Mama’s Little Travel Buddy

As some of you who follow my Facebook know, I just went back to work after three months of glorious maternity leave.  Two weeks ago, I decided to take Stela on a short vacation before I returned to work.  For those of you who are not in the US, I should note that we have terrible maternity leave laws.  In order to take off three months, I had to use up all my personal leave and take a month of unpaid leave (companies are only obligated to give you six weeks of short term disability).  So, needless to say, this was my last little vacation for a while.

 

My sister had an interview in Seattle, so me and Stela joined her for the trip.  For those who have flown with children, you can imagine my anxiety leading up to the big day.  I have never gotten the chance to take Prince flying, so I was in new parental territory with this one.  Given my daughter’s tendency to have diva moments, I had no idea what to expect from her on this trip.

The day of the big trip, we all woke up at three in the morning to make it to the airport in time for our zero dark thirty flight.  Stela woke up with crazy hair, but didn’t seem to mind being put back in the car seat for the ride to the airport.  On our way to the airport, I told my sister that I had read a book on flying with babies.  She made fun of my dorky parent side, but I was glad I read the book as it prepared me for some of the things I would encounter.  For those of you planning to travel with your baby, here are some things I learned from our trip.
1)  Don’t fly airlines that are not child friendly:  On the flight there, we flew Delta.  Delta was great!  They allowed all the families with small children to board first, and the staff offered to help carry things to make it easier and faster.  United, on the other hand, was not friendly.  We had the unfortunate experience of flying United on the return.  When I asked about pre-boarding, I was given the stink eye as the woman said, “we don’t do that here – you need to board with group four like your ticket says.”  To make matters worse, when I suggested to one of the flight attendants that they should allow families with babies to pre-board, he also gave me a sideways look and said, “babies slow things down.”
At this point I was irritated, and Stela was crying from being cold while waiting in the tunnel behind the rest of the plane.  When we finally got on the plane, several people had their bags in the middle of the aisle (because there was no more overhead space) and I tripped all the way back to my seat (with Stela in my arms).  News flash United (and all other airlines like this):  Allowing families to pre-board with their babies promotes safety.  By the time I got to my seat, I was nearly having an anxiety attack from having to avoid falling and Stela was cranky.
2)  Bring a carseat bag:  If you are not wealthy enough to purchase your baby a seat, bring a bag for the carseat so that you don’t get it back from the gate check with nasty airplane grease all over it.  We were lucky enough to have a seat for Stela on the first flight, but after that we had to check the carseat.  Considering that the bag went from red to black (from all the dirt), I am glad the carseat was bagged.
3)  Feed the baby on take off and landing:  Even though many of my readers gave me this wonderful advise, I was stupid and thought that the pacifier could take the place of the boob.  On the final leg of the trip, Stela was peacefully sleeping and sucking the pacifier.  I thought, ‘hmmm…since she is sleeping I really don’t want to wake her.’  About two minutes into the decent, Stela lost her mind.  She jerked awake, her eyes bugged out of her head, and she began to wail as if I was cutting off her head.  I immediately pulled out my boob (not caring about those who might be offended) and tried to stick it in her mouth.  It was too late though.  She was so upset from the pain that she began to slap me.  The crying didn’t stop until I forced gripe water into her mouth.  The swallowing made her ears pop.  Stela immediately stopped crying, and smiled as though she was thanking me for getting it together.
Stela was a wonderful little traveler.  She loved the plane noise, and smiled for most of the trip while cuddling her stuffed Llama.  We were able to take her touring around Seattle, on a short road trip to Portland to visit her half sister, and even took her on a winery tour.  Even though Stela loudly farted and spit up all over the floor in the middle of the tour of Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery, she was a real trooper and seemed to enjoy the scenery.
Back to work:  Two days ago, I started back to work.  For weeks before I went back, I have to admit that I was a bit in denial.  I have had a blast staying at home with my baby girl.  We have had one way conversations for weeks, and just two weeks ago she began to babble back to me as if she had been a part of the conversation the entire time.
Even though folks warned me that I might get teary on my first day back, I believed that there was no way I was going to cry about leaving my child with my mother.  I thought this until I found myself sitting in my car in the parking lot at work – crying my eyes out.  My daughter, on the other hand, was gabbing and smiling at my mother and seemed completely fine with this new working mom development.
I haven’t slept since I went back to work, so this post might have been a bit all over the place.  In conclusion, however, I want to offer a word of advice to all moms (and dads) who have a chance to spend some time at home with their babies:  Cherish every single second, because when you are trudging to work in sub zero weather while missing the smiles and coos you will be comforted by the fact that the time you spent was quality.  Also, go on vacation when your baby is young.  Once they get mobile, this will not be as easy.

The Legal Form Of Child Abuse

Before I get into this topic, let me put forth a few disclaimers:

1)  I know this topic is controversial, and some folks are going to disagree with me.  If you can’t handle someone disagreeing with you, you might not want to continue reading.

2)  I am not in the business of telling folks how to raise their children, so this post does not come with the intention of preaching to anyone.

3)  My intention with this post is to make people think, and to share my opinion on this controversial topic.

If you are still reading, then great!  Let’s begin…

About a week ago, I was talking with a friend about the topic of children’s civil rights.  My friend said, “Isn’t it strange how we allow people to spank their children, but if you spanked your spouse it would be assault?”  Even though I have given this topic lots of thought over the past few years, this comment blew me a away.  In that one sentence, it seemed like she had given a perfect example to the situation in which many children find themselves in.  A spouse who is hit has a way better chance at being protected.  That person can go to the police (assuming the police aren’t corrupt), go to a shelter, or possibly attempt to fight back.  A child, on the other hand, has no recourse.  Unless the parent who is hitting them leaves visible marks, the abuse could simply be explained away as legal spanking.

According to Wikipedia,  Corporal Punishment is defined as a form of physical punishment that involves the deliberate infliction of pain as retribution for an offence, or for the purpose of disciplining or reforming a wrongdoer, or to deter attitudes or behaviour deemed unacceptable. The term usually refers to methodically striking the offender with the open hand or with an implement, whether in judicial, domestic, or educational settings.

Currently, forty-one of the United States consider corporal punishment of minors within domestic settings lawful.  Delaware outlawed it as child abuse in 2012.  Twenty-one states allow some form of corporal punishment while twenty-nine have banned the practice.  (Check out this list of the places that still allow teachers to hit children.)  When I read that many states think it’s ok for a teacher to hit a child, I just about lost my shit.  Really??!?!  I won’t even get into what I would do if my daughter came home and told me a teacher hit her.

Spanking Does Not Work:  My parents had two different philosophies on parenting.  If we did something wrong, my Dad would spank us, and there was rarely any discussion about it.  Having been spanked a few times in my life, I can assure you it doesn’t work.  For example, I can count the times I was spanked as a child.  I remember the spankings, how I felt during the spanking, and how I felt after.  That said, I can’t remember the reasons why I was spanked.  If spanking intends to teach a lesson, shouldn’t the child be able to remember the lesson?  I was so afraid of being spanked that I often completely missed the lesson I was supposed to be learning.

My mother, on the other hand, never spanked us.  I can remember distinctly the times that my mother punished me, and I remember what I was being punished for too.  Her way of discipline involved follow through and respect.  When me or one of my siblings was acting like a maniac, my mom would simply say something like, “one more word out of you and you will be left home next time we do something fun.”  My lesson came around the age of 4.  I was losing my mind in the movie theatre.  My mother warned me, but at the time I clearly didn’t believe her.  My fit only lasted about 60 seconds before my mother picked me up and left the theatre.  She made a point of bringing my brother to the movies soon after, and she left me at home with a sitter.  I remember being so sure she was kidding up until the point when she left me at the door crying and begging to go.  Later that day, my brother came home with a milkshake bragging about how great the movie was.  The lesson was learned.

Spanking vs. Beating:  When my father was young, it was common for parents to send their children outside to get a branch before being hit.  While it might seen perfectly normal to slap your child’s hand to keep them from touching the stove, or grab them by the arm somewhat forcefully to catch them from running out into the street, there is nothing ok about beating your child with a tree branch or a belt.  I don’t think it’s possible to NOT leave a mark when hitting someone with a belt or a branch.  The danger in our laws is that many people don’t know the difference between spanking and beating.  Our laws embolden abusive people, and leave many children feeling helpless and unsafe.  There is nothing in the law that states that people who cannot control their anger cannot spank.  In fact, our law makes it so that people believe they have the right to do whatever they want to their children.  That is…until the child turns up critically injured or dead.

I don’t believe that just because you choose not to hit your child, that child will then be out of control.  When I was a teacher, some of the most out of control children I had in my classroom where children who were being hit at home.  These children often repeated the same poor behaviors, even after their parents hit them.  When I walked into that classroom on the first day, I had a student throw a book at my head and another one run out of class and try to jump the fence to go home.  After a month as their teacher, however, I had them marching to lunch and asking permission to use the restroom.  I did this without spanking them, so why shouldn’t a parent be able to do that too?

I often think about the type of mother I want to be, and how I would like my daughter to see me.  I want my daughter to respect me, and I don’t want her respect for me to be tangled in fear.  I want her to know that I respect her, and I want her to feel safe.  I hope that she will tell me when there is a problem, and I don’t want her to worry that I will beat her up.  My daughter will know that I am a woman of my word.  She will grow up not wanting to disappoint me, and she will know right from wrong.  She will also know that even though our society may not respect the civil rights of a child, her mother does.

In December 2010, Luc struck his older son on the back so hard that the child had a bruise in the shape of Luc’s ring.  The child went to school and told his teachers about the abuse, and after some short court proceedings Luc was let off with no more than a slap on the wrist.  Luc was told that it was legal to spank your child, and that next time he should just be sure not to leave a mark.  Less than two years after that incident, Luc killed his youngest child.

Imagine living in a country where it were legal to spank your spouse.  Imagine it being legal to spank your spouse, and then one day finding yourself in a relationship with an abusive person.  Imagine having a bruise on your body, and your spouse being told by the police that the next time he beats you he should just make sure he doesn’t leave a mark.  That feeling you are getting right now in your gut just imagining what that would be like…that is likely not even half as terrifying as the feeling many children live with every day because of our laws.

Be the person you want your child to become.  Now let’s start some real discussion about how we treat children.

 

 

 

A Miscarriage Of Justice

A couple of months before my son Prince was murdered, another little boy was killed just miles away from where Prince died in Manassas, VA.  His name was Elijah Nealey.  Elijah was only 23 months old when his monster of a babysitter, Jessica Fraraccio, killed him.  Fraraccio had been frustrated because Elijah was crying.  So frustrated that she pulled a chair out from under him, causing him to hit his head on the table and floor.  Elijah cried harder in pain, and Fraraccio carried him around the house upside down, hitting his head on the metal stair rail and other objects.  She then covered his mouth and nose with her hand and suffocated him to death.

I have never been subtle about my desire to fight for children’s rights.  Little Elijah, sadly, has suffered a miscarriage of justice in addition to his brutal murder.  Elijah never lived long enough to celebrate even his second birthday.  The 22 year old babysitter who killed him, however, will only serve 5 years in jail.  She will likely go on to have children, and if she doesn’t kill them she will have the opportunity to enjoy the many firsts that Elijah’s parents will miss.  In a decision that shocks the hell out of me, and likely just about anybody with a soul, Judge J. Howe Brown sentenced Fraraccio to 50 years but suspended 45 and required that she send a check of at least a dollar to a charity of her choosing on the date of Elijah’s death every year after her release.  So when the she devil is writing a check for a dollar to the charity of her choosing, Elijah’s parents will have to live with the fact that not only was their son brutally murdered, but that the woman who killed him is allowed to live a full life.

This shocking sentence had me thinking about the value our system puts on the lives of children.  Had this woman murdered an adult, I suspect she would have had a longer sentence.  What will this judge think when this monster gets into a bar fight and kills someone else, or maybe even goes on to kill another child someday.  I didn’t read any part of this sentence that ordered the woman to have her ovaries removed, so I suspect that she will have children and they, too, will cry.  Someone who is evil enough to suffocate a child to death because she cannot handle their cry cannot be rehabilitated and should not be let out amongst the general population after serving a mere 5 years.  This reckless decision, however, does not appear to be an isolated move.  Poor Elijah seems to be yet another victim of our broken system – more evidence that children in our country do not have the right to live.

Virginia is not the only state that is lenient on child abusers.  Back in 2007, a Prince George’s County, MD judge sentenced a man to only 18 months in jail after he shook his month old son to death.  Both Judge Brown and Judge Ronald D. Schiff cited that harsher sentences wouldn’t bring the children back, as if this fact made giving their killers light sentences make any more sense.  It is true that nothing can bring a murdered child back, but there are several reasons for sentencing a child murder to the full extent of the law.  (Note:  I recognize that the below points don’t take a rocket scientist to recognize, but clearly there are some in our justice system who need a reminder.)

1)  Once A Killer, Always A Killer:  Someone who is capable of murder has more than just a few screws loose.  The two murders I described above were not unfortunate accidents.  They were the result of two people who snapped and killed children merely because the children were crying.  Now think about this for a moment.  Even if these people never went on to take care of another child, would you feel safe even standing next to this person in the grocery store?  I sure as hell wouldn’t.  A few months in jail is not going to give this person those extra screws they need to be not dangerous!  In case you still don’t believe that some time in jail makes these killers remorseful, check out this story.  Daron Davis, another one of these child killing monsters, spent 11 years in jail for beating his daughter to death just a month before her first birthday.  After he was released, he killed a second daughter.

2)  Justice:  These children who were murdered by people who should have been caring for them took away lives.  Having to spend a short amount of time in prison does not bring justice to the victims, and it certainly doesn’t bring justice to the families of the victims either.  How would you feel if someone killed your child, and then a few years later you had to run into them in the grocery store laughing and chatting with their friend about how great their life is?  Possibly more insulting might be having to celebrate the birthday of your dead child, and wondering what charity his killer would be sending her one dollar check to that year.

3)  The Message:  Part of what is important about our criminal justice system is the message sentences send to the community.  In the cases I have highlighted here, it seems the message is that the life of a child doesn’t hold as much value as that of an adult.  Those who kill children are allowed a second chance at life because we assume that they feel the remorse they should feel after committing such a vile act.  (News Flash:  A psychopath does not feel remorse.  They often know what goes against society norms or is immoral, but they don’t care.  These people don’t have souls like the rest of us.)

Finally, these examples can shed an interesting light on what is happening to children in the Family Court system as well.  Decisions are made on a daily basis that negatively impact children for the purpose of parental rights.  How do we expect that judges are going to hold the best interest of our children in any sort of priority when even those who kill children have their rights respected at the expense of their victims.  America is in crisis.  We are having what appears to be a war on children.  Children are being physically and emotionally abused, and children are being killed.  When children are supposed to be seen as the future of a country, I ask you – what is to become of our future when we don’t protect our nation’s children?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Divorce Corpse

 

“An unhinged man involved in a bitter child-custody battle tossed his toddler son to his death from the roof of a 52-floor building on the Upper West Side Sunday, then killed himself by jumping, law-enforcement sources said.”  - NYPOST.COM

“An Arizona woman is accused of fatally poisoning her two children a day before she was supposed to turn them over to their father as part of a custody agreement issued in a courtroom last week, an attorney for the woman’s ex-husband told NBC4 on Monday.” – NBCLOSANGELES.COM

“That day, Rob King bought each of his twin daughters a fish, signed them up for swim lessons and gave them a bath. Hours later, he pumped carbon monoxide into their bedroom and slit their throats…Rob and Kristi were in the midst of a bitter divorce and custody battle. Kristi had offered joint custody of the three-year-olds. Rob wanted the girls to himself.”  - WUSA9.COM

 

These are just a few examples amongst countless articles I have read since the murder of my son Prince.  It seems like nearly every week there is a new story about a parent, involved in a bitter custody battle, who kills their child.  The most disturbing part of reading these stories is knowing that each and every one of these killer parents was in court at some point and granted access to the child for whom he/she ended up killing.  Each one of these children could have been saved had our system not been so hell bent on parental rights and equal access.

This Friday, a documentary titled “Divorce Corps” hits the theaters.  From watching the previews, it would appear as though the focus of the movie is to expose the horrible Family Court system and how the fate of children has been turned into big business.  While I believe that the big business aspect is a part of the system that needs to be reformed (note:  I spent over 100k trying to save my son in this failed system), I have deep concerns about this movie.  There are parts of the movie that would lead the public to believe that because divorce and custody are such “big business” that people have more incentives to lie and make up false allegations.  The movie also seems to argue for presumptive joint custody.

Wendy Murphy, a former child abuse and sex crimes prosecutor and now adjunct professor and trial and appellate attorney specializing in crime victims, recently noted that a more appropriate title for a documentary on this issue would be “Divorce Corpse”.  Divorce Corpse would at least accurately label a system in which children are killed by parents who should never have had custody or access to them.

In case after reading about my story it isn’t already clear, let me point out why the troubling themes present in this movie are dangerous for children.

1.  All claims of abuse should be taken seriously:  This should be a no brainer, but unfortunately it isn’t.  The creators of this documentary seem to think that parents make sport out of launching false allegations of abuse.  It is my firm believe that while I am sure false allegations occur, this is not the norm.  Approaching all family court cases as if any abuse allegations are false is extremely dangerous.  Children who are abused will be sent to their abuser without investigation into the allegations.  I would rather see several innocent parents investigated than loose one child because the allegations were not taken seriously.

2.  The danger of presumptive joint custody:  Abusers love to talk about how the courts should automatically look toward equal access.  If the courts did this, parents would no longer have to worry about things in their lifestyle that are not conducive to a healthy environment for a child.  While there are plenty of situations where it is best for a child to have equal access to both parents (i.e. when both parents are good parents without psychological disorders or abusive tendencies), there are too many scary cases that come to court where presumptive joint custody would hurt the child.  The courts should not presume anything when there is a case before them.  There are no two cases alike when it comes to Family Court and each case should be evaluated based on the best interest of that particular child and not based on what is comfortable for the parents.  If the courts continue to try and split children down the middle, they will end up with more abused children in the system.

David Levy, who is currently one of the members of the Maryland Commission on Child Custody, wrote an Op Ed after the murder of Amy Castillo’s three children in Baltimore, MD.  In his editorial, he stated his belief that joint custody would have prevented the tragedy – as if Mark Castillo killed his three children just because he wasn’t awarded joint custody.  News flash Mr. Levy, Mark Castillo killed his children because he was a crazy monster and had he been denied access to those children, they would still be here today.

3.  Leave Parental Rights at the door please:  After reading the press on this documentary, I am hearing too much crap about parental rights.  We all know that both men and woman abuse children.  This shouldn’t be a fight about gender because parents should not be who the court is seeking to protect.  I didn’t spend over 100k in court because I felt like I needed more time with my son and just wanted to be a time hog.  I spent the money because I truly believed he was in danger, and it was the only legal way I knew how to try and save him.  I take no pleasure in knowing that I was right because it means that my son is dead.  I would have gladly laid my own rights as a parent on the table if it meant my son could have some.

Finally, I refer you back to the quotes that I started out with in this post.  While many cases don’t deal with life and death, a startling number of them do.  Making rash generalizations about the need for equal access in all cases, and assuming everyone who fears abuse is lying only harms children.  This movie discusses how many people profit off of the misfortune of those who end up in Family Court, and that is absolutely true.  More alarming, however, is the number of people who end up dead (or emotionally/physically abused) as a result of decisions made in those court rooms.

If you plan to see this movie, I encourage you to question the motives of those who created it.  While it is clear that there are many who profit from Family Court,I challenge you to think about exactly who benefits from a system that believes that the child’s best interest is served by equal access to both parents – regardless of the situation.  I would argue that only an abuser would want the courts to grant all parents equal access without regard to circumstance.