Why you MUST know about your 401(k) and why you don’t.

Or Merely Advice to a Younger Woman — or Man — if you wish.

I have become an avid seeker of survival skills of late. This was less by choice than by chance and for this I write of some things that I wish I had such advice, years ago. Being at a point where, perhaps, I have some wisdom or at least experience to offer — looking at life backwards — I offer you this.

How we learn from our mistakes! Too bad our successes aren’t more useful. Women! Do not relinquish your finances to anyone but yourself — single, married, divorced or any state in-between.

That being said, I made some mistakes, big time. When the notion of an intense art career combined with an intense “stay-at-home-mommy” role, I knew something had to give.

The mothering couldn’t give — biologically inconvenient are us! Pregnancy aided by physician assistance — for the first two children, and a surprise third — made for the beginning of an intense ride.

The first 10 years are a blur; coveting a nap, I do remember. Fast paced life as a CEO of the home Greenwich-style-mother-do-thisdo the best at everything, children’s parties, sports, schools, camps, nannies, tennis teams at the club, corporate events — US Open in the IBM box, a few perks. Oh — and in your spare time — start an annual film festival, a product, service, event, or as I tried — buy a post office for a future art center. Many of the older mother overachieverssyndrome there.

Then the fairy tale spun apart…. Cinderella vs. Clark Kent.

Three years of divorce court — living under the same roof, trying very hard to keep the poisonous conditions from the children.

So, I speak with some authority. I made some very bad mistakes. For which I am also writing a post called “The Worst Time to Get a Divorce is When You are Getting One.” Stay tuned.

Today is a primer for women who are either divorcing or understand that the chance of divorcing is 50/50 and the awareness needed to prevent a similar state that I found myself in. (Men are not immune — for you too). Better to know the issues than face the consequences of ignorance.

Not unlike paying attention to living a healthy life, knowing the risks of disease.

Studies show that women have different investment patterns than men. They tend to be more conservative, less impulsive than men, resulting in the turtle who wins the race, syndrome. BUT, the big caveat is that women, though they may show an aptitude, still tend to defer to a man’s abilities — of the perspective that he faces more business world finance and is more closely aligned with “bread winner’s role ”. The results are that women often relinquish the major responsibility for long term financial goals such as Retirement Plans, Life Insurance plans, 401(k), annuities, Roth, qualified and non-qualified, pensions…. Necessary evils if you wish.

You may meet this advice with resistance but know that relinquishing your finances to your husband or partner leaves you volnerable; partnerships may change but your 401 (k) will not make amends. The allegiance he may have for you will change, if your relationship changes. Ex-spouses, you will find, are not as generous as spouses. (Your relationship to your mother-in-law will also change, big time, surprise).

Would you have trusted the most popular girl in your high school clique with all of your material possessions, granted that probably was not of great value then? The point being — relationships can and most often do change, without guarantees. YOU want guarantees, this is your future.

If you find yourself already too late for this advice — despite murderous impulses — your remedy is of a legal sort. Be aware that the courts, the legal system has a bias toward men, people that look alike often do. (However, women are granted superior intellect, ask scientists — our redeeming survival mechanism).

Legal where-with-all is not just for law school grads, though they will try to convince you otherwise. It is not as complicated as you may think.

Not having the funds necessary to hire a lawyer might be a blessing in disguise; you will be prevented from the huge bill at the end of your efforts to rectify the issues. Surprise! You CAN do it!

Law is like a foreign language, so learn the terms and google away. You would be surprised at the answers you can get, without paying for those sacred legal services.

Revenge, poverty, ethics, promises broken are bigger motivators than the commitment most lawyers make — at an unthinkable hourly rate.

Be aware that it is unethical, if not against the “Rules” — the lawyer’s book of conduct — to drop clients when their fees are unpaid.

If you are low income, apply for waivers for all fees and court costs, in making the necessary actions.

First common-sense reminder — you DO know this, after all, you have been around boys then men for some time now — figure out what motivates who ever you are up against.

Here is a good example. Victims of some professions have a process for making grievance complaints about the services hired, say, a legal practice. Now think about the motivation principle. How likely will it be that a panel of attorneys will find a peer group of attorneys culpable?

Attorneys will only betray their tribe in cases of really stupid, criminal-like desperate financial malpractice thefts. I laid out two sound cases and the responses that came back from these esteemed authorities had enough mistakes to make the most checkered clerk look good.

Lawyers against lawyers, not happening. Same goes for Citizens Police Review Commissions — don’t waste your time (like I did).

What really counts is what motivates the courts. I have had a Perry Mason-likedialogue in my head for months. It makes for an interesting rant but only with myself— so, write it down (for the 12th time, if it will make you happy). By the twelfth time it will start to become less convincing and perhaps even whiny. Why? Because it is your passion, not that of anyone else’s concern.

What are the concerns of the COURT? To keep the dockets moving along at an acceptable pace. Remember that the court officials report to a score keeper too. This is the area that a lawyer does have it over you. The acts of making of the correct motion (a call for action), can seriously harm or aid your strategy. Think chess game, not Dostoyevsky.

Study the Judgments (decisions) of similar cases in order to understand the chess game moves of the legal system. The Court will have natural biases that are not in your favor, so you need to be twice as good (we’ve heard that before).

Don’t expect a ruling based on common sense or based on the obviousness of the case. Judges will make decisions based on case law, local, state or federal laws and the RULES of the courtroom.

Self-litigation is going the way of many do-it-yourself activities and gaining more support. Website to help you include Courtroom 5, Self-Representative Litigants Network or SRIN.org, or IAALS.du.edu; even the AmericanBar.orghas self-litigation information.

Remember there are many pros for self-litigation: lawyers are expensive, spread too thin, have less at stake than you do, and you know the case better than anyone — or you should.

Now go, enjoy your youth with this awareness in the background!!!

— -Debra Sherwood

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The Love of my Life was from Ukraine

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A fairy tale that grew out of the land that is now a bed of horrors

It was the winter of 2006 and I had been divorced for a year. As was a likely meeting ground of the recently divorced, internet dating became my dance card. My choice of dating sites was JDate, as in Jewish Dating. During those days, it was the place that attracted a more educated clientele with a common cultural background. My Jewish background had about 20 years on it; since my reform conversion. I also, made several friends through these “dates”.

The dates I accepted/ pursued were clever, clearly cerebral in their responses to my queries, the first hurdle. From our on-line kibbutzim, we guessed as to what would give us distinction, class, in choosing a mutually agreeable location and or event which to meet; add the specific venue; park, restaurant, art museum, bar, or coffee shop. The search for ‘chemistry’ represented a wide geographical range; from New Jersey, Fairfield County, New York City, and of course my favorite, coming to Greenwich, where I lived.

My first date with Daniil was in Greenwich (a positive) and at a Starbucks on Greenwich Ave, (good for convenience, low on originality). Accuracy of photo? I arrived wearing a long black woolen coat, beloved for its roomy hood. Donning the coat, pulling up the hood, granted me a likeness to the French Lieutenant’s Woman, and her mystique, as she stood at the edge of a misty dock.

Yes, we easily located each other among the low-density groupings on a Saturday evening in a coffee shop. Both of us — with eyes darting from one to another — matched the recalled profile images. His mannerisms and ability to make me feel immediately at ease, was seductive, I do — despite my feminist side — really swoon for traditional manners. I felt taken care of, a feeling that was lacking in my past.

His accent-clearly present — provided the first subject of fascination. Identifying as coming to the US from Ukraine at the age of 12, I gleefully boasted “oh, I have been to Russia”. That must have distinguished me from his usual coffee dates. I likely said Russia instead of USSR, thought my visit in 1977 was clearly the days of the Iron Curtain. (Missing the fact that he was from the Ukraine, not Russia more than once).

Ukraine Jewish history is filled with the good and bad, I now know.

Before 1939, 1.5 million Jews lived in Ukraine, and it was one of the three largest Jewish populations in the world. It was a place rich in creative endeavors; for writers, play writes, musicians. Yiddish was one of the three official languages.

However, it was also the place of notorious Nazi crimes and pogroms. There exists a horse statue in a public square in honor of the Bogdan Chmielnicki- a 17th Century leader of the Cossack Rebellion- who, until the rise of Hitler, was the greatest murder of Jews in all of Jewish history. In 1941, the Nazi’s broke their non-aggression treaty with Russia slaughtering up to 1 million Jews.

I recall the movement called the brain drain- in the 1980’s- when Daniil’s family emigrated from Ukraine. No shortage of brain in his family of four. When asked about the reason they left Ukraine, his mother suggested that things were getting worse for the Jews, and they had had enough.

Daniil and I were in contrast of my midwestern upbringing. Each of us challenged and fascinated by the others’ experiences, the exotic nature of his background as well as clearly of brilliant intellect. I was given the contents of the poetry he wrote at the age of 16. It is quite moving and mature.

Conversation was easy and before long it was closing time. Still very much in the moment — the scripted questions were addressed. We had far from exhausted our interest in passing more time together. It was a Saturday night, my kids were with their father, so when we broached the subject of a ”late night diner” — as he liked to reminisce — I enthusiastically announced that I knew a place, the very uncoy response was “my house.”

It was an occasion that we both would later acknowledge as an extraordinary night- when cosmic events were willed into our orbits- would collide. Looking back, that collision became a life changing event, meeting the love of my life.

Daniil was living in Brooklyn with his parents. He traveled the 2-hour multiple train ride each Friday and we spent dreamy weekends together in Greenwich. We shared a degree of intimacy I had never known and do not expect that I ever will again. Memories of sleeping facing each other, so close that we consumed each other’s spent oxygen. The act of holding hands; as memorable as the most exquisite lovemaking. He called me his ‘notional wife’ and the letters, emails levitated between us — were grand gestures of affection, wit, and grace. He captured my imagination and he doted on my essence.

His patience and devotion, present when my migraines took us to the ER, never inconvenienced, as he sat with me while I was treated with narcotics allowing for a sleep recovery.

It would catch me by surprise, during times that he had reason to state his birthday; being 14 years younger seemed inconceivable. But then so did time, space and other real measurements. Moments were quixotic, left to the moments.

The years of magic with Daniil survived extraordinarily difficult times. The loss of his young sons in his divorce, explained the suffering that he would endure. There were episodes of mental confusion and loss of identity- which came on randomly- which I now know as a ‘disappearing fugue’. Daniil had a very rare form of psychiatric abnormality characterized by reversible amnesia, where a person can be ‘lost’ for a day, a month to years.

I lost him for a year to a “fugue”. No emails, no calls, nothing in response to my desperate appeals to know the unknowable. Then one day, as though nothing was amiss, I received his call. Sobbing for relief and joy, we resumed where we had left off, except that it wasn’t and never could be again.

We slowly, unwound the intensity of our passion to a level that we could imagine a disconnect. And we did, I left the New York area, and the connection broke with the exception of my announcement of the passing of my mother. He and my mother bonded like neither of my two husbands came close to.

And then one day, I sought to read the terms of his divorce judgment. It was a trial that was easily found on-line. The ‘love of my life’ was sadly replaced by a devastating disappointment reading of his divorce. He hadn’t been denied his sons, as I had so strongly assumed and empathized with. After all grief was expectable, with such a loss — I put myself in his place.

That, however, wasn’t the truth. The divorce judgment made it clear that his parental rights were predilected on a child support. So, it was a choice he made. It was his determination that those conditions were not something he could make. Even with an MBA from a prominent school, he was resigned from the wherewithal of a job. He was essentially disabled, and I understand how mental illness can render even the most brilliant, helpless. The picture became clearer; however, the choice was not something he made clear to me. He convinced me that is was the mental illness of his ex-wife and his helplessness over the proceedings. He once said, “it is surprising how low the expectations of me have become.” Yep, we teach people how to treat us.

It is a daunting loss, when such a strong fairy tale is irrevocably damaged. Does that lessen the power of the experience, the strength of the love, the adoration for the realm suspending facts, a veil of truth? Fairy tales are rarely just what they seem, as is often learned. The story of Daniil has many layers to absorb, experienced to me as a wonderful once upon a time….

-Debra Sherwood

Gold filings

Did someone say WALK????

Blogiary, gold filings is getting off to a slow start. I don’t believe that I am more technically challenged than the next guy, but oh, a user friendly mode is highly desirable. Like texting on the phone and have the auto-correct mess-up ever other word, grrrr. There is a learning curve on this platform.

Anyway, the blogger advisors are suggesting to find a theme, a topic or something you feel strong about and go for it. Another approach to teasing out the subject is to ask oneself, ” what can you talk about for thirty minutes?”

During my most useful problem solving time– that would be when I am walking my dog, Max– those pesky little (or not so little) undercurrents of brain activity stir around. I am always grateful when a golden filing, or nugget surfaces with some reasonable resolutions, conundrums or looniness. Flipping through big headlines– art, health, family, money, climate change–lies the real matter, sub-titles. A real mental stew.

I pay attention to the activity of neurotransmitter–you know, the feel good hormone– to evaluate the veracity of my feelings. Ok, I’m walking Max who is interminably slow. But, it’s his walk and if smelling every blade of grass to extract other members of his species, well, that’s ok. I’m putting his biological thing to my own use. Passing thoughts through this noggin, I look toward a burst of mental affirmations, the strongest feelings. Translated, “that idea works!” Happily, Max and I could get out of the rain.

So here goes, the brightest spark’s offering, of primal importance–today anyway. A gold filing….

What they don’t talk about” coming from a mature female voice on a TV commercial. “ Is of older women–all alone in their houses…” Ok, I’m listening….what is this self-identified condition? Geez, how bad can this ‘condition’ be? Is this a suicide prevention advertisement?

Then she pipes out “we aren’t going to take it—we don’t have to“, in a whiny voice. Whoah, a militant 60-70-something! This better be good; she has my attention!

Screen change to an over-dressed diva type sitting in an office chair, for the purpose of promoting ‘vein surgery, cosmetic surgery‘ !!!! This is the state of lonely older women? A preponderance of hidden shame due to the state of their veins??? The consensus I’m familiar with is, women of a certain age shutter their legs. End of crisis.

Now, off to find a real militant cause of at least a respectable gripe, that goes beyond the scrutiny of public gaze.