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But I didn't order the Poo-Poo Platter

The latest child-support hearing was scheduled for an awkward time: 8:30 on a weekday morning. I could leave the house by 7:00 and be downtown in 20 minutes, with ample parking opportunities, or I could depart at 7:30 and turn it into battle of wits, me versus all the other commuters. In short, I could either arrive downtown an hour early, or risk getting stuck in traffic and suffering a stress-induced meltdown just in time to appear in court. I decided to go early. There’s a hotel across the street from the courthouse. Maybe I’d grab a bite of breakfast, sip some coffee, read a book.

My ex was “appearing by phone,” as they say. I considered making my appearance audible-only, but decided against it. We’ve been divorced almost 13 years, and because my ex rarely pays child support, I’ve been to a lot of hearings over the years. I think it helps to show up, on behalf of my kids, to let the judge and the child support people that I’m still paying attention. I often learn things that I wouldn’t know otherwise, like how long it might take for a person to get on Social Security Disability, or why they call this the “expedited process” when it goes on forever—for entire childhoods, really. Okay, I never dared ask that last question, but one of these times I might.

Right away I ditched the idea of having a hotel breakfast. Too expensive. Instead I grabbed an Egg McMuffin and coffee at the drive-thru. Well, I intended to use the drive-thru, but when I drove up to the menu marquee, I couldn’t find the breakfast menu. And instead of making a scene, I decided to get out of line and go inside. On the door, I noticed a sign that said, “It’s not just a job. It’s a career.” I snickered at that, and then scolded myself for being so judgmental, especially in this economy.

Inside, after only about three minutes of staring at the menu, I located the breakfast options in the lower right corner in very tiny print. I don’t know what I was hoping to find, but it wasn’t there. So I ordered the McMuffin. The guy behind the counter was about my age, yet unlike me he was kind and dignified. I wondered if he had kids. If he did, I bet he paid child support, and not just because it was garnished from his wages. He was doing this for the kids, you could tell. But I’m no judge of character, so I could be totally wrong.

By 7:20 I had arrived at the Crowne Plaza, coffee in hand and McMuffin consumed. The parking ramp is behind the hotel, so I had to go through the mezzanine level, where all the meeting rooms are, to get to the lobby. As I walked past the ballroom, I remembered that I once attended a work convention here. And even then—forehead bonk—I had to leave my work duties at the convention to attend a hearing across the street. Five years before that, my ex’s dad sued me for visits with the kids. He wanted visits totally on his terms, taking into account his extensive Elder Hostel travel schedule and to hell with what the kids needed or were comfortable with. At the time, I was being threatened with jail if I didn’t deliver the kids to him precisely as the court had ordered. He paid a court appointee thousands of dollars to convince the court I should go to jail. One minute I was talking to interior-design professionals about the future of the industry; and the next I was trying to convince a judge that as a fit parent, I should have authority over my children. Eventually, I did. And as you can tell, I’m almost completely over it.

As I descended the escalator, I scanned the lobby and headed for an empty couch over by the window. I took out my book and settled in as best I could, but already I was distracted. Glancing over at the check-in desk, it dawned on me that my ex and I had once stayed here. It was a long time ago, when the place was a Marriott or a Hilton. In fact, I realized, we had eaten here a lot. There had been a Polynesian restaurant on the top floor. We loved their Poo-Poo Platter. Oh, how we giggled as he placed the order. We had lived in Hawaii for almost a year—a grand retreat from sophomore year in college—and we knew that poo-poos were just appetizers. But still. Poo. Twice.

I wondered how many women sit around this lobby pretending to be hotel guests when they’re really just killing time before the child support hearing begins, or mentally preparing to convince a judge they shouldn’t be locked up when they have two little kids at home who depend on them for everything. Maybe the staff even recognizes the phenomenon, has a name for imposters like me. My McDonald’s coffee cup betrayed me. And yet, I could be a top professional with important meetings to attend. In fact, I’d taken the morning off from doing just that.

Just before 8:00, I headed over to the courthouse. I went through security and lifted my pant legs as requested, revealing no weaponry in my anklets. Then I checked in at the front desk where an armed guard told me to fill out a form detailing my personal financial information. A few minutes later, I talked to a nice young woman who said they were trying to get ahold of my ex, but he wasn’t picking up. I shouldn’t have been shocked, but I was. I mean, what kind of person would skip out on a child-support hearing? Certainly not the biological father of my morally upstanding and outstanding children.

Turned out, I was right and I was wrong. More accurately, I was vindicated for believing he would pick up the phone, while completely delusional in my expectations that this would result in financial support for the children. At least not on this day. Eventually, he did pick up. But the nice young woman determined there wasn’t enough information to justify wasting the judge’s time. Instead, the case would be continued, with another hearing in a few months.

Poo. Poo. Well, that’s not exactly how I said it, as I walked back across the lobby, ascended the escalator, and crossed beyond the ballroom. But really. Poo-poo indeed.
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