love.
“I hate him,” she sent the text in a fury. It came across my screen like an arrow, not so much aimed at my heart but at least my shoulder, causing me to metaphorically wince. “What happened?” I replied. She told me the tale – none of the details relevant – because all my heart hurt about was her distress, sadness, and pain.
All kids experience this at some point about each of their parents. And if you are sitting there smugly reading this and thinking my child will never hate me – let me tell you the day is coming, or it has already passed, and you were lucky enough not to have those thoughts from your child shared with you.
I suspect if my former spouse and I were still married and living in the same house together and these words had been thrown at one of us – later, in private and out of earshot of our child, we may have commiserated, smiled, and backed the other for whatever action led to the aggrieved angst of our teenager.
Instead, we no longer share a household. We no longer share a relationship. We no longer share trust, compassion, and our feelings with each other. So, when I read my daughter’s message – all I felt was rage. This anger was soon followed by a mother’s indignation that is felt when anyone harms our child.
My desire to defend and protect her overcame me. But angst for my daughter was not the only force at work. All of the evidence I have gathered, albeit unintentionally and subconsciously, since my marriage collapsed ten plus years ago came front and center. Thoughts that my ex-spouse is out to hurt me, cannot be trusted, and is not as good a parent as me provided the steely armor that encased me ready for battle.
I wanted to send a scathing text. No better yet I will call and raise holy hell. NO! I will go over and pick up my children and bring them home to my house for safety, security, and soothing. And maybe I even have cookies I can give them. I will rescue them!
Fortunately, I was in the middle of watching a captivating Netflix series on a serial killer and wanted to finish the episode before riding off in my SUV. By the time the show was over my daughter had already messaged me something completely unrelated to the aforementioned incident and we both kinda just forgot about it. Now, looking back I was like a lion that got poked, stood up and let out a loud roar, and then promptly laid back down and fell asleep.
Such are our emotions as divorced parents. There are likely not enough numbers in the universe to count the times we feel aggravated by our co-parents not doing it the way we would do it.
These three tips may support you (and me) the next time your children make a complaint about their other parent’s household, behavior, or rules.
- Pause. With the pausing you want to make sure and do some breathing. And when I say pause – I mean like pause for a minimum of 24 hours. Easier said than done for sure – but trust me. Time will be your greatest ally.
- Prepare. If after a good solid day of reflecting, venting to your closest friend, and a glass of wine you still feel a conversation is warranted. Prepare for the conversation. Look at the situation giving your co-parent the benefit of every doubt. Remember that your child is telling you the facts from their perspective and these may not always be 100% based in reality. Be prepared to ask questions rather than allege judgments.
- Persist. Persist in the aim to be a good co-parent. This is the most important relationship that can benefit your children in the big picture. Treat your co-parent how you want to reciprocally be treated. Read that about 3 more times. You would not want your co-parent coming at you with accusations, anger, and judgement. Persist in perching yourself on that higher road.
For many of you, co-parenting is the hardest relationship you will have. Much harder even than when you were married and miserable. I know this from experience and share the tools I use at least weekly. And if you only remember to do one of these things next time – just keep practicing. Eventually your armor will be dismantled and your huge heart for your children will be the only thing shining.
The pandemic has not been kind to couples. The physical, financial, emotional, mental stressors of remote working/learning/socializing is taking its toll. It is certainly taking its toll on all individuals, but for those couples who pre-pandemic were on shaky ground, the pandemic has now rocked their foundations to the core. I know this because our divorce team has been serving as the first responders to relationship damage.
Our clients are crushed. Divorcing during a national crisis is not for the faint of heart. Co-parenting during COVID is a game changer parents could not have seen coming and as amplified the challenges of raising children in separate households under separate philosophies.
Our court calendars are in crisis. With courthouses trying to keep the public spread at bay, our scheduled time before the judges on cases for hearings and trials are getting moved and pushed further out at a moment’s notice. This creates a backlog and alternatively a string of trials back to back to back.
Our office camaraderie has dimmed since trading our suits for sweatpants and working from home for the last 10 months. We miss each other. We really, really miss each other.
My team is worn thin. Over zoom I can see their shoulders reaching ever so slightly up toward their ears. In our one-on-one monthly meetings, I see glimpses of tears and the familiar resolve to steel up, grin, and bear it.
I decided early in the fall we would be closing our offices for the last 2 weeks in December to allow for much needed restoration. It seemed impossible. We are a small business in the middle of a pandemic – how would we possibly manage this? I needed to be bold and protect my hard-working team.
We started setting goals months ago for client care, for case management, and layers of back-up plans. The whole team shared the vision and desire. We broke the impossible down into manageable targets for productivity, efficiency, and defusing burnout. We looked at and tracked our goals every single week. They sacrificed taking other days off.
And now we are here. By the grace of shared will, unfazed focus, and wholehearted grit, my co-workers will be heading home tomorrow for 2 weeks to get what they need most – rest.
I watched the impossible unfold into reality right before my eyes and promise myself to take this lesson forward into my future.
Break down the actions
Persist with the plan
I want to especially thank my team publicly for all of their hard work this year. They have cheered for, cried about, and comforted our clients over these long hard months. They never once faltered in fulfilling their purpose to do divorce differently and support our clients and their families each step of the way. And now they need to rest.
We wish you a peace-filled holiday and we will enthusiastically see you again in 2021.
“Your hair’s getting long,” he said, noticing my coronavirus coiffure. Gerry has such an eye for beauty and style that the home he and Bob share was once featured on the glossy pages of the Inspired Living as one of the loveliest in the city. I held my breath, sensing he was about to be honest with me. “You look younger,” he said.
I smiled. I thanked him. I didn’t tell him it wasn’t my hair. I was about to turn 65 and I was getting younger.
Now there’s no denying that the laugh lines in my face have deepened in the last decade, but for years I have rejected the constant cultural messages that aging is a sentence to pain, weakness, and disability. Twenty years ago when I bought the building that had 24 stairs to the second floor flat, people asked with concern, “Aren’t you worried you won’t be able to climb all those stairs someday?” I was 45.
For the last two decades I’ve gone up and down those stairs. For the last five years each winter I’ve trained for the Trek Up the Tower, climbing 40 flights in under 15 minutes. Instead of planning for bad knees, I plan to take one step at a time until I can’t.
Centenarians are a powerful source of inspiration to me. Now I may only live to 91 like my Grandma Anna. But I don’t anticipate having 208 great grandchildren in my lifetime like her either.
My teachers have been everywhere. Had I paid more attention I could have learned from my children when they were little. I focused instead on my lawyering, my activism, and my survival in an unhealthy marriage. Even as a parent, playing didn’t coming easily.
Others showed me how. Joyce, who despite hearing every sort of sorrow as a school counselor always had others hearing laughter when in her company. John, who understood the world would not come to an end if you took two weeks off each holiday season to celebrate and recalibrate. Angela, who thinks every small victory is cause for a joyful squeal, a sprinkled cupcake, or a sparkling sequin.
One of these three teachers of youthful exuberance died young. A second recently received a diagnosis of a degenerative brain disease. The third is my living role model to whom I pay close attention. I can be a slow learner, but I am a conscientious student willing to do her homework. So, as I reject our society’s ceaseless messages about what it means to age, I intend to play whenever possible and put my mind in the thought that it’s never too late to have a happy childhood.
A new semester is about to start for this student. I’m going back to school. Next month I start studies on how to support people as an end-of-life coach. My intention is to enter with “beginner’s mind.” I have the childlike thrill of getting my back-to-school supplies. But first, I’m going to do a puzzle and drink some hot chocolate.
What beliefs do you hold about aging?
How do you stay young at heart?
Will you have some play time this holiday season?
“How are you?” she asked with sweet sincerity.
Should I say? Should I be truthful? I pause ever so slightly.
I pause again.
“Really good,” I say, trying not to sound too enthusiastic.
This year caring inquiries have come from cousins across the country and Facebook friends not seen for years. An extrovert, I’ve lived long enough to amass an abundant army of people who want to know how I’m doing because they care. Sometimes I don’t want to share.
I hesitate to tell them that this has been one of the best years of my life.
Who wants to hear that?
Who wants to hear my happiness when they are anxious and depressed? Do I tell the person I’ve never found my work more meaningful as they face burnout or layoff? While they gain weight from the cortisol of skyrocketing stress, do I share I’ve taken up intermittent fasting now that there are no parties to attend?
So I pause.
I sit somewhere in between embarrassment and shame. I share that the kitchen remodel at the house is coming along slowly. That I’m baking cookies to send to my children. That it’s busy at the law office.
But I don’t tell the whole truth.
I don’t report my profound peacefulness from a strengthened meditation practice. Or the thrill of seeing my body as more beautiful approaching 65 than at 25. On how the daily sight of my beloved walking through the door carries me through all matter of fear from the atrocities unfolding in my own home town.
Really. I don’t think people want to hear.
While my privileged state (white, educated, employed) is undeniable, I’ve not been exempt from the impact of Covid. I’ve missed two family weddings, funerals, and thousands of dollars of coaching business. I have a son who lost his job, a sweetheart who is a schoolteacher, and an ill sister whose doctor declared if she gets the virus, she “will” die. My children will not be home for the holidays.
It’s not that I am unaware of the state of the world around me. I spend hours each week absorbing news both local and global, often reading in-depth horror stories. I’m a life coach which means the human fears and failures from cancer and death to divorce and dementia travel from my ears to my heart.
Still. I am happy.
I reflect on the advice of a longtime friend who counseled me when I awkwardly attempted to contain my joy of falling in love again. “Don’t apologize for your happiness,” she said.
There is no need for me to make a case for my happiness. No detailed analysis or overt explanation required. Better to skip the shame, simply be the happiness, and hopefully share it.
What worries you about people knowing the truth of your feelings?
How do you decide what to share with others?
Are you able to hold both compassion and joy simultaneously?
Despite the COVID pandemic, my Thanksgiving this year was downright crowded I mused. The day included Oliver, Willie, Mac (my cats) and me, myself, and I. That got my count to my second hand at least. Big sigh. Lucky for me, I have had years – 10 to be exact – practicing solo traditions and holidays. For many of you, this was your first year feeling the sting of a family tradition jarringly altered as families chose to avoid travel, decline big gatherings indoors, and to keep risk of exposure out of our homes.
If you felt the ache of longing for a loved one, or the sadness of an empty place setting, you now hold insight into the experience that occurs around the calendar for divorced parents. Inevitably one parent wakes on Christmas morning without the pitter patter of their children’s feet running to their room to rouse them for the wonders left behind by Santa. During Hanukkah one parent lights the menorah, says a blessing and recalls the story of Hanukkah in silent reflection without children arguing over whose turn it is to light the candle and to see delight as a carefully chosen gift is opened after.
This year I released my fury of frustration on my holiday house. I spent hours decking all of the halls, and shelves, and walls, and windows, and every space between. In pouring my heart into my home, I released my energy into that which could and would bring me joy. Without any intentionality around it, I had shifted my focus away from my sadness toward gladness as I lined up my favorite nutcrackers in a spot I would see often in the next 30 days.
I crafted my coziest space to ensure comfort on the days I will not be able to host my annual luminary party, that I will miss sharing my dad’s 74th birthday with him in person and the 44th birthdays of my twin siblings just a week after, that 3 days later on Christmas I will say goodbye to my girls as their dad takes them to Arizona. After all of these years of practice, I instinctively now know what I will need during this year of holidays during a pandemic.
This year you may want to consider the following:
- What are your intentions this holiday season?
To be joyful? To be reflective? To be relaxed?
- What do you have control over that will support your holiday intentions?
Your environment? Your time? Your zoom outfit and background?
- What will you do with your time that would otherwise have been spent in a frenzied holiday planning and preparing mode?
Sitting in front of the fire? Watching a favorite holiday movie? Baking cookies and exercising more patience than ever as your children “decorate” them?
There will likely be a sense of loss and difference this year during December. But you do have choices about how and when to grieve them and how and when to replace and refocus your energy into a more meaningful holiday season. From my holiday house to yours, I wish you peace, rest, reflection, and gratitude in this slowed down December ahead.
If you or your spouse have an ownership interest in a business, that ownership interest may be considered a marital asset subject to division in your divorce. As with any asset, the first question issue that must be determined is whether (or what portion) of the business interest is martial. If the business ownership interest is marital, then you must determine what the value of the interest is.
Determining the value of the ownership interest for divorce purposes can be complex. Some businesses have multiple owners with varying percentages of ownership interests. The type of business entity can also add to the complexity of determining a dollar amount to place on the interest. As such, when business interests are involved in a divorce, it is common for an expert to be retained to help value the business.
Certified public accountants, especially those with certifications in business valuations and forensic accounting, are commonly hired by each party to provide an expert opinion as to the value of the business. This opinion ultimately assists the parties (or the Court) in determining the dollar amount to attribute to the ownership interest.
Obtaining a business valuation is often essential when business interests are at stake in a divorce. There are three common approaches to valuing businesses:
- Income approach. This approach looks at the income the business generates to determine how much the business is worth.
2. Market approach. This approach takes a broader look at the market in which the business operates and looks at comparable businesses to determine the value.
3. Asset approach. This approach values the actual assets the business owns, less its liabilities, to determine the business’s net worth.
It is important to note that goodwill in a business is not valued in Nebraska in a divorce.
If you retain the ownership interest, you will be attributed with receiving the appropriate value from the marital estate. If you do not wish to retain the interest, or your spouse wishes to be awarded the interest, you may receive compensation for the value of your interest that is being awarded to your spouse.
If your divorce involves a business, contact our office to schedule a consultation to learn about your options and protect your financial estate.
Generally, tax returns, paystubs, and traditional wages are the easiest way to determine one’s income for purposes of child support and/or alimony. However, not all spouses earn income this traditional way. Non-traditional earnings, including dividends from income investments, passive income, retained earnings in a closely-held corporation (if excessive or inappropriate), Social Security benefits, as well as more-complex income streams may be taken into account when determining child support and/or alimony obligations.
If a spouse earns non-traditional income, your divorce attorney may recommend you seek the assistance of an expert to support in determining a complete picture of the income available for child support and/or alimony purposes. Financial documents, including tax returns, bank account statements, investment portfolios, profit/loss statements, and so forth, will be analyzed by your attorney and supporting expert(s) in your case.
Experts are often certified public accountants. CPAs with certifications in forensic accounting can be especially valuable expert witnesses. Upon conducting a forensic analysis of a spouse’s income and financial documentation, an expert will provide an opinion as to what that spouse’s true income is. That amount will then be used in calculating child support and an appropriate alimony award, if applicable.
If you or your spouse earn non-traditional income, contact our office to schedule an initial consultation to discuss your options and what you can expect in your divorce action.
“You use gratitude like cocaine,” she said. Her observation was as calm as if she were saying “The sky is blue today.”
My mentor often shared wisdom I eagerly embraced. But the suggestion that I had been sticking the numbing needle of thanksgiving in my veins silenced me.
Gratitude has long been my great go to. I had just shared what was going well in my life. My busy law firm. My healthy children. My meaningful coaching career.
But my mentor could see beyond my rosy report. While my kids were okay, my sister was intermittently suicidal. My husband’s latest test results were encouraging, but the prognosis remained terminal. Reciting what might have been a good gratitude journal entry did not change the truth that I was sad, overwhelmed, and exhausted to the bone.
I get my emphasis on appreciation from my mom. Mom grew up in the Great Depression. She had 8 years of schooling when she married my alcoholic father and 8 children after. She never learned to drive. Years of climbing up into city buses with children in tow left her with so much appreciation for a simple car ride that she never once complained about my typical tardiness to take her somewhere.
A go-to method of mine for giving thanks has been comparison. Years of parochial school where I proudly put my pennies in the little church-shaped cardboard box during Lent taught me about the poor and hungry children in Guatemala. At least I wasn’t one of them.
When my first spouse screamed at me, I was grateful I wasn’t being hit like some of my clients were. When I lamented the slow pace at which I ran a 5k I was grateful I wasn’t bedridden with MS like my friend Jean. It could always be worse, right?
Yes…and. When I connect my gratitude to the misery of others, I’m feeding that part of my brain that is in incessant comparison already. Rather than seeing what is right before me, I search for the state of others to determine whether I’m willing to give thanks.
Going forward, I want to focus on noticing and appreciating what is. I want to be grateful for it all. For my excellent health and for that crown that fell out into my bowl of rice last week. For our bustling law business and the challenges of a pandemic. For the wisdom when it feels good and when it stings.
And as for the suffering of myself and others? Well, that is for my compassion. And I am willing to use that like cocaine until there is no longer a need to ease the pain.
Do you compare yourself to others before choosing to be grateful?
Do you keep a gratitude practice, such as a journal?
What can you appreciate that is in your life today?
Alternative forms of compensation, such as employee stock options are complex and present challenges in a divorce.
An employee stock option is the right of an employee to buy a specific number of shares of stock in the employer-corporation at a specific price (strike price, grant price, or exercise price) at a specified time in the future. Usually, there are restrictions and conditions on the employee’s right to exercise options, such as maintaining employment with the company for a required number of years. The employer may also allow various portions of options to vest at different stages.
When the required conditions are met, the option may be exercised (i.e. the employee may buy the stock).
There are two types of employee stock options (qualified and nonqualified). Whether stock options are qualified or unqualified relate to the tax treatment of the options to the employee.
The biggest question regarding employee stock options is determining how the options factor into the division of property in a divorce. The answer to this question is complex depending on a variety of factors.
When stock options are present in a divorce:
- Your divorce lawyer will obtain specific information regarding the stock options, including, but not limited to, complete plan documents, grant award statements, etc.
- You’ll need to value the option(s) to determine the martial portion and non-marital portion of each.
- It’s important to be cognizant of the tax implications for an award of stock options in a divorce. The value of the options can’t be realized without incurring income taxes. This is especially true if you are the option-holder, as the tax burden is on the option holder and can’t be transferred to the nonemployee spouse.
- A determination must be made about how the nonemployee spouse will receive the value of the stock options, since they are generally not assignable. The nonemployee spouse could receive an offset of other equivalent assets, if available, or adopt a “deferred distribution approach” which requires the spouses to divide the martial portion of the option in the future if and when they are exercised.
- Consideration must be given as to whether employee stock options are considered income or property for purposes of divorce.
Legal knowledge, the right experts, and experience matter when dividing stock options in a divorce. Contact our office to schedule a consultation to discover how our legal team at Koenig │Dunne can protect your financial estate and your future.
I stride past the multitude of campaign signs, the one red, white and blue one that says “Polling Place Here.” A handful of men pace away the cold with hands in their jackets as they wait for the doors to open.
I immediately spot the inspector. A short woman in a red polo, she appears in no mood to chat. I make my introduction brief. I assume she’s happy not to hear I’ll be observing. She knows I report counts of voters, wait times, and “incidents.”
Outside poll workers measure out the 200 feet of string to mark the boundary for electioneering. Inside I strike up a conversation with a woman neatly wrapping an orange cord around a vacuum. I assume she’s finishing a night shift with the community center’s cleaning crew.
I look out the windows at the growing line, eager for the process to begin. At 8:02 first voter walks through the door. The line outside stretches a block long where it would remain for the next hour.
A smiling young black man approaches me.
“Can I get a sticker?”
“Sure!” I reply.
“Even if I don’t vote?”
“Sorry, no. You have to vote and then you get a sticker.”
“See I wanna vote but I can’t.”
“Cuz I’m a felon.” (Which I’d assumed.)
“I’m sorry. I understand. I know a lot of…” I pause, searching for the phrase “previously incarcerated people.”
“But can’t I get a sticker?”
“I have some connections. I’ll see what I can do.”
He heads to the weight room. I retrieve a sticker. I don’t see him again.
Voting is slow and steady. I find myself playing a guessing game of “Which party do they belong to?”
Two women with head coverings do not appear to have their names on the voting books, although both are at the right polling place. I toss in a couple more assumptions.
About noon, a young couple enters—one with a satchel, the other with a tripod. He is tall and thin with caramel skin, curly black hair and glasses. She is pale with neon shade fuchsia hair and wearing bright Bohemian pants. The young woman mentioned that her partner couldn’t vote. Not a felon, he was a permanent resident,
The hours went quickly. By afternoon the inspector is looking more relaxed. I congratulate her on a good day of voting so far. Soon we discover we graduated from the same high school and a warm conversation of “Did you know” follows.
The cleaner turns out to be on the administrative staff at the rec center who just liked to do a little extra cleaning of the space at the start of her day. She’s a couple of years away from retiring with her “good” city pension. Divorced, she is proud of keeping her 19-year-old son on her health insurance. “It doesn’t cost that much,” she said.
Before I know it my replacement arrives. I leave him with a few lessons on provisional ballots and the polling process. My observations on assumptions I take with me as my own. I head out into the autumn air, now warmed.
Have you ever made assumptions about someone based upon a single experience?
Do you ever form conclusions before having all the facts?
Are you willing to get to know someone beyond their exterior?
I lay on my couch too listless to pick up the book I want to read or even to pick up the remote to watch a new murder docuseries I had saved. Maybe I will turn on music – but my phone is on the dining room table. I remember I need to take the garbage to the curb – eh, it can wait another week. I am numb. I am scared, worried, and uncertain about my future. I feel this now thinking about the country I love. I felt this in 2011 when I was in the midst of my divorce.
It feels like the country is getting divorced. No longer are we reconciling our differences. No longer are we looking for our delightful similarities. No longer are we invested, kind, or co-existing in peace. We have become apathetic to each other’s views and only find fleeting strength when we engage in disagreements and get in line to vote.
We have become indifferent. We are shutting down. We take our sadness behind closed doors. We rail against the other side with our new version of trusted friends – our Facebook groups and feeds. We seek out and find all evidence that we are right and they are wrong
Dr. John Gottman uses the principle of Negative Sentiment Override (NSO). Negative sentiment override happens when over time arguing and conflict builds up and one person can no longer give the other the benefit of the doubt. Every interaction under NSO is viewed through a negative lens. We assume hurtful, mean, and cruel intentions behind every interaction. It seemingly takes 100 consistent positive interactions to defeat just one negative. I see NSO with my clients and I know immediately the marriage has no hope of recovery
Our citizenry is facing NSO over politics and world views – just as divorcing spouses suffer from it over parenting decisions and financial philosophies. Our nation is in collective need of intense therapy and support. We need to change, because unlike spouses, we cannot divorce. We have a duty and an obligation to each other to keep our country strong, healthy, and united.
It is incumbent upon us to start the hard work of repairing our relationship. We do not need to walk up the aisle with “the other side” but we do need to reach across it. We need to shift our focus from fear and judgment and endeavor to see and hear those with opposite views. We need to search until we find common ground – no matter how seemingly insignificant. We need to start creating our 100 positive interactions.
I have seen the possibility of healing come to life with as many clients as I have seen succumb to NSO. It shows up post-divorce when parents need to continue to co-parent, when a former in-law takes ill and bygones must truly be forgotten, and when the heart has healed and the bitter is released into forgiveness.
If we want to remain the United States, we have no viable option but to start defeating our collective NSO. We need to extend kindness, replace judgment with curiosity about our differences, and focus with all the grit we have on the greatest unifier we have – the love of our country.
Her words would not leave me. Intended as a compliment, they felt strangely disturbing.
“You’ve got it all together.”
I replayed the words in my head for a week.
Was I a source of comparison, envy, or inspiration? My friend, 20 plus years my junior, sees my life in the present and from the outside.
My past is outside her range of vision. While now with few financial fears, I can still feel the tension in my hunched shoulders from when newly divorced I obsessively checked the next due date of my credit card bills. Today she sees me a petite 5’ 2”. She can’t envision me with 25 more pounds and afraid to walk through the doors of a gym. She doesn’t know about the stack of little red spiral notebooks tracking the numbers on the scale through nine years of its daily travels, forever hoping to one day arrive at its destination.
She sees my life from the outside, not the inside where my beautiful century old home holds the piles of unfulfilled intentions on my dining room table—cards never sent and gifts never mailed. On my bookshelf, next to the book that says “by Susan Ann Koenig” sits the knowing that I’ve yet to fulfill my bold claim that I had three books in me alongside my fear I won’t.
What is not visible is what happens on my insides. A lifetime of lessons, old stories of abandonment, judgment, and exclusion still give rise to false thoughts of embarrassment and shame. In those moments, I don’t have anything together. I’ve got everything falling apart.
Unseen are my thoughts. When my password doesn’t work: “I’m not capable.” When I say something stupid in a group chat: “I don’t belong.” When I don’t hear a certain three words: “I am not loved.” Lies all, of course, but irrelevant to their arrival in my amygdala.
I have it no more together than anyone, obviously. I just have a couple more decades than my friend at practice at life, and a little more experience at cleverly hiding being human.
What do you experience when comparing yourself to others?
Do you judge yourself based on the outside appearance of the life of others?
Can you have compassion for yourself when you fear you aren’t capable, don’t belong, ore aren’t loved?
I was sitting in my sadness wishing away the state of the world. Halloween isn’t going to be the same this year. My Thanksgiving table will not host my parents or my children. My December traditions will resemble, at best, hollowed out holidays. These sorrows seem petty next to the messages from my friends tearing further at my heart: a mother-in-law in the hospital likely due to COVID most surely facing her final days, an infant granddaughter rushed to the hospital for breathing difficulties, a suicide attempt, depression, anxiety, and distinct despair.
It is too much. I am too emotionally exhausted to shed tears. I feel the resignation coming over me like my worn weighted blanket. I want to hibernate this out. Or move to Ireland. Or throw my coffee mug across the room aiming to shatter it.
I glance down and the universe is actually talking to me. My coffee cup displays a not-so-subtle reminder of what has worked in the past. What if I sat with this for a moment? I feel the tension held tight in my shoulders weaken with the release of a deep sigh.
Cup of Thanks.
Then the tears come. A tear shed for each shame-induced reminder:
~ I see my mom and dad every other day on our iPads and phone screens
~ I laugh with my best friends near daily through funny texts and memes
~ I have never spent more time with my daughters than in these pandemic days
I have been prepped for this pandemic through my years as a divorcee. I have had many holidays without my daughters. I have had to recreate and reimagine my traditions for 9 years running. I know that time is what we make it.
I am not alone in this perpetual feeling of frustration, resignation, and depression. I know this time requires intentionality and pausing to reflect on that which we have and how we want to use it.
I get out a fresh sheet of paper.
What do I want to focus on between now and December 31, 2020?
What will be different and why? What are the alternatives to get what I most need or want?
What is the pace I want to set?
What is the feeling I want to create?
What are the expectations I need to manage?
My sadness subsides a bit. I have felt my feelings, I shifted to gratitude and carried it forward into an action plan for the weeks ahead. It dawns on me that this is my well-used ritual and with putting it to work once again I feel the comfort of control come over me. And for this I raise my cup of thanks.
Decades before ThredUp, Poshmark, or even EBay were where millions shopped second hand, I was a thrifter. As a student on work study or a waitress saving for a trip to Barcelona, my fashion fix fit within my Goodwill budget.
Unlike a quick click on my laptop to indulge in an instant Amazon acquisition, thrifting meant extended hours of enjoyment in the hunt. (Those neuropathways from our hunting and gathering ancestors run deep.) Even on the rare occasions when I walked out of the Salvation Army empty handed, I always had affordable amusement. It was like going to an art museum with free admission.
Eventually buying a dress off the mannequin was no more a burden to my bank account. I rationalized the $100 spent on a new hat since I’d just saved $200 buying that perfectly fitted gray wool suit for ten bucks. Consignment shops were always on my itinerary while on vacation. Dallas, San Francisco, Boston, and New York yielded phenomenal finds.
Clothing coming into the U.S. tripled in my lifetime, and fast fashion bolstered my justification for my joyful habit. Non-biodegradable materials manufactured with precious water while polluting with oil and coal. Cotton requiring pesticides. Garments made in global sweatshops where an estimated 150 million children ages 5 to 14 are forced to work. Buying that already worn red dress felt downright righteous.
A couple years ago I committed to cutting down on my amassing both new and used. Last Black Friday I was feeling proud, I didn’t get sucked into the then annual hype… until I was lured into Thrift World by the words Everything Half Price and walked out with a living room rug and a navy blue dress with its original price tag.
The coronavirus has helped me keep my commitment this year. My new shop is located in my own home as I peruse the long unworn skirts and sweaters asking:
- What do I really want to have more of?
- Where would I find what I need if I weren’t looking outward?
- What might I discover if I look inside?
My closets and drawers aren’t the only place where I’d benefit from asking these questions. With less time spent accumulating and more time spent meditating, I can search for what’s hidden that I would love to possess. Surely a treasure or two will be found in my seeking. The cost is merely my focus and the value perhaps priceless. This could fit my budget for a lifetime.
We argued about the garlic in the guacamole. He stormed outside. I stood at the bathroom mirror focusing my shaking hand on my mascara. I heard the front door open and his footsteps coming up the stairs. He opened the bathroom door, punched me in the stomach, and calmly said, “Now you can tell your friends I’m abusive.”
I was young but I was strong, confident, and independent. On the outside. In my home I justified the purchase of a two-dollar tube of lipstick. I defended why I wanted to see a movie with a girlfriend. I stayed with a man who threw the bowl of freshly made across the kitchen as I set the table, cracked the windshield with his bare fist as I drove, and smashed
the glass vase of flowers from our garden against the mantle as I wept.
I knew that domestic violence is the misuse of power and control. I was a divorce lawyer after all. Yet I couldn’t see it clearly when I was in its midst. I compared myself to those I considered “real” victims—those with blackened eyes and broken bones and battered
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Despite decades of public education and the fact that one of every four American women reports being physically abused by a spouse or partner at some point, many people still don’t understand domestic violence. Whether you are a welder or an accountant, rich or poor, a Gen Xer or a boomer—you are not immune to domestic violence.
I had to tell the truth to myself. What helped was others gently asking about what I failed to see. “Is this the first time he hit you?” “Do you think that’s normal?” The concerns of others—shared without judgment—helped me to see the seriousness of my situation. “I just called to see if you were safe. I’m worried about you.”
I was lucky. I had enough income, a number of options, and lots of support. The thousands of victims who die each year from intimate partner abuse weren’t as lucky.
The anxiety, isolation and limited options during the pandemic increase the risk of danger. If you or someone you know is experiencing the warning signs of intimate partner abuse, support is essential right now.
Call the 24-hour domestic violence hotline at (800)799-SAFE (7233). Develop a safety plan. Call an attorney knowledgeable about protection orders. Don’t wait.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. It’s the time to be aware of risks, rights, and the next small step forward toward a safe future. As for me, the only regret I ever had about my first small steps was that I didn’t make them sooner.
Sales of sweatpants up. Sales of suits down. Standards are shifting. Selections from drawers and closets are simply not the same in our virtual and remote worlds.
Expectations are different, too. Tardiness to a training, once taken as a sign of disrespect, now simply means Alex had to let their dog out to pee at the last minute.
Logically we know that in the context of the coronavirus our ideas of how we must perform cannot remain the same. But it isn’t easy. We still want what we want when we want it and when we said Friday was the deadline, we meant Friday.
We know we need a new perspective. We need to see our measures of merit differently because life is simply not the same. The lens of understanding is required when your friend just checked their bank balance and is afraid they can’t make Wednesday’s rent. When the father of three misses the meeting because the day care closed for COVID. And when loneliness lies beneath the cheerful smile on your 8 a.m. Zoom.
Before this year, we judged others and felt justified. We made plans and executed accordingly. We knew our standards for ourselves and for others. Now we question whether our two weeks of piled up laundry means we are lazy, depressed, or merely disgusting.
We might be able to call forth our compassion and forgiveness for others—”Others have it much worse”—but when our own standards start to slide south…
I can’t believe I forgot to attach the key document—twice! I’m such a f— up.
I’ve fed my family take out and leftovers for four days—am failing so bad in every way.
I’m not going to my niece’s indoor wedding reception. I know I’m being selfish.
My challenge is that the bills still need to be paid if I want my Netflix fix, that work project is not going away, and I do need an occasional shower.
What standards will we hold ourselves to in this new world? I like to think the standards don’t change whether we are in a pandemic or paradise. Be kind. Be loving. Be forgiving. And there’s no rule against extending the same generosity of spirit we show to others to ourselves. We all could use a little mercy now.
Might there be a benefit to adapting any of your performance standards during this time?
What do you extend to others that you don’t extend to yourself?
What values do you want to hold on to regardless of the conditions?
Each week at 7:55 a.m. I hit “Send”. My weekly ritual is intended help to my coworkers living in these times. My Teeny Tiny Tuesday Tips range from how to do 4 x 4 deep breathing to how to make mini-habits.
By Thursday it had already been a challenging week. I’d just returned from seeing a friend with early onset dementia. That afternoon while on Zoom (preparing to facilitate a panel on ethics in a pandemic), one person had to hop off—they had COVID. Just minutes before, I’d learned of yet another friend newly diagnosed.
By evening I decided to follow my own advice given just two days prior. I gave myself permission to set my phone aside for 20 minutes and relax in the warm waters of my antique claw foot tub. I drew my bath, dispensing with the scented salts, and slowly settled in as though at a spa where the slightly too hot temperature took a little getting used to.
My body sinks down. I lose track of time. My eyes close. I hear my phone ring across the room. I ignore it. It rings a second time. Hmmm. This could be important. I resist the urge to rush as I sit up and run through the list of possible callers. Sometimes my disabled younger sister calls twice in a row—once to tell me she’s going to leave a shopping list and then a second time to record “detergent, toilet tissue, hand soap….” Or maybe it was a call to say my client with late stage brain cancer could not make our morning call.
Or maybe someone died.
I hop up, wrap myself in the large brown bath towel, put on my glasses, and hurry to my phone. It was my sister. Not my younger one but the one who is 10 years my senior. The one who carried me around like a doll when I was a baby. The one who recently recovered from pneumonia. The one who that very afternoon had been attending to the affairs of the elderly man she’d taken care of three days a week for 15 years.
She was in the emergency room with a blood clot. And shortness of breath. They were worried about her lungs. I was worried about COVID. We speak briefly until she heads off for a CT scan. I check the rules for visitors at the hospital. No more news that night.
Our morning group text includes my brother, her son, and the two grandsons Diane raised. In the midst of our messaging is news on the diagnosis of Donald and Melania Trump. I lie on my bed. A calm centeredness washes over me. Risk of death scenarios feel familiar.
I’ve used the word “pandemic” for months now as millions around the world live with the realities of this virus each day. Some of us are merely inconvenienced. In this moment, the pandemic has never felt more personal.
Self-care matters; so does caring for others. I intend to continue to have an occasional soak in the tub. But for the foreseeable future, I’ll keep my phone nearby.
How are you caring for yourself during these times?
Is there someone who needs your loving care?
How will you balance caring for your self while caring for others
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was sworn into the United States Supreme Court August 10, 1993. That same month, I moved out of my parents’ home and into my first college dormitory. That month, my dad made sure I had opened my first credit card to account for any emergencies. I walked into college with my future and possibilities ahead of me to work toward any career path that tempted me and with a full expectation of being equally treated alongside my male classmates.
Little did I know at the time, that Justice Ginsburg, during the decade I was born, was working tirelessly as an ACLU litigator to pave the path for women to be treated equally under the law. Because of her work, I could have that credit card, I could pursue job opportunities, and it never had to occur to me that I would not receive the same full benefits as my male counterparts. I largely took for granted all the benefits of equality I now enjoyed because of her legal work.
I did not know or realize how important Ruth Bader Ginsburg was to me until much later. In 1995, when this photo of me was taken in front of the United States Supreme Court, I had decided I would pursue law school as an extension of the work I was doing in the local domestic violence shelter. By this time there were two women serving on the highest court and in my speech class for our after-dinner speech assignment, Justice Dunne accepted her nomination to the high court.
It was only after law school and well into my legal career when I started to understand and deeply appreciate the relatively few women role models who were available. I identified with Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s causes, admired her steady, well-reasoned and tempered approach. To this day I wish I could be more like her and better control my emotions when feeling impassioned.
Politics aside, when I learned of Justice Ginsburg’s passing, I felt a sadness in my heart I had not yet experienced. She is the first hero for whom I grieve. Her death signifies a closing chapter of women’s work done and not to be forgotten. Will her legacy be lost? Will the generations of women who come next remember Ruth? Will the lady lawyers of the future continue to be inspired by her? Will they honor her with their legal work going forward?
May It Please the Court is the traditional opening for attorneys to address the court prior to presenting their oral argument. As I continue reflecting on the passing of this powerful woman and one of the greatest legal minds I have studied, I see I want my life’s work as a lawyer to be well thought out, steady, full of bravery in my advocacy, and ever mindful of the women and lawyers who would come after me. I want to live a legal life inspired by her and a new whispered mantra may now be “May it please you Ruth.”
“I’m surprised by the depth of my sadness,” I say, tears falling from eyes still swollen from the news of the day before. “She meant a lot to a lot of people who fought for justice, especially for the oppressed,” my sweetheart comforts.
Yes. A lot. From little girls to longtime lawyers.
One gift of the many past deaths of those I cherished is that loss of a life—no matter how extraordinary— can be seen with some measure of perspective. A week later, my eyes clearer, I see how Ruth paved my personal path for decades.
In the 1970s while she argued landmark cases on women’s rights, I was a budding feminist. I read Ms. Magazine monthly. I marched in protest to sexist policies. I applied to law school.
The announcement of RBG’s 1993 appointment was unforgettable. I sat glued to the television watching a woman of 5 foot 2 like me bringing hope for our country’s good.
She taught at Columbia Law School and co-authored the first textbook on sex discrimination.
Her writings and rulings from the Supreme Court were my curriculum for nearly a decade when, a law school adjunct, I taught Women and the Law. I became a columnist for the Women’s Law Journal, 30 years after RBG co-founded the Women’s Rights Law Reporter.
Hearing her speak at a Harvard Law School graduation on warm day in May was thrilling. My joy was only surpassed by seeing my child in his cap and gown.
Her victories and her strategies plant in me the knowing that, for each of us, there is a time when we are called to that which is ours to do. When Ginsburg was at the ACLU, she oversaw hundreds of cases of discrimination. One summer day I phoned the ACLU. It was time for our state to pursue the right for same sex couples to marry. It was our law firm’s time to further ACLU’s mission of our state motto—equality before the law—.
Her dissent in the face of a disappointment—the overturning by the Supreme Court of a key provision of the Voting Rights Act—catapulted her into fame. Shy by nature, she became a cultural icon in the final decade of her life, showing up everywhere from an Oscar winning documentary to the tiny tree ornaments I gave to my law partners for Christmas. She inspired generations despite never seeking the spotlight. For this she will be my teacher all of my days.
Last month RBG was to come to our city to celebrate the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage. We were beyond excited. Instead, a month later I was glued to a screen watching her memorial service with the same fervent attention as the day she was sworn in. My heart—once swelling with hope—now a horrible ache.
I hope my days will be even longer than hers. Yes, I do my pushups.
Is it possible to take such a momentous loss and turn it into hope? To possibility? To good? Again, the words and wisdom of Ruth show the way.
I would like to be remembered as someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the very best of her ability.” —Ruth Bader Ginsburg
We may not be able to fulfill her “most fervent wish” that she not be replaced until we have a new president. But we can honor the Notorious RBG by asking What would Ruth do?
Our grief is palpable.
May our grit be greater.
And it’s our turn.
“What did you wear?” she asked enthusiastically. It was a sweet acknowledgment that the talk I’d given that day was of some import.
“Wait. Let me guess. You wore black.”
I chuckled at the teasing of my friend knowing my closet is full of black dresses, black shirts, and black skirts. In my immediate defense I describe the delicate ivory blouse that peaked out from under my black jacket and the vintage necklace hung alongside it.
Most mornings after meditation, tea, and vitamin D – I make my way my dresser where strands of white, gold, black, silver, and red hang on a stand that spins for the right selection. A glass plate holds a handful of sparkling gems. More than one box keeps the earing collection. A lacquered bowl holds bracelets.
Marie Kondo would love to get her pretty little hands on this display.
Like my former cupboard of Tupperware, this assortment evolved without great intention. The most precious arrived as gifts. Therese, Kaitlyn, and Bev all knew that antiques from their mothers or grandmothers would never be worn by them but would warm my heart through and through. Gretchen claimed I once saved her life driving her red Volvo stick shift through red lights to a hospital emergency room. Her gratitude was shown in long string of tiny garnets kept safe in a green felt bag.
Remote working in 2020 has freed countless people from the need to do daily hair, makeup, and wardrobe like they did for days in the office. Time, money, and energy saved. But for me, this moment in front of the mirror matters.
I don’t “have to” do it. I “get to” do it.
Adornment by humans is ancient. From the treasures worn by Egyptian pharaohs to the crowns of kings, it tells the world who we are or lets them know the power we hold. Just as our clothing communicates, our accessories are a language. What am I trying to say?
Nearly every day, I follow the news. Of the world, of my community, of my many friends. Much of it isn’t pretty. I could that extra minute or two of my day in prayer or pranayama or child’s pose. I choose instead a moment of embellishment to remind me to bring a bit of beauty into my day and into the world.
And I like the way it looks with all that black.
Do you have daily rituals that lift your spirit?
When your mood is lifted, how does it impact others?
What place does beauty have in your life?
This blog is made available to the reader by Koenig|Dunne for educational purposes only, to provide general information and understanding of the law, and not to provide specific legal advice. By reading this blog, no attorney-client relationship is developed between the law firm and the reader. This blog should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state. The content of this blog is not an advertisement for legal services.