My Survival Date

This past weekend (October 20th and 21st to be exact) marked the one year anniversary of the worst two days of my entire life.  While I am still relatively young, I am willing to bet that October 20-21, 2012 would have been considered astronomically bad by anyone’s standards – and even that seems like an understatement.  For those of you who don’t know, October 20th last year was the day that I found out my son had been murdered by his father.  It was the day I learned that I would never again see my little boy open his eyes, give me a hug, or say “Mama”.  All of my hopes and dreams for him shattered in that single moment.  A year later, I write this post reflecting over the past year.  I received more messages this past weekend from people telling me they were thinking about me than I received on what would have been Prince’s second birthday (which to me was a more difficult milestone).  My response to everyone who sent that message went something like this:

“Thank you for your kind words.  Today is not a bad day though.  I will not be spending it thinking about the worst day of my life.  I don’t care to celebrate or commemorate this day.  I refuse to allow a date that a demonic man chose to terrorize me for the rest of my life.  This day was not a good day for my son and it was not a good day for me.  I do, however, see it as a day that marks strength.”

Many people seemed confused with my response.  Maybe they were expecting me to curl up into a corner, and spend the two days crying as I forced myself to relive the nightmare that occurred just one year ago.  While I could have chosen that path, and I would not judge someone else who did, I continue to choose survival.  So instead of curling up into that ball and crying, I thought about all the things and people who have gotten me to this place of strength.  I will never say that the path I have taken in the last year should be followed by everyone who has endured tragedy, but it was my path and if my words can help someone then it is worth sharing.

1)  Find your people:  I put this one at the top of my list because without my friends and family I know I wouldn’t have survived this past year.  When my son died, everyone who knew him was devastated.  It rocked my family in a way that a family should never be rocked.  That said, many of my family members were able to rally around each other and we gave each other the strength to keep living.  In addition to my family, I learned who my true friends were.  As soon as I sent out the text message that my son was dying, several of them dropped everything and drove to the hospital just to be there with me.  One of my oldest friends got on the next plane from Louisiana to visit.  She listened to me, sat with me while I cried, made me laugh when I didn’t think I would again, and cooked when nobody seemed to have the strength to even think about food.  When chaos and tragedy strikes, find your people.

2)  Clean house on the toxic folks:  Throughout life its never a good idea to allow toxic people to hang around.  This is especially important during the hard times.  I found that there are some people who enjoy chaos.  They will gravitate around you during these times and make you feel worse.  If you find that someone is making you more sad or appears to be feeding off of your bad situation, drop them like a bad habit and move on.  In the past year, I have made no apologies about getting rid of bad people.  For example, two weeks after my son died, someone who I thought was a friend told me that I needed to “just get over it and stop talking about how angry and upset I was about what happened.”  After that conversation, I promptly told this person to lose my number and I truly believe I am better off because of it.

3)  Grieve your way:  In the past year, I can’t even count the amount of times people have tried to tell me how to grieve for my son or passed judgement on me for decisions I have made.  Many of these people have never lost a child and seem to project how they think they would feel if in my situation.  Recently, one of my coworkers lost his son tragically to a brain aneurism.  The child was six years old and he was devastated.  He asked me what he should be doing.  I told him that he needed to do whatever he felt he needed to do and that he shouldn’t let anyone tell him that what he chose to do was the wrong path.  That said, I would advise someone against doing something that was hurtful to themselves or others.

4)  Don’t be afraid to go to therapy:  Admitting that you need to see a therapist shouldn’t be seen as a weakness.  If a person broke their arm and just decided that surgery or casting it wasn’t for them, they would end up with a jacked up arm for the rest of their life.  If you find yourself in an emotionally unstable place, sometimes you just need to seek medical help and talk to a therapist.  I am not ashamed to say that after Prince died (and while I was in the throws of the custody war), I have seen a therapist regularly.

5)  Take back your happy:  Ever since I met Luc in February 2010, my life has been in some level of chaos.  He has tried to control and torment me.  While I believe he killed my son primarily for money, his secondary motivation was likely to destroy me.  He chose the first time he saw Prince after my birthday as the day he would drown him.  He intended for that day to make me sad for the rest of my life.  I will always miss my son.  I will always hold a certain sadness about the fact that he will never grow up and do the things he should have been allowed to do.  I will not, however, allow the man who killed him to destroy me.  I chose to take back my happy.  I chose to do this for myself and for my daughter.

Finally, I leave you with one of the wisest things I heard after my son’s death.  I was speaking to the priest at my church.  I asked him why so many Christian people were telling me that in order to have peace I needed to forgive the man who killed my son and all of the people who allowed my son to be killed.  I asked him if I needed to forgive these people before finding peace.   Father John looked at me and said, “Hera, hold onto your anger.  It is that anger that will help get your son Justice.”  Father John went on to explain that forgiveness should be reserved people who can understand forgiveness.  It was clear that Luc had no soul.  Forgiveness would simply allow him to feel absolved for what he did, and possibly even allow him to continue to torment me.  So I will not be forgiving Luc.  It is a waste of my energy –  energy that should be used on happiness.  While I don’t forgive him, I also don’t dwell on him either.  I stayed angry for as long as I needed to in order to get the wheels of justice to turn.

I would never tell someone else NOT to forgive someone who has hurt them.  I simply offer you an alternative.  If forgiving the person who has hurt you allows you to heal, then do it.  Just don’t allow that forgiveness to let them continue to hurt you.  For me, what was more important was learning to forgive myself.  This remains the hardest part of my journey.  While I know how hard I fought and how much I loved my son, there is still a level of survivors guilt and victim guilt that I will likely face for a long time to come.  As I continue on this journey, however, I will focus my efforts on life - on the legacy of my son through telling his story and helping to try and protect other children.  Soon, I will also focus on raising my daughter.  I am starting a new chapter of my life and Luc is not a part of that chapter.

So next year, when my daughter is about a year old and the anniversary of Prince’s death approaches, I will think of strength and survival.  I will have survived one more year, and I will be thankful for all the wonderful things life has given me.  This is my survival date.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Child Of A Football Player

In the past week, many of you have likely heard about the murder of Adrian Peterson’s two year old son.  Though the brutal murder of this innocent toddler should have made headlines regardless of who his father was, the fact that his father plays for the Minnesota Vikings became a center piece for the story.  At first, I wondered why the media was referring to this child as Peterson’s “secret child”.  After reading more, I learned the sad reality that Peterson didn’t even know this was his child until a couple of months before the child’s death.

Even though it appeared that Peterson had been robbed of the chance to know this little boy, some internet trolls had no problem throwing him under the bus for continuing to play football despite the news.  Before I move on to the real issue here – the child – let me just say some words in support for Adrian Peterson.  Peterson is one of the victims here.  He lost a child he never even had the chance to know (and not through fault of his own).  If he felt the need to dance on top of Mount Everest or run naked on the beach as a coping mechanism, I would have no judgement.  People grieve in all sorts of ways.  Many people choose to throw themselves into their careers in order to keep living.  This man also has two other children for whom he is financially supporting.  Keep living Adrian – it’s what your son would have wanted and it’s what your other children need.

Under The Media Frenzy:

While many of the articles I have read focus on Adrian Peterson being a football player, as if the death of his child is somehow more shocking than the thousands of other children who die after being abused, this story can serve as an example of many disturbing trends in our society.  Just weeks after my own son’s murder (at the hands of his own father), I continued to say that I hoped my son would be the last child who had to suffer in this way.  Though that was my hope, I knew that would never be the reality given the current state of affairs in America.

Adrian Peterson’s son, whom family members called “Ty”, was a happy and vibrant two-year old boy.  His mother had left him in the care of a man named Joseph Robert Patterson.  Without details about how much the mother knew about this man (or more importantly how much information the system allowed to be public information), I will refrain from judging her for the moment.  I will, however, come down harshly on a system that allowed this abuser to roam a free man long enough to kill a child.  It is now known that Patterson was indicted in June 2012 on several counts of simple assault involving an ex-girlfriend and her 3-year-old son.  He was also later charged for violating a no-contact order.  While he was sentenced to one year in jail for both of these cases, his time was suspended upon the condition that he attend domestic violence counseling.

Abusers and Deadly Plea Bargains:

In December 2010, my son’s father was arrested for violently assaulting his then 11 year old son.  To avoid a conviction and criminal record, Luc agreed to family counseling and the child was put back in the home.  Child Protective Services issued a report that the abuse was founded, however, records disappeared and Luc was allowed to go on as if this assault had never occurred.  Luc, just like Patterson, is an abusive man who prays upon women and children.  A few months of family therapy didn’t turn Luc into a loving non-abusive father, and “domestic violence counseling” clearly did nothing for Peterson either.  If Luc had served the mandatory year in jail for abusing his older son, Prince would likely still be here.  If Patterson had served the two years in jail that he was sentenced, I wouldn’t be writing about this story because little Ty would be here too.

My son, Prince McLeod Rams, and little Ty were both brutally murdered by men who shouldn’t have been free to walk amongst us.  While Prince and Ty had  different circumstances leading to how these men obtained access (Prince was forced into the custody of a killer by the courts and Ty was left with his mother’s abusive boyfriend),  the two cases have frighteningly similar roots.  Both killers found dangerous loopholes in a broken system.  Both killers had previous run ins with the law where they were able to convince psychological professionals and court officials that they could be rehabilitated and should be given another chance to behave.  As long as society remains in denial about personality disorders, more children will be at risk for deadly child abuse.  It is not possible to rehabilitate a sociopath.  My son, Ty, and all the other children who have been victims of our broken system (and those who will be victims in the future) deserve better from us – they deserve justice.

Shocking Statistics:

In 2011, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services analyzed data that showed that 80 percent of the 1,570 U.S. children who died from abuse were 4 years old or younger.  In 87 percent of these cases, the perpetrators were biological parents of the victims.  The Every Child Matters education fund reports that 15,510 children are known to have died between 2001 and 2010 from child abuse related incidents.  This is about 2.5 times the number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Though these statistics are shocking in and of themselves, the U.S. Government Accountability Office states that these numbers are underreported because there is no national standard for reporting.

When my son arrived at the hospital, nurses and doctors immediately called police and Child Protective Services as his injuries were consistent with child abuse.  Though every person who encountered my son in those initial hours after he arrived at the hospital was likely horrified at the scene, my son’s death went unreported for nearly a month after the incident.  Police didn’t release a press release of any sort and my son’s killer wasn’t arrested for over three months after the incident occurred.  I often wonder how many other cases where children have been murdered go completely unreported.  For months after my son’s murder, I was told that the case was “under investigation” and that authorities were not releasing the cause of my healthy little boy’s sudden death.

Ty’s story was reported because his father is a football player.  Perhaps my son’s story was reported because I am loud, and continue to scream at the top of my lungs.  Perhaps my son’s story was told because a brave reporter from The Washington Post Editorial section took a chance and reported about a case that officials seemed dead set on burying.  The sad reality, however, is all the cases that go un reported – all the children who are born into this dangerous world with no weapons to protect themselves – no Civil Rights – no voice – and no future.

 

 

 

 

 

I Am No Damsel In Distress – You Are No Prince Charming

After an invigorating Sunday morning prenatal yoga class, I waddled my way to the local coffee shop to catch up on some news from the week.  Once I got through the depressing news about the Government shut down, I started to read The Washington Post Magazine.  For those of you who don’t follow the post magazine, every week they do something called “Date Lab” where they set up two Washingtonians on a blind date and then write about their reactions to the date in the magazine.  This week featured two people in their 40’s who were clearly not a very good match.  The man raved about his dog – the woman was deathly allergic to animals.  Beyond the obvious incompatibility of this pair, the thing I found most disturbing was something the man said:

“My usual type is more…for lack of a better word, a damsel in distress.  I got the sense that she was a lot more established and could definitely take care of herself:  She is not a damsel in distress!”

The poor woman who had to sit through this date with someone I would qualify, as a non-evolved male was an attractive, intelligent, and successful federal policy advisor.  He was the assistant manager of a recreation center.   While his job is nothing to be ashamed of, his comments made him appear as though he couldn’t handle the idea of being with a woman who was more financially successful than him.  What baffled me even more than his statement was that he didn’t realize how bad this made him look in the eyes of many women.  This man is not evolved.  While he saw himself as a classic Prince Charming, he was appeared to me as nothing more than a toad who would never become a Prince.

The Evolution of Women:

Gender roles are changing and women are changing rapidly with them.  Reading the musing of this man in the Washington Post Magazine, however, made me realize that many men are not evolving at the same rate.  It appears as though this man would have been happier with a woman who was less successful, more financially needy, and emotionally distressed.  The man on the date was right in that the woman sitting across from him didn’t need a man – she wanted a man.  There was once a time in this nation when women did need men for even the most basic things.  A woman was seen as a man’s property regardless of how much he loved her.  In the age where women are balancing work and raising a family, it concerns me when I see men who aren’t willing to evolve with them.

One of my earliest memories of gender differences occurred when I was about 8 years old.  I was driving home with my father from school and bragging about how I had finally achieved first honors on the honor roll for my class.  My father, clearly proud and taking a possibly disproportional amount of credit for this accomplishment, said, “It’s too bad you weren’t born a boy.”  Eight year old Cappuccino Queen was stunned and confused.  ‘Why the hell does Daddy wish I were a boy,” I thought confused.  I then responded by saying, “I like being a girl.  I don’t wish I was born a boy.”  (I added a “damn it” in my mind but wouldn’t have dared utter that last part to my father.)  My father then explained that he believed it would be harder for me to achieve the kind of success I was destined for because of my gender and she wished that weren’t the case.

My Little Girl:

As a soon to be mother of a little girl, I have given a lot of thought about my feelings on women in society and about what my father said to me when I was eight years old.  Despite the fact that we are now seeing women in politics, leading companies, and holding all types of powerful positions across our country, women are still forced to break down gender stereotypes on a regular basis.  Many of us have dated Mr. “I want to save a distressed woman” and I am sure my daughter will run into her fare share as well.  Despite the fact that I have gone through a tremendous amount of distress, I do not wish to be saved by a man who believes that I need to be dependent upon him in order for our relationship to be complete – and I do not want this for my daughter either.

From the moment my baby girl makes her arrival, I plan on telling her every day how happy I am to have her – how glad I am that she is a girl – and how I am happy that she is who she is.  I will also tell her that she is destined for great things, but that she has to realize that she will need to work harder knowing that there are some people who still don’t want a woman to be doing great things. She should never feel as if she needs a man in order to survive.  She should want to find a partner who is the kind of person who has evolved enough to realize that he needs to be special enough to be wanted, and not just needed because he is a man.

And to my strong women out there who have been through enough to be justifiably distressed – don’t ever move through life expecting that anyone else will save you.  You must first save yourself and get to the point where you can stand on your own two feet.  Then, search for that person who will respect your strength, love you like the Queen you are, and make you want him even when you don’t need him.

The Incredibly High Threshold

In this past Sunday’s edition of The Washington Post, there was an excellent article that highlighted a case where the safety of a child seemed to merely be an after thought (if it was a thought at all).  I commend the Washington Post for continuing to expose the ugly realities of Family Court, particularly those in my former home State of Maryland (the same State that endorsed the murder of my son).  This particular piece shined a light on a custody war that is currently ongoing where a mother is trying to protect her four year old son from his father.  While the courts admit that the child’s father (Andrew Monjica) has been convicted of sexually abusing a female minor (and is currently listed on the sex offender registry), he has been granted unsupervised, overnight visits with his son.  The court defends its decision to expose this child to a known sexual predator because it believes all parents have “a constitutional right to raise their children.”

According to the Washington Post, the mother of the child, Gloria Faulkner, says, “the court has taken away my power to protect my son.”  While I normally try to stay away from gender wars in Family Court (as I feel that the Child’s Rights should always come first), I find it curious that in this case the court focuses on a constitutional right that appears only relevant when it comes to the father.  If a parent has a constitutional right to raise his/her child, doesn’t that also include having the right to protect that child from harm?  Why is it that the court is only focusing on the right of this father?  What about the child’s right to be kept safe from a sexual abuser?  What about the mother’s right to protect her child?

Gloria Faulkner continues to fight to try and protect her son from his abusive father.  (Yes, I believe someone who is a convicted sex offender of this nature should always be classified as a child abuser.)  Despite clear and convincing evidence that this man is capable of sexually abusing a child (he did actually get convicted beyond a reasonable doubt), the court does not think the mother’s argument for supervised visitation meets “the threshold”.  Maryland law requires that in situations where there has been a finding of abuse or neglect, the court should determine whether future abuse or neglect is likely and, unless there is no likelihood, deny access or require supervision.  There have been several studies that show 90% of sex offenders will re-offend, and they are four times more likely to commit the crime again.  So given this known statistic, a rational person would realize that future abuse is likely and make a motion to protect the child – despite the “rights” of the parent.  If this case doesn’t meet that threshold, I question if any case really would meet this incredibly high threshold.

Two weeks before my son’s murder, I vividly remember sitting down with my attorneys and pleading with them to file an emergency order to keep visits supervised.  As I begged my attorneys to help me protect my son, Prince sat sleeping peacefully in his stroller.  My attorneys refused and told me that my concerns did not meet the threshold of the court for a change in the existing order.  Luc had been “cleared” by a psychologist and deemed “safe” to be around Prince without supervision.  They warned that if I didn’t stop trying to fight my son’s father, I would end up losing custody.  They were right about several things.  They were correct that my complaints didn’t meet threshold (because the threshold was simply a statement on paper which couldn’t be met no matter what the circumstances).  They were also correct that I would eventually lose my son – though not the way they thought I would.

As I cried and screamed at them that day.  Before leaving in a pool of tears, I asked them something that I am sure haunts them to this day.  I asked them, “what is it going to take?  What is the threshold?  Am I going to have to bring my son to you in a body bag after Luc has killed him for the courts to believe that access should be restricted?”  One of my attorneys smirked and commented that I was over-reacting.  The next time I spoke to them I called from the hospital.  At that time, I wasn’t aware that my son wouldn’t survive what he had been through.  I asked the lawyer what I should do.  His response was, “we will file that emergency motion on Monday.”  Later that same evening, I called my attorney back and said, “Don’t bother filing that motion – it’s too late…he’s dead.”  That Monday my attorney had planned to file the motion was the day of my son’s autopsy.  It was too late for Prince, but the threshold had been met.

I don’t know Gloria Faulkner personally, but I feel connected to her because of the pain I know she is enduring at this moment.  She is not being permitted to be her son’s mother, despite the fact that she has been granted sole legal and primary physical custody of him.  I, too, never felt as though I was allowed to be my son’s mother.  My constitutional right to protect my child and my son’s constitutional right to live didn’t matter when we walked into Family Court.  All that mattered was that my son had access to both of his biological parents – even if that meant playing Russian Roulette with his life.

When it comes to cases where there are founded allegations of previous child abuse, or other behavior that would pose a clear danger to a child, the  offending parent’s “constitutional right” to raise their child should not be the court’s primary concern – it should, in fact, be void.  The primary concern needs to be the safety of the child.  Until the courts realize that current laws, which are supposed to protect children from an abusive parent, are meant to be enforced vice liberally interpreted – children will continue to be abused, children will continue to be murdered, and the basic civil rights of these children will continue to be trampled on by a system that has been charged with their protection.