Bode Miller’s All-American Fantasy – Family Court Style

This past week, I was reading through US Weekly while in the pumping room at work.  Typically, there isn’t enough time to actually read the articles so most of the time I just browse and look at the pictures.  When I saw the above picture, however, I nearly spilled breast milk all over myself.  Upon first glance, and if you don’t know the back story here, this just looks like a picture of a happy couple with their happy little baby.  The man is Bode Miller.  He is with his new wife, who is holding his son “Nate”.  What this picture doesn’t show, however, is that Nate’s name is actually Sam (Miller decided he didn’t like the name the child’s mother gave him, so he started calling him something else) and the chic holding him isn’t his mom.  Sam’s mom, ex-Marine Sara McKenna, is the woman who Miller describes as a “fling”.  A woman he treated like dirt upon finding out she was pregnant (see text message quotes below), and a woman he appears to be attempting to ignore as a permanent part of his son’s life.

Many American’s cheered for Miller during the Olympics – he was an alpine skier trying to set world records.  This  US weekly article paints Miller as a loving father who is fighting for custody to his son.  What it doesn’t mention, however, is what this man said to the mother of his child before he decided he wanted to take her to court.

“I’m not going to do this with u Sara. U made this choice against my wish and gave me no say. U are going to do this on your own.” Miller told the child’s mother, ex-marine Sara McKenna.

“Having a once a month Dad is not something he deserves, and you should take the chance to walk away while I am still agreeing to it.” Miller continued.

After the above text messages, McKenna decided to move to New York in order to pursue her degree.  Given what Miller said that he didn’t want to be a father, she went ahead and moved while she was pregnant.  After she moved, however, Miller changed his mind.  McKenna was then slammed by a New York judge for moving while pregnant.  The custody battle continues, but what is concerning to me is the dangerous precedent that appears to have been set in this case.  Now, in addition to women having to fight to protect their children, we are going to be told when and where we can travel while pregnant.  McKenna was essentially treated by the courts, and by Miller, as an incubator.  As soon as she had the baby, Miller started to call the child something else and flaunted his new wife as if she was the child’s biological mother.

What This Means:

As I looked at this picture, I tried to understand why it made me so damn angry.  It wasn’t the fact that Miller seemed happy with his new wife, or even that the new wife was holding the child (in an ideal world this child’s step mom should love him).  It was the fact that I can imagine how McKenna must have felt when she saw this picture.  So many women are seen by the court system as “scorned”, but instead of sloshing all of us off as scorned, try and imagine how it would feel to have the person you love most in life taken from you by someone who views you the way Miller obviously views the mother of his child.

Here is a man who basically told his ex to abort the child, and when he changes his mind – our courts hand him access on a silver platter.  Should he have contact with his child?  Of course he should.  He is his father, and by all indications he doesn’t appear to be dangerous.  That said, he should be encouraged by the courts (if not out right forced) to at least pretend to respect the child’s mother.  If he cannot even acknowledge the name the mother picked for the child (when he was mysteriously absent from the birth), this is clearly a problem.

When I was in court, I was terrified.  I was terrified that my son would be hurt (given the fact that people around my ex kept getting killed).  The other day, I tried to imagine how I would have felt if I hadn’t been as concerned about Prince’s safety.  How would I have felt if I just didn’t like Luc as a person, and didn’t think he would be a good influence on Prince.  How would I have felt if after treating me as someone he had just used and abused, he had thrown me aside as he moved in a new woman (and took family pictures with my son as if to show that I had been replaced).  I would like to believe that I would have been strong enough to just be happy that he loved my son, but I think the truth is – that might be asking too much of most of us.

Impossible Super Human Strength:

The courts continuously ask parents to lay their humanity at the doors of the court before entering the court room.  When we act human by crying or expressing fears, we are punished.  When we leave relationships where we are treated poorly, and then have to hand our children over to an abuser, we are scared.  When woman (and men) have to turn their children over to someone they cannot stand to even look at, it is going to cause tremendous pain – even if you know that your child should have access.  The courts do not punish parents for behavior that is not conducive to raise a child.  So most of the time, the co-parent is left in a position to just bite their tongue and try not to show the very raw human emotion that all of us would feel if put in the same situation.

This picture made me sad for all of the men and women who have safety concerns about the person with whom they are forced to co-parent.  It is sad and scary because Family Court is a place where emotions run high.  It is scary because even without a security concern, most people who have gone through Family Court would not be able to look at this photo and not get heated about it.

Looking at this picture made me terribly sad for this little boy.  He deserves to have his mother and his father.  Even if the two of them are not together, he deserves to have parents who can respect each other.  He deserves to be called by his birth name.

 

 

 

I am, I’m asking you to stay.

If you have read enough of my blog, you must know by now that I am an advocate for children.  What you may not know, however, is that right out of college I taught Elementary Special Education for two years in South Los Angeles.  I was a member of Teach For America.  While I didn’t continue to teach after my two years, I assure you that I was required to pass the same teaching exams and pursue the same teaching certification as those who were not affiliated with Teach For America.  In fact, I took it a step further than most and pursued a Master’s Degree in Special Education.

Before arriving at my school, my students had not had a permanent teacher in years.  After two years looping with many of the same students, I was able to exit many of them out of Special Education and back into the General Education classroom.  Most of my students achieved several grade levels of education in just one year.  I don’t give you this information to brag.  I was not an exceptional teacher by Teach For America standards – I achieved what was expected for the organization.  I wasn’t only able to do this because I was highly educated.  I achieved results because I was passionate about children, and I was supported by one of the best organizations this country has to offer.

Just past week, as I came across this blog post on my Facebook newsfeed.  The post is titled, “I am, I’m asking you to quit.”  This blog is written by a woman named Molly who describes herself as a “white female who was educated at a prestigious university.”  She also mentions that she is “riddled with privilege.”  For this reason, she believes that people like herself don’t belong in classrooms teaching children of color who don’t come from the same privilege.  She then goes on a rant about how terrible she believes Teach For America is for our nation’s children.  This week, I will explain in detail why I respectfully disagree with her.

 

1)  Children Need Good Teachers – Race Be Damned:  One of the arguments in the above linked blog article is that someone who is not a minority or someone who hasn’t experienced being “under privileged” has no business teaching students of color.  Does that mean that if you are not white you shouldn’t be teaching white children?  Should children only be subjected to teachers who have shared their exact experience?  This sound like an argument right out of the Jim Crow south.  Children need good teachers.  Good teachers come in all different colors.  If these schools housing TFA teachers waited around until they had qualified teachers, who all happened to be the same race and socio-economic status as the students, they would have a school in serious need of teachers.

2)  Training:  This blogger throws out a popular misconception about TFA (which leads me to believe she has no actual experience with the organization).  She argues that TFA throws inexperienced young adults in the classroom with only a few weeks of training.  First of all, before a TFA teacher even steps foot in a classroom, he/she must pass the statewide exam to ensure that they have enough knowledge to step foot in a classroom.  Next, TFA teachers go through a rigorous month long training before stepping foot into their classroom.  During this training, the teachers are mentored by senior teachers who assist in lesson planning, co-teach, and help prepare these teachers to take on their own classrooms.  Finally, as do ALL teachers, TFA teachers are required to pursue their certifications.  In the school where I taught, there were several non-TFA teachers who were pursuing their teaching certification while teaching.  TFA teachers often times go above and beyond pursuing just their teaching certification.  In fact, many of us got our Masters Degrees in Education in addition to our teaching certificate.  Along with going through all the same things non-TFA teachers do, TFA also provides its teachers with ongoing support throughout their years teaching.  To say that TFA teachers are not prepared to do their jobs is simply not true.

3)  Two Year Commitment:  It is true that TFA has a two year commitment requirement.  This might seem like no time for those who do not understand what is actually happening in the most under performing schools in our country.  At the end of my first year, I became one of the most senior teachers at the school where I was teaching – and this was NOT because there were too many TFA teachers at the school.  This was because I taught in South Los Angeles in a school that had an extremely high burn out rate.  That said, most of the people I came into TFA with are still teaching to this day.  Some of them are principals at schools, and all of them showed tremendous achievement in the classrooms where they taught.  Those of us who are not teaching, remain advocates for education equality.  I remain in contact with several of my students who I am now trying to help get into college.  My commitment to them didn’t end after my two years with the corp was finished.

4)  Resume Pad:  It is no secret that Teach For America looks good on a resume.  It is also no secret that TFA has become so highly competitive that many people want to be able to say they have gotten into the program.  That said, there is so much more to be gained than what is evident on a resume.  If someone enters the organization just looking for a notch on their resume, they will soon be weeded out when they realize how much the organization expects out of its corp members.  There are experiences I have gained from my two years teaching that I will never be able to capture in words let alone on my resume.  I learned a lot from my students in the years I spent in the classroom, and I truly believe they learned a lot from me.  I highly doubt that my students would mind that I proudly put Teach For America on my resume.

5) TFA Teachers Push Out Certified Teachers:  The schools where TFA sends its corp members are not the schools where teachers are standing in line to teach.  Students often come to you at least three grade levels behind where they should be, and many of them come to school hoping to receive the only meals they will get the entire day.  The certified teachers at the school, while there are many good ones, are a mixed bag.  One of the first grade teachers where I taught, who was certified and had been teaching for over ten years, would come in every day and read the newspaper while her students copied the alphabet from the board.  Every one of her students went on to the second grade without a shred of information from first grade.  She should have been pushed out of that school.

I remember my last day teaching like it was yesterday.  One of my students, who I fondly called President Hernandez, came to sit beside me on the playground.  I had been his teacher for two years.  I taught him how to read, and the next year he would be headed to a General Education classroom due to the significant gains he had made while in my class.  He looked up at me and asked, “Ms. McLeod…who is coming next?”  I wasn’t sure who would be coming next for President Hernandez, but I sincerely hoped it would be a Teach For America teacher.

 

 

 

 

Courage To Change The Things You Can

In the past few weeks, I have gotten several emails from women who are going through scary custody situations.  Many of them reach out to ask me what they should do.  They tell me how scared they are because Luc reminds them of their ex, and they fear that something terrible will happen to their children.  I have written on this topic before, but this is a topic that I think anyone who is going through a rough time can benefit from.

Let me first say this:  People have asked me how I am able to still continue to live after my son was brutally murdered.  I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but one thing I can assure you of is that I am NOT the strongest woman who has ever lived.  Every person has the capacity to make the best of their lives despite their circumstances.  I made the choice to keep living, but that is not to say that I didn’t have days where I wondered how I would survive.  I lived through many of those traumatic days while Prince was still living.

If you find yourself enduring legal abuse in the middle of a Custody War (or if you are living through another form of terrible trauma like the loss of a loved one), here are some tips that could help.  While these are things I wished I had heard, there is no rule book for this sort of trauma.  You have to do what works for you, and it might take a few tries at different things to get it right.

Find Your People:  When something devastating happens in your life, it helps to surround yourself by people who love you and have your best interest at heart.  For me this was family and a few close friends.  For some people, family might not be the first group of people you turn to.  Be wary of people who crawl out of their troll villas to make your pain worse.  There are many unhappy people out there who enjoy feeding off of the pain of others.  If you sense that you are connected to one of these people, remove yourself from their presence quickly and don’t look back.

Find Your Spirit:  For me, this involved going to church, and talking to my priest.  If church isn’t your thing, find a place where you can tap into your spirit and find some peace.  Praying helped me to remember that there were things that were out of my hands and that I was doing the best I could.

Take Care Of Your Mental Health:  If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.  Most parents who are in the midst of custody hell, try and focus on the children all the time.  They don’t realize that by not taking care of themselves, they are not doing the best they can for their children.  Children are like emotional sponges.  When you are anxious, your baby is anxious.  A terrible custody case can drive even the most sane individual mad.  Everyone who has traveled on a commercial airline has heard that if the air pressure in the plane changes, you are to put the oxygen mask on yourself before you attempt to put one on your child.  This is clearly so that you don’t pass out before you have the chance to help your child.  The same concept applies to mental health.  You cannot emotionally support your children through a stressful situation if you are an emotional wreck.

Enjoy Every Second With Your Child As If It’s Your Last:  What happened to my son was the worst case scenario.  I would never tell parents to expect the worst.  That said, don’t take the time you have with your child for granted.  When your children are around, enjoy the time you spend with them and try not to focus on worrying about the time when they will be with the other parent.  I distinctly remember spending hours on the phone with lawyers when I should have been spending that time with my son.  I cannot get those hours back now.

Lawyers Will Take All Of Your Money If You Let Them:  When I was going through the custody war, I always thought that if I could just make a little more money maybe I could protect my son.  There was a time when I was feeling guilty for spending money on food when I could be paying my attorneys.  One night, my attorney called and told me that if I didn’t pay them 5k by the end of the week, they would stop working on my case.  I cried on the phone telling them that I didn’t have anymore money, and his reply was that maybe I should ask friends or “rob a bank”.  I racked up credit card debt and drained my bank account because I believed this would save my son.  At the end of the day, it clearly didn’t save my son.  Lawyers will continue to take your money if you let them.  Try to find advocacy groups to help suggest pro bono help, and think about ways you can cut down on some of the unnecessary litigation.  Money doesn’t fix a broken system.  Don’t let your custody battle drive you to a financial place that negatively impacts the quality of your child’s life.

Finally, on my worst days, I read this prayer over and over:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.”

I know these words make many of us think of an AA meeting, but there are not many truer prayers you can say.  Unfortunately, shit happens – bad shit happens – and when bad shit happens…it sometimes gets worse.  Many times, there are a lot of things that are out of your control.  Handle the things you can handle, and let go of the things you cannot.

For months after my son died, I went over and over in my head about what I could have done to save him.  What I had to realize is that I couldn’t save him.  I also had to realize that no matter how much I obsessed about what happened, it wasn’t going to bring him back to life.  I could, however, change the way I lived my future.  I could choose happiness, and put one foot in front of the other.  Do I have days when I cry and don’t want to get out of bed?  Absolutely.

There are many things in my life that I regret, but I am so thankful that I was able to enjoy many moments with my son despite the terror that my entire family was living through when he was alive.  During these dark moments, hang onto the joy.  There is always joy – you just might need to dig a bit to find it.