Monday, June 20, 2022

Challenges of Blending - 4 Years In

     We marked our 4th wedding anniversary on June 2nd and we spent that time in Puerto Penasco, Mexico with Ryan.  The girls were with their dad on a national park roadtrip.  After we got home, we had the girls for a couple of days and they were off again for a one week California trip with their Dad.  They returned last night on Father's Day to settle back into our weekly routine.  When we decided to marry 5 years ago and blend our two families, I don't think either of us could have predicted just how difficult this task would be.

    We came to our new life by vastly different roads.  I came to our new path a widow in my 40's with one boy from my first marriage.  Losing his mom at 10 years old and moving forward on a new path has been a rocky road for Ryan.  Maybe it was pie in the sky thinking that he would openly accept a step-mother.  The reality is he tolerates a step-mother and that has caused many issues for us in our four years of marriage. Added to that was living with and taking care of my Mom for the first 3 years of our marriage.  While Jennie agreed to take on that task, it caused way too much stress in our house.  I am grateful for the time that Ryan got to spend with his grandma, but I wonder sometimes if that situation caused more trouble for us than it was worth.

    Jennie came to our new path via divorce from a serial cheater husband.  When we first met and eventually started talking about blending our families, she had primary custody of her three girls.  The girls dad would see them every other weekend, leaving most of the burden falling on Jennie.  As things started to get serious, we explored having the girls move to Tucson and we had an initial agreement on the part of their dad.  That did not end up happening as he reneged on his agreement and pushed for 50/50 custody.  To make it possible for us to marry, I transferred from my office in Tucson to our main office in Phoenix.  

    The reality is that one side of the equation was going to have to make a change in order to push forward as a married couple.  If I didn't relocate, it was going to be Jennie that relocated.  The reality is it would have been more of a change for the girls as they were entrenched in their school; they had grandparents and a father in Phoenix.  For Ryan and I, while we had lived in Tucson for all of his life, our ties to that area were not much:  work family and parish family.  

     One of the biggest issues in our blended family is that we have an unequal yoke with regards to our children's other parent.  On my side of the family I am the only natural parent in the picture.  There is no ex-wife to deal with, no splitting of custody with Ryan's mom.  He lives in our house 100% of the time and all of the parenting falls on us.  On Jennie's side of the equation, her girls live with us 50% (or so) of the time.  She was forced into a custody agreement that she did not want.  Regardless of what her ex-husband says, I believe he pushed for 50/50 custody only when he saw Jennie moving on with her life.  I would love to have a crystal ball and see what would have happened on the custody front had she never met me.  My guess is she would have retained primary custody, but I could be wrong on that.

    With this 50/50 agreement, we never have a chance to get into any rhythm with the girls.  They are with their dad every Monday/Tuesday; with their Mom every Wednesday/Thursday and they alternate weeks on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  We get them for 5 days, they are away for 2, back for 2 and away for 5. 

    The next issue that has arisen over our time together is dealing with the girls dad.  Much could be said about our situation and the challenges that come out of it.  But one thing is for sure...Jennie does not have to deal with an ex-spouse meddling in our marriage.  Ryan does not have one set of rules in our house, with a completely different set of rules in the other parent's house.  For example, he is off his computer at 8:30 every night and in bed at 10:00 every night.  Outside of a select events, that schedule does not change.  The same can not be said for the girls.  When they are with us, Jennie tries to enforce a regimented bed time, but the push back is strong.  Why?  Because when they are at their Dad's house, they are still on their electronics towards 11PM or so.  When they return home, it is always a battle to try and enforce the rules of the house.

    Ryan knows why my marriage ended.  It ended because Theresa died.  We had a good marriage, we had a happy marriage.  Had she not gotten sick, we would still be living in Tucson approaching 30 years of marriage.  The girls do have some idea of why their parents marriage ended.  However, they have been give a one-sided narrative, provided by their father, on why the marriage ended.  When he finally had to talk to his oldest about that topic, he could not answer the question openly and honestly.  There was a spin that he put on it, ultimately making it appear that his wife did not make him happy and there were red flags before they were married.  After he had that talk with his oldest, she was cold towards her mom for nearly a year.  She was essentially told her mom was not a good wife, who had many red flags and ultimately "forced" his hand toward infidelity.  My suggestion was for Jennie to tell her side of the story but she chose to not due so to avoid "poisoning" the girls view of their dad.

    One of the hardest things for me as a husband is to know how difficult my wife's first marriage was.  Part of this knowledge was self-inflicted.  When we were cleaning out Jennie's house for sale I came across an old laptop that needed to be trashed.  I pulled the hard drive and was going to wipe it.  Being of the investigative mindset, I imaged the drive and did a forensic analysis of the drive.  In that analysis I found 18 months of chat history between the ex-husband and a large number of women.  While he may have admitted to being with a few women, that number was much higher than Jennie had been told.  Add to that the fact that her ex-husband has put much blame on her when talking to the oldest about why the marriage failed and it is a recipe for pure anger.

    When we talked to her parents about getting married and asking her dad for her hand, there was an interesting conversation that came out that evening.  I had always thought it was forgiving of her parents that they had overlooked all the evil that was done to their daughter and continued to have a relationship with her ex-husband.  I had told Jennie if my son-in-law had done the things her ex-husband did to her on my daughter, I would likely have knocked his teeth down his throat.  It turned out that it wasn't so much forgiveness as anxiety.  The concern was if something were to happen to Jennie, they were afraid that the girls dad would move them away and they would not see them anymore.  The emotional side of my brain understands that position. The rational side of my brain says it doesn't matter how they treat him, he would do whatever he wanted to do if it were to come to that situation.  

    There are so many frustrations that have came up over our time together.  It frustrates me that the court documents state that Joel is to pay for expenses for the girls based on income, which means about a 75/25 split.  However, that has morphed into a 50/50 because he refuses to pay for things unless they are equally split.  It frustrates me that the private school tuition for the girls runs north of 30K per year and their dad pays $0 for it.  It frustrates me that Jennie's family continues to comment on what a great father Joel is, while I get little credit for making it possible for the girls to attend private school by paying 100% of the household expenses.  It frustrates me that yesterday was fathers day and I did not get one happy fathers day from Jennie's family or children.  It frustrates me that Ryan and I don't fit in to our new extended family.

    Please pray for our family.  This blending experience has been one of the most difficult things I've worked on and looks to continue being difficult for the near future.

Saturday, June 4, 2022

Four Years

    I have written before that one of my biggest regrets in my first marriage was that we did not take enough pictures and videos of our family interactions.  A second regret is that in those years since Theresa's repose, many of my memories are already fading away.  I find myself thinking about what countries did we visit; what year was it that we were in the St. Patrick's day parade in Killarney?  How nice it would be to have something physical, or at least digital, to refresh my memory.  

    Today marks 4 years since Jennie and I said, "I do".  In the span of those 1,461 days, there have been many memorable events.  I can not think of a better occasion than our wedding anniversary to memorialize some of those days/events.  So, with an imperfect memory, here goes:

June 10, 2017

 I had "hijacked" a video made by Bishop Robert Barron and injected a few photos into it. At the end of the video I asked Jennie to marry me and she said yes!

June 23, 2017 - I had left for my 2 weeks of in-residence training at the Byzantine seminary in Pittsburgh.  Jennie flew out for the weekend and was surprised when I told her to come and pick me up on Friday night.  I guess she thought I was really being cloistered.  We made our way to an Irish pub where we walked and did a little dance in the rain.  We spent some of the time watching a singing performance by Emma (via FaceTime).  That weekend we spent exploring Pittsburgh and learning that we loved to visit the churches.  Little did we know that it would also signal the beginning of the Pipta inquisition!  

November 24, 2017 - This was the last day spent in my house in Oro Valley, AZ.  The movers had already picked everything up and we loaded the last remnants into Jennie's minivan for their trek up north to Cave Creek.  We still had another month in Tucson, but all of our belonging were gone.

December 8, 2017 - We spent this weekend touring many of my favorite places in Tucson.  I had been in Tucson since June 2004 and other than my home growing up, this had been the place where I had lived the longest.  We were sure to visit Frankies for their famous Frankie's Fries.  We had visited Frankies for the first time earlier in 2017 and Jennie was trying to be all "lady-like" and order something sensible.  When I told her about the heavenly mix of fries, cheese-whiz and beef, I saw her eyes light up and I knew she was a keeper.

Christmas 2017 - We closed on Happy Coyote Trail on the 15th of December and the movers arrived with all of our belongings on the 18th.  Imagine my surprise when Jennie said, "we're hosting Christmas dinner this year".  Talk about an epic effort to get things unpacked.  The house looked a little empty with just my stuff.  We did manage to pick out a Christmas tree from the lot at St. Gabriel's.

Spring 2018 

     In early February we drove to Palm Springs, CA for a wedding.  Along the way we stopped at Joshua Tree NP and found an eclectic "junk" shop where we picked up a really nice crucifix with the St. Benedict medal in it.  We had lots of fun at the wedding, with Jennie trying to open up the storage closet because she thought it was our room.  In March we took Ryan to Universal Studio in CA and visited the beach.  The spring was when we got serious about getting Jennie's house up to sale standards and we attacked the disaster that was Emma's room.  Everything was completed on time and that house closed 2 days before we were married.

Summer 2018 

     June brought us to the Altar and we were married on the second.  Not wanting to waste any time, we left the next day for our honeymoon in France.  We saw so many wonderful places and learned how to flow with the punches when our rail trip to Lourdes was messed up.  We  ended up taking the train to Bordeaux, grabbing a rental car and driving the rest of the way.  The rest of the summer was spent getting our house in order, including a remodel of the back yard.  We also took a little trip up to Flagstaff for an informational seminar on the Order of The Holy Sepulcher.


Fall - 2018

    After our busy summer we had a relatively quiet fall.  Jennie took a trip to Colorado to visit a friend and visited the beautiful cathedral in Denver.  One thing that Jennie learned in the honeymoon phase is that her new husband isn't afraid to take on projects.  We talked about putting a mantle above the fireplace which required a little little of demolition and reconstruction.  She was out running some errands and came home to a hole in the wall above the fireplace.  The look on her face was priceless.  Another first in our marriage was her first ride on my motorcycle.  Emma took some video as we rode away and said, "Don't die".  We all visited Flagstaff for the North Pole experience and hosted Christmas at our place.

Winter/Spring 2019 

     The year started off with another project around the house.  When we bought our house the carpet in the bedrooms was nasty.  We tried to clean them but they looked to be original to the house.  First up was a removal of the carpet in the master bedroom and a hardwood replacement.  Jennie spent a couple of days with her youngest sister, driving her down to Sierra Vista which was the starting point for her hike of the Arizona trail.  We bought some new furniture for the young girls room, getting rid of the old broken stuff from before.  For Ryan's spring break, Jennie, Ryan and I took a trip to Bryce Canyon and Zion National park.  We stayed in a little house and had a great time.  Emma and Charlotte starred in their school play.  For our first anniversary and Jennie's birthday, we took a road trip to Tubac, staying at a golf resort where the movie Tin Cup was filmed.  Towards the end of spring, Ryan and I went on a cruise out of Ft. Lauderdale visiting a private island, Grand Turk and La Romana.  It was an introduction to different vacations for the parents as Jennie does not like cruising and I do not like Disney.We attended the first mass for a newly ordained priest, Fr. Christopher Gossen, at St. Bernards.


Summer/Fall - 2019

    It was vacation time for the girls.  Jennie and the girls took off for California and Disney not long after Ryan and I returned from our cruise.  They met up with her sister, brother-in-law, Mom and Dad.  They had a great time at the park and she was happy to have made that vacation.  Since summer rates made golfing more affordable, we played a bit more.  In addition to Dove Valley, we played in Sedona and Prescott Valley.  Prescott Valley was interesting as we attended the morning Divine Liturgy at St. Stephens were we both smelled a perfume smell of roses.  No one around us could smell it.  As we were playing the round of golf, a monsoon storm came in and our cart decided to stop working on the 17th hole.  We were at least 1/2 a mile from the clubhouse in the middle of a crazy thunderstorm.  We both started thinking that the perfume smell was meant to warn us of our pending demise.  We found time one weekend to visit Payson and the Mogollon Rim, getting out of the valley heat for a day.  One Sunday Jennie, Ryan, Mom and I went to the greek festival, ate some great food and saw a beautiful byzantine church.  All of the kids and parents took part in the St. Vincent de Paul charity walk.  Jennie and I found another weekend to sneak off to Flagstaff and take in some of the beautiful weather and fall scenery.  We celebrate my 49th birthday at home and with a family dinner at Portillo's in Scottsdale.  As fate would have it, that would be the last time I saw Jennie's father alive.  The girls met their family for a pumpkin patch day and that turned out to be their last time with Art too.

October 2019

    Jennie and I were not strangers to trauma, sadness and death.  The simple fact is that we are a married couple because of the death of my wife and the death of her civil marriage.  If Theresa had not gotten sick from breast cancer and died, I would have never known Jennie.  Had Joel not decided to date many other people during his marriage, Jennie would never have known me.  When we married I was about to turn 48 and she was about to turn 43.  As the youngest in my family, I had lost my dad in 2003 when I was 32.  My mom was sick with ovarian cancer and was turning 81 in October.  It was inevitable that we would be dealing with the loss of another parent sooner, rather than later, in our marriage.  On the evening of 10/22, I went to the gym and was running on the treadmill.  I took a call from my brother who told me that something had happened to Jennie's dad and I needed to come home.  As I was leaving, Jennie called me to tell me that her Mom found her Dad dead on the front room floor.  We drove over to their house and the Scottsdale police were treating it as a crime scene.  I remember thinking on the way over to their house that of our 3 living parents, Art was not the one I thought who would go first.  He was born into eternity on the feast day of St. John Paul II and buried on the memorial of his being born into earthly life.  

Thanksgiving/ Christmas 2019

    As we moved into the holiday season, we attended an 80's themed fund raiser for Jennie's school.  I'm not the dress up type but I figured why not play the part of Crockett for the event.  I bought white linen pants, white linen jack and an 80's pink t-shirt.  We had a blast that night.  Thanksgiving came and we were fortunate to have the girls that year.  I know this was a hard holiday for my wife, seeing an empty chair at the table for the first time.  As we moved into December, Jennie sent me a picture of a Christmas tree in New York with St. Patrick's in the background and snow falling.  She said she would love to visit NYC at Christmas one day.  She learned something about her husband that December.  If you put an idea in my head and fill my glass with rum, dreams just might come to life.  We booked a 4 day trip to NYC, coming back on Christmas Eve.  What a great time we had in the city, all lit up for Christmas.  We attended St. Stephens for the Nativity Divine Liturgy and started celebrating our Christmas season.

Winter/Spring 2020

    Our 2020 started off with New Years Eve in Tucson as Jennie was photographing a wedding on New Years Day at the San Xavier mission.  We went up to see the Byzantine shrine on Mt. Lemmon and spent NYE at the Westin La Paloma.  The weather was great and we had a lot of fun.  Another month, another demolition project.  When we bought our house the tile on the front patio was suspect and had begun to fall apart.  I took the opportunity to remove it and put some new stuff down.  Jennie and Emma visited a school on the reservation in Northeast Arizona to deliver some clothes and coats.  She got to spend the night in the cloister where Sr. Katherine Drexel once lived.  She might have missed her calling as a nun!  We had an opportunity to attend a fundraiser for the Franciscan Friars of the Holy Spirit called the Friar-Q.  We attended a mass offered by Bishop James Wall, Ad Orientem, and had a great time that the event with Jennie's Mom.  Shortly after that this crazy little thing called Covid became all the rage.  Jennie's school was the first casualty and they decided they would finish the school year online.  Ryan's school followed after that and we began this crazy period of home school.  My office decided that we would be divided into groups and work 1 week on, 1 week off.  This continued until August.  I took that opportunity to tear up our master bathroom, remove the tub and redo the tile.   Arizona eventually succumbed to pressure and the governor instituted a stay at home order.  We went out for dinner on the night before it took place and people thought we were crazy.  Along the way we drank way too much and got a little bit of exercise thanks to our fortuitous Peloton purchase.  The school year ended and we had hope that Covid would be going away soon.

Summer - 2020

    Well, summer came and the world was still going crazy.  In addition to the Covid nonsense we had riots all over the country, rhetoric about stolen elections and a near breakdown of society.  Jennie had enough of it and took the girls up to see her sister in Steamboat Springs, CO.  They drove right through the heart of Covid, the Navajo reservation and stayed in hotels.  They had a great time, despite the liberal loonies in Colorado.  Ryan and I could not make the trip as he started school in July.  However, it was such a beautiful place that Jennie, Ryan and I snuck off for a quick trip to Durango, CO.  Ryan and I got Jennie out of her comfort zone by taking her white water rafting.  We returned home to find out that Ryan still was going to be doing home school.  Pretty soon September came and I was nearing by 50th birthday.  Jennie and I got away for a night to the McCormick Ranch resort to celebrate.  We also planned a getaway to Estes Park but that ended up being a bust due to wildfires.  Because of Covid, airfares were dirt cheap and we were able to use points to go to Puerto Vallarta for 3 days at no cost to us.  That's when we really celebrated my 50th!

Fall  - 2020

    We jetted off to Puerto Vallarta for a 3 day getaway.  Covid had made travel crazy cheap and we took advantage of this.   After we returned home, Emma and I did a project to build a tortoise habitat for the tortoise she was going to buy.  She came up with the plan and I made it happen.  We hosted Christmas and had all the kids home for New Years eve.  OK everyone, it's 12:01AM....get to bed.  Jennie's school construction was completed and they started the new year in a new school.  We helped get everything organized and ready for the kids to return.

Winter/Spring - 2021

    2021 started off slowly and we had nothing planned until the summer break.  Jennie went to watch Charlotte sing at the Mass of Healing with the Order of Malta.  I turned on the TV and was able to catch a glimpse of her looking all sexy in church.  Jennie and the girls took a trip up to Flagstaff to catch some snow and visit BeariZona.  All was going well until April when my Mom fell down in the house and broke her hip.  Jennie called me at work to tell me that she had fallen.  I had her call 911 and get the fire department to help.  The x-ray confirmed a broken hip and they repaired it the next morning.  She was already in bad shape with ovarian cancer and COPD and this issue turned out to be the final straw.  My brother came to stay with her once she returned home as she needed 24x7 care. In late May or early June we had to have her transported back to the hospital.  We had a trip planned to Omaha and St. Louis and we ended up taking the trip.  Before leaving I had Fr. Diodoro Mendoza visit to give her last rites and he told her that all would be ok.

  It was nice to see some of my old favorites and to visit family in both locations.  When we returned they move Mom to hospice and on Father's Day she was born into eternity.  We had her funeral Divine Liturgy a few days later and planned to bury her with Theresa at the St. Stephen's columbarium.  

Summer/Fall - 2021

    The back half of 2021 saw a return some normalcy in the world and in our lives.  In early July we took a trip to Cancun and had a great time.  Although there was that moment of panic when we had to test to get back into the USA.  Thank you Joe Biden for making me prove my worth to return to my own country.  After we got back, Jennie and the girls made another trip to Steamboat Springs, while Ryan and I returned to school and work.  We had someone give us a weekend at a house in Flagstaff and we jumped on that offer.  We did a Flagstaff ghost tour, visited BeariZona and enjoyed the cooler temperatures.  During fall break, Ryan and I took off to Houston to catch a ship to Mexico.  Jennie and Charlotte took off to San Diego for a birthday party and girls trip.  The holidays came and all was good until December 13th.  Jennie was not feeling good and took some time to rest.  Later that night I checked her temperature and she was over 100.  A Covid home test showed her to be positive.  5 days later I woke up with a 103.7 fever and tested positive as well.  We were unable to get together with family for Christmas and it was pretty much a bust.  We exited 2021 healthy and ready to be done with it.

Challenges of Blending - 4 Years In

      We marked our 4th wedding anniversary on June 2nd and we spent that time in Puerto Penasco, Mexico with Ryan.  The girls were with the...