A Different Kind Of Mother’s Day

 

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This past Sunday was Mother’s Day.  I suspect that I will never have a Mother’s Day when someone doesn’t look at me with puppy eyes and wonder how I am holding things together.  I am not sure I will ever have another Mother’s Day where I don’t feel as if I am between emotions.  As a mother who has lost a child, Mother’s Day can be a painful reminder of the fact that I will never again “mother” the child I lost.  For me, however, I have found a way to mother my son Prince – even though he is no longer here with us.  This weekend, in particular, I found a way to honor both of my children.

On Mother’s Day morning, I woke up completely exhausted.  I have been miserably failing in my attempts to sleep train Stela, and Mother’s Day eve was no exception.  I had agreed to speak in front of the White House on behalf of a group called “Mother’s of Lost Children.”  My speech was in less than two hours, and I wasn’t sure of what I would say.  I jotted some things down on my note cards, and decided to leave the rest up to the moment.  Despite my lack of concrete plans, however, me and Stela made our way down to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

As I walked up to the group, I was worried.  There were tons of mother’s dressed in all white, holding up huge signs full of painful statistics.  I couldn’t help but notice, however, the tourists in front of the White House who were milling around mostly appearing to be in a clueless cloud of carelessness.  For many of them, these women were just a backdrop in their White House experience.  In fact, I witnessed one tourist shoving in front of a mother and asking her to move so that she could get a better picture of her friend in front of the White House.

Despite my hesitation, however, I grabbed the bull horn as promised to speak to the crowd.  “My name is Hera McLeod,” I said.  “My son’s name was Prince.  He was killed in October 2012, while he was on what was just his fourth unsupervised visitation with his father.”  After I said this, I noticed several tourist turn around in what appeared to be anticipation of what I would say next.  The two tourist who had been vying for the picture, now seemed mildly interested.

Below is the speech I delivered, in front of the White House, to a bunch of tourists – hoping that one day my words would be heard by someone willing and able to effect change.

During the Civil Rights Movement in the 60′s the mistreatment of Black Americans reached such a dangerous level that it required federal oversight.  We have reached that level when it comes to Civil Rights violations that occur against our nation’s children.

Family Courts across our country are sanctioning the abuse and murder of our children.  As a mother who was legally forced to turn my son over to a serial killer, I am asking Mr. Obama and his administration for the following reforms:

1) Criminal accountability for psychological professionals who withhold key information, in cases where their negligence leads to the abuse and/or death of a child.

2)  Federal oversight of Father’s Rights Initiative funding to ensure that it stays out of the hands of known child abusers.  Federal funds should never go toward helping someone in their personal child custody case – this perpetuates legal abuse.

3)  Federal requirements for state courts to meet minimum standards of training for social workers and judges involved in Family Court.  This training would include child abuse and domestic violence recognition.

4)  In cases there child abuse and/or domestic violence have been reported, it would be federally mandated that the courts assign victim advocates.

5)  And finally, in cases where a Family Court decision has resulted in the child abuse and/or death of a child, states would be required to report to a federal oversight commission and adhere to an after action report to improve their system.  These federal oversight would help to prevent future atrocities.

After I finished my speech, I took a moment to look up at the sky and thank Prince.  I thanked him for choosing me as his mother, and I promised him that I would continue to fight for the children who would come after him.  This promise would be my way of continuing to mother him even after his death.

Then, I passed the bullhorn to the next mother.  The rest of the mother’s marched around the White House – I did not.  I spent the rest of the day with my angel who is here on earth – Estela.  We went for a walk, ate some Native American Fry Bread, and celebrated Mother’s Day with Grandma.

I am thankful for both of my children.  In their own ways, they have made me a better mother – they have made me a stronger woman – and they have made me the best version of myself.

 

 

 

 

 

I Stand Today…Because I Believe

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I have a confession to make.  Before I met my son, I wasn’t sure I believed in God.  I wasn’t an atheist, but I would have considered myself agnostic.  I grew up Christian, and wanted to believe in God, but I didn’t feel as if I had really connected with any higher power.  Then, God sent me an angel.

I have always been quiet about my beliefs.  I am 33 years old, and my entire life I have been on a journey to define what it is that I believe.  After Prince was born, and I learned that I had been in a relationship with a monstrous man, I felt a strong need to go to church.  I wanted more than ever to connect with God, and ask for help.

Finding a church:

The first step in my process was to choose a place of worship.  For a couple of months, I would take Prince to a new church every weekend.  I wanted to find a place where we would feel like a family.  At first, I worried that we would never find this place.  For months, every church we went into felt like trying to fit a square into a round hole.  As soon as the organs would play, or sometimes even five seconds after we walked through the door, Prince would scream at the top of his lungs as if someone was cutting his head off.

Just as I was about to give up hope of ever finding a church for my family, I found Christ Episcopal Church in Rockville, MD.  Our first day at church I was nervous.  As the service began, I cautiously looked at Prince while also searching for the nearest exit – just in case.  The organ began to boom, and I closed my eyes and waited for the blood curdling screams to begin.  Instead of screaming, however, Prince smiled and began to dance.  That was the day we found our church.

The Journey:

My faith didn’t come together as soon as I found a church.  I have to admit that, at first, I attended services each week and remained skeptical.  I would ask God each week why the had created my ex, and why he would allow for such terrible things to happen to my family.  I wondered when the chaos of Family Court would end, and if I would survive the fight.  I worried about Prince, and prayed that he would be alright.

When Prince was killed, I was devastated.  His death initially made me question my faith even more.  There were times when I thought that it might be easier just to kill myself so that if there was a heaven, I could go there and be with my son.  Then, I started dreaming about Prince.  In my dreams, he never spoke to me.  He would always smile at me, and somehow even without words tell me that he had chosen me because he knew I would not give up.

Finding my faith:

I believe in God.  My faith was not automatic.  Through my grieving process for my son, I have given a lot of thought to his life and mine.  A lot of things happened, that were out of the ordinary, to put me into contact with Luc.  It was as if Prince came down on a mission, and that he had chosen me to be his mother.  For those who don’t believe in God, this might be hard to understand.  For me, I had a hard time believing until I literally was given the opportunity to meet an angel – my son Prince.

I will never be “at peace” with how my son left this earth; however, I thank God every day for sending him to me.  Part of the reason I was able to survive his murder, is because I know he had a purpose.  I also know that I have one too.  Before the loss of Prince, I hated when people would say, “God never gives us more than we can bear.”  I used to think, ‘really?  because this sure seems pretty damn unbearable!’

For the majority of Prince’s life, I tried to find ways to protect and save him.  Since his death, I have thought a lot about how many things went so terribly wrong.  I think a lot about how epically bad so many things in our justice system truly are - how the Prince William County police ignored so much of Luc’s criminal behavior for so many years, how The Martinez family lied to me about Luc being related to them, how a Virginia lawyer (John Rockhind) supported Luc’s lies as if he wanted him to appear more legitimate, and how finally it was a Virginia child therapist (Margaret Wong) who withheld information from a judge in order to ensure Luc would get unsupervised access to Prince.  It was as if Prince was on a mission to expose the failures of our system, and to save victims who would come after him.

In the past four years since I met Luc, I sometimes feel as though I have lived 10 entire lifetimes.  When I wake up every day, I realize that God gave me Prince because I could bear everything that came with him.  I was blessed to have 15 months with my angel, but that came with a price.  Prince chose me because he knew I wouldn’t remain silent.  He knew that there were things about this place that needed changing, and he knew that I would see to it that they get changed.

 

Last night, I went to see my sister’s last acapella concert with her group The Soundbytes.  She sang my son’s favorite song “Gravity” by Sara Bereilles.  I had planned on bringing my son to see her sing several times, but he was killed before I ever had the chance to bring him.  As I watched the performance last night, with Stela sitting on my lap, I actually felt as if Prince was sitting in the chair next to me.  The look of joy on Stela’s face as she heard my sister sing was amazing.  I was able to see a glimmer of the joy Prince had, through the eyes of his sister.

Some might think less of my faith because it took me so long, and I literally had to meet an angel, to truly believe; however, the incredible things that I have gone through in the past four years have likely made my faith stronger than many.  It didn’t come easy for me.  I had to fight for it, and I had to suffer greatly.  I am not about to jump on a Nike swipe proclaiming the end of the earth (due to an odd interpretation of the bible).  You won’t see me preaching to random strangers in an attempt to recruit them to my faith.  I share my story for those who might also be searching for answers, and hoping to find something they can hang onto in an attempt to define their faith.

I believe that God works in mysterious ways.  What happens in your life might not always make sense.  You might feel as though you have hit rock bottom.  People often ask me how I am able to get out of bed, stand on two feet, and continue living.  I often don’t have the time to go into a real explanation, but the short answer is this – I am standing in part because of my son.  I am standing because I believe there is a reason for me to be standing, just as there is a reason I am Prince’s mother.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Memory Of Eric K. Barrow – A Protective Father

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Eric K. Barrow – Rest In Peace

 

“Fighting fires, you can do something about what’s going on, and you’re trained to. There’s always the possibility of bringing something terrible to an end. But the fact that my child was hurt . . . it’s like being handcuffed and made to watch it. ”  -  Eric Barrow

I never got the opportunity to meet Eric Barrow.  He passed away before I had the chance.  A good friend (and fellow child advocate), Eileen King, had the chance to get to know him through her work with The Center For Judicial Excellence and Child Justice.  When I read about Eric’s story through Eileen, I automatically felt a connection to him.  I have no doubt that Prince is up in heaven hanging out with this good man.  I write from the perspective of a protective mother, but I want to share Eric’s story so that we all don’t lose sight that fighting for children should be gender blind.  Sadly, dangerous parents can come in either gender.  Eric is an example of a protective father.

Below is a summary of Eric’s case that was prepared by The Center For Judicial Excellence back in 2008:


Eric and his son’s mother never married, but he willingly gave her child support, bought clothes for his son and visited him often during his first year. When the boy was around one, she began refusing to let Eric visit him, so he was forced to file for custody, since the Maryland courts won’t allow parents to file just for visitation. The court granted him three and four day visits in alternating weeks.

After the boy’s mother married another man, Eric knew that something was wrong. His two-year-old son would cry, kick and scream, and try to run away when Eric returned him to his mother and stepfather’s house. It got so bad that Eric reportedly had to give him candy to get him to go back. A few months later, the boy told Eric, “he keeps beating me, Daddy . . . make him stop.” Eric called Child Protective Services (CPS), but without photos or evidence of bruises or cuts, he was told that he was required to turn the child back over to his mother.

When the boy was about three years old, he disclosed to Eric that his stepfather was molesting him. Eric was dressing his son after a bath, and the boy said, “[Stepfather] kisses my penis, Daddy. I don’t want you to kiss my penis.” This time, CPS agreed to investigate, but they informed the boy’s mother first, and about three days later, Eric was charged by the boy’s mother with child abuse. The investigation found that the molestation claims were substantiated, but they couldn’t determine who the perpetrator was. The boy’s mother made him call his stepfather “Daddy,” which complicated the investigation. CPS and the court ordered the mother to take the boy to therapy, and the boy was eventually sent to live with his grandmother on his mother’s side.

A Guardian Ad Litum was appointed by the court to evaluate the custody situation, but Eric says he “acted more like the mother’s attorney and had an attitude.” The court then placed Eric’s son back into custody with his mother and stepfather. A few months later, the boy disclosed more physical and sexual abuse. Eric let his son tell the police about it, but they called his mother and sent him back with her. Three days later, the police followed up to investigate, but by then, the boy had changed his story. Eric later learned that the boy’s mother had threatened to beat him if he ever told anyone about the abuse.

Eric was forced into court many times to urge the court to enforce its order that the mother find therapy for their son. She eventually complied, but the therapist she found apparently informed the boy’s mother each time he disclosed about his abuse. After each disclosure, he was allegedly beaten by his mother and/or stepfather, and his therapist never reported the disclosures to the authorities, as the law requires. Needless to say, Eric’s son soon stopped talking about the abuse altogether.

Eric was forced into court to get a new therapist appointed to work with his son. After a year and a half, the therapist determined that their seven-year-old son was suicidal, and that he was vulnerable to gang violence, drug abuse and alcoholism. The therapist then blamed Eric for going to court to try to get the boy into appropriate therapy, saying that those court appearances about therapy were a big part of the boy’s problem.

Eric faults the whole system, including the police, who repeatedly placed his son in harm’s way. Eric knows that he “can’t give him back his innocence. I can’t make him see the world the way he saw it before.” Now he sees his son every other weekend, and they have a good relationship, despite their seven-year ordeal in the family court system.


What the above story doesn’t capture is that Eric was an American hero.  On September 11, 2001, when a plane flew into the Pentagon, Eric was one of the firefighters whose unit put out the fire.  A year later, on September 11, 2002, Eric’s his unit was at the Pentagon being honored for their incredible work to putting out the fire at the pentagon.  Eric, however, couldn’t attend the event because he was stuck in family court, feeling helpless, unable to protect his son.In March 2013, Eric passed away from a heart attack.  He died in the arms of his son, now a young man – the same some he fought so hard to protect.

There are many reasons that this story struck me when I read it.  Beyond the obvious bond that I have with this man whom I have never met, his story is another example that no matter what sort of life you lead, Family Court remains senseless and humbling.  Here is a man who showed incredible courage in the face of a terrorist attack that shook our nation to its core, and he so elequently explained how nothing was as terrifying as not being able to protect the very person he loved the most – his son.

Many people involved in Family Court reform often get bogged down in gender wars.  They spend hours upon hours arguing which gender has the advantage when it comes to Family Court.  What I have realized, however, is that there are cases across this nation where you see terrible things happening to parents and families of all kind.  At the core of this movement, however, is what is most important – children.

My fellow warriors –  please stand with me to protect our future – our children.

 

Will the Good Men Please Speak Up?

 

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“She’s the type of girl you need to fuck hard and rape in the woods.”

“Bitches are the craziest creatures”

“Dumb bitches learning their place…”

“Never hit a woman ever…. That being said, let’s formulate an excuse.”

- Quotes from American University’s Epsilon Iota Google Group thread

 

The above quotes were screenshots that were forwarded from American University’s (AU) unrecognized fraternity Epsilon Iota’s (EI) Google Group thread. An anonymous source sent screenshots of disturbing text messages and email threads to American University student media leaders and members of the University’s administration. EI is an unrecognized fraternity at AU in Washington, DC; the group lost its charter after an alleged date rape scandal in 2001. Though they are no longer officially recognized, they continue to operate of the campus of AU.

I write this post as I sit next to my peacefully sleeping, six -month old daughter. American University is nearly a stone throw away from where I am raising her. Reading through these disturbing text messages and emails, I wonder how I would be able to protect my little girl. How will I protect her from a society where groups of people still believe it socially acceptable to call a woman a “bitch”, strike a woman, or excuse the vial act of rape?

What is potentially shocking is that American University is not the only place where you can find this type of den of idiocy. Sadly, as we have seen in the news so often, rape (and this type of degrading behavior toward women) has become the ugly giant elephant that seems to be trouncing all over my beloved country. Americans are quick to point fingers at other countries for the atrocities that are committed against women; however, we often fail to recognize the horrible environments that so many American women face.

A few months ago, I met the Police Chief of a major police department in my area. This meeting was a result of a complaint that I had filed against the department after several police officers in his jurisdiction had mishandled evidence in a rape investigation, which ended up resulting in the arrest of a victim of sexual assault. While the Chief admitted that how his officers handled the evidence in this case “technically violated policy”, he was still unwilling to admit a deeper systemic issue.

This Chief then went on to explain how it was his belief that it is common for women to make false and malicious accusations of sexual assault. Though this statement shocked me, I decided to do my own informal poll of the good men that I know to see if the Chief’s theory held any weight. I thought, ‘If false accusations of sexual assault are so damn common, I must know several men who have been falsely accused of rape.’ Over the course of the next few weeks, I began to have this conversation with several of the men in my family and my close male friends. Overwhelmingly, they all stated that not only had they never been falsely accused of sexual assault, none of them had ever known anyone who had.

What occurred at American University is not a unique situation. In our country, we are suffering from the fact that many of the things these ignorant and barbaric men wrote are prevalent amongst even those in powerful positions. Given the statements of the Chief, it would appear as though he is of the belief that women often lie. He ignored the evidence that rape is often under-reported, and instead believed that women enjoy going around and crying rape.

While reading these quotes made me both angry and afraid, I was also hopeful. These quotes were disturbing, however, they started a conversation. I was hopeful that the voices of these poor excuses for men would be drowned out by the voices of the good men out there. This issue has long been a conversation amongst women. Women’s groups have continued to try and drown out the voices of the misinformed and backward men of our society. It is time that it becomes a conversation amongst the good men as well. This is not a female issue – this is not a male issue – this is a humanity issue.

Many of the good men who read this blog might also find themselves thinking about this issue while sitting next to their little girls. To the good men out there, whom share my sentiment of anger upon reading these quotes, I ask that you let your voice be heard. For your mothers, your sisters, your daughters, and the many women whom you may never get the chance to meet – be loud. Don’t let the voices of these barbarians be the only voices your daughters will hear. It should be the responsibility of all Americans to take back this conversation. Good men should be just as outraged about this behavior (if not more so) than women. Standing back and allowing these messages to strangle our society, however, is the same as standing in agreement.

And for the boys who wrote those nasty messages,  try to consider that moment (likely many years from now) when you will be staring at your reflection through the eyes of your own daughter.  Imagine looking at her face, covered in tears, as she tells you about how she has been sexually assaulted.  I ask that you consider how you might respond, given that you were the same kind of man who has just now harmed an extension of yourself.

 

Some Important Tips To Survive A Custody War

This past weekend, I took Stela for a walk after we went to church.  My church is located relatively close to the courthouse that I describe as ground zero of the Custody War that was fought against Lucifer.  Until recently, I wasn’t even able to drive through that area without breaking down into tears and shaking hysterically due to the painful memories of the things that took place in that courthouse.  This past Sunday, however, I decided it was time to come face to face with some of the memories that I had been avoiding.

As I walked past the courthouse, I noticed that it had almost doubled in size since the custody war.  My stomach twisted in knots as I looked at the millions of dollars of taxpaying dollars that had been pumped into this broken institution.  While I didn’t break into tears, I don’t think I will ever be able to walk past that place without thinking of the pain that I associate with that time.  I know I will never be able to look at Family Court as a place that cares about the protection of children as it should.

As I reflected on this broken system, and Stela sang her made up baby songs in sheer blissful unawareness, I thought about how my thoughts on Family Court have changed since I have had some time and distance from the legal abuse.  In the past year and a half since my son was murdered, I have spoken to many parents who are in the throws of chaos.  They are enduring their own personal hell in Family Court.  Here are some things I have learned, that you won’t hear from your attorney.  These tips won’t help me anymore, but I wish that I had heard them when I was in the trenches.

You are allowed to fire your attorney:  Legal counsel is expensive, and it’s important.  Bad attorneys don’t have angels on their shoulders telling them not to waste your money.  If you find yourself in one of the below situations with your attorney, run out the door as soon as possible and do not look back.

1)  A Jerk:  If your attorney speaks to you like you are a moron, and get’s mad at you when you get emotional – this will only get worse.  While your attorney shouldn’t be your therapist, a good family attorney will understand what is at stake and be experienced in dealing with emotional parents.  You should never feel like you have to apologize to your attorney for crying or being frustrated with the situation.

(Note:  While crying is completely fair during times of great distress, try and save these emotions for your therapist.  You want your attorney to be able to focus on the legal issues, and not your emotions.)

2) Distrustful:  Your attorney is your advocate.  I recently spoke to someone who made the grave mistake of employing the same attorney who represented Lucifer.  She noted that she was confused as to why her attorney was pushing for her to roll over, and allow her ex more unsupervised access when the man hadn’t established himself in the child’s life (by his own choice).  She wondered why iy seemed like her attorney was working for her ex husband. Sometimes when it appears as though your attorney has an agenda that doesn’t jive with your child’s best interest, it is because they do.  Bottom line – if you don’t trust the person, you shouldn’t give them a dime of your money.

3)  Inexperienced:  My first attorney was a disaster.  He was a business attorney who had a previous relationship with my parents.  When I initially realized that I needed an attorney, I didn’t know who to turn to.  Having never been in a situation like this before, I had no idea how specialized law really was.  While this unethical business attorney claimed he knew family law, he entered the courtroom like a five year old who just stepped through the doors of a University.  Sadly, before I realized that he had no clue what he was doing, he had already spent 30 thousand of my hard earned dollars.  Mistakes like this will cost you.  Before choosing an attorney, ask around for recommendations and go see them in action on another case.

Work to be the best version of yourself:  I will be the first to say that going through Family Court can make a sane person feel crazy.  It is an emotional experience that really cannot be compared to anything else.  Many of us feel as though we are being asked to send our children across a battlefield completely unarmed, while we watch him/her try and dodge the land mines in the field.  Just as you would go to the doctor to get a cast if you broke a foot, you must get counseling if you are going through a Custody War.  When you walk into the courtroom, you need to be the best version of yourself.  You need to be as calm and put together as possible, and you need to think clearly.  This is the fight of your life.  Your children need you to be sane for it.

In addition to going to a therapist, find a good friend you can talk to.  Go for walks, go to the gym, and do things that help to relieve stress.  So many people talk about being too busy to take care of themselves.  Realize that you are not helping your children if you are constantly stressed out.  If Mama ain’t happy – ain’t nobody happy.  (Note: this can apply to Dad’s too.)

Work on things you can control:  One of the hardest things for people to do in Family Court is accept that you have a very limited amount of control.  You cannot stop your ex from lying.  You cannot stop him/her from paying professionals to lie for him/her or from channeling their inner actor and crying on cue.  And ultimately, as painful as it is, you cannot control what the courts decide.  You can appeal your butt off and spend your entire life savings, but most people leave Family Court unhappy.  I would never advocate for giving up on your child.  NEVER give up fighting for your child’s best interest.  That said, for the time you have with your child, make it count.  Even if you only get every other weekend to see your children, make that time special and let them know how much you love them.  Enjoy those moments with your child because you really never know when they could be your last.  And even if your children have the long life my son never had the chance to have, you don’t want to look back at their childhood and realize you never enjoyed any moments with them due to the custody war.

I had 15.5 months with my son Prince.  While he spent 99.9 percent of his life with me, it wasn’t enough.  Now that I have to live with the fact that his father chose to end his life, it makes those times when I had to leave him for only three hours much harder to think about.  I can never get more time with my son now, but the memories that I have of him keep me strong.  I am thankful that, even though much of his life was spent in the horror of Family Court, I took the time to make his life wonderful.

Two days before Prince had his first birthday, we were in court.  I was a horrible day, and I left afraid of what would happen to my son.  For hours after the hearing, I felt like I was living in a complete fog that I couldn’t see through.  I was paralyzed with fear.  Even though I had planned a weekend at the beach, we almost didn’t go because I was so upset.

Luckily, my family was able to help me through that hard time.  They forced me to come to the beach to celebrate Prince’s birthday.  This was the last birthday Prince would ever have.  I am so thankful I was able to take him in the sand, and spoil him that weekend.  If I hadn’t gone that weekend, it would have haunted me to this day.

I will never know what it is like to be stuck in Family Court for 18 years.  I can only imagine what that kind of sustained terror can do to a person.  In my short experience, however, I have learned that the best thing you can do is be the rock that your children need.  Don’t let the terror ruin your ability to make your child’s life wonderful.

 

 

 

 

 

I Have An Agenda, And I Am Not Ashamed Of It

I am going to say something that shouldn’t be a newsflash to anyone who has ever read my blog, heard me speak, or been anywhere near me in the past few years.  I HAVE AN AGENDA.  It is not hidden, and I refuse to make any apologies for it.  Want to know what my agenda is?  It’s simple really…I am passionate about children.  I truly believe that Prince chose me to be his mother.  I was chosen because he knew I would fight for him, and he knew I would speak out to protect his memory.  He knew I would fight for change – that I would fight to make it so that no other children would suffer the way he had to suffer.

Since my son was murdered, it seems like not a day has gone by where I haven’t heard about the brutal murder of another child.  This week, I heard about another shocking case that happened in Fredrick, MD.  A little girl named Anayah Williams was murdered by her father.  As her father was beating her to death, her mother watched.  As if the murder itself isn’t shocking enough, possibly the most disturbing element of this case is that when the girl was only two months old she had been removed from the home for having a fractured skull.  Instead of recognizing that these parents were dangerous, our sick and twisted system put the girl back into the house (for the sake of reunification with her birth parents).  She was murdered shortly after her return.

I would love to be able to say that I am shocked when I hear these stories.  Our system fails children.  Those who are tasked with the protection of children are more concerned about protecting the parental rights of abusive parents.  They are more concerned with clearing their case load then potentially saving a child’s life.

Recognizing abuse:  Most children who are abused don’t even know they are being abused.  If you ask a child who has been abused their entire life if their parent abuses them, you will most hear something like, “no, he/she was a good parent.”  If a child is used to being beaten with objects, having things thrown at them, and getting beaten to the point where physical marks are left, they might not see these things as abusive – this is their normal.  While children who live through abuse might not be able to determine that their situation is not the norm, there are certain tell tale signs.  For example, if a child is often seen with bruises that are beyond the occasional toddler bump, something might be wrong.  Another tell tale sign is when you see a child who is clearly afraid of their parent.  While it is normal for a child to respect their parent, a child should never be afraid that they are going to be physically harmed by their parent.

Doing something about it:  Another unfortunate reality that I have noticed since the death of my son, is that many people choose to ignore child abuse if it isn’t happening directly in their home.  When they hear of these child murders on television, they talk about how sad it is for five minutes, go hug their own child, and thank God it isn’t their reality.  What people fail to realize is that the child who is being beaten up next door will one day show up on your doorstep.  He will be dating your daughter, friends with your son, or maybe even a parent to your grandchild.  Child abuse is not someone else’s problem.  It is a society problem, and in order to end child abuse everyone must take responsibility.

A few months after I left Luc, I went back to his old neighborhood and spoke to some of the neighbors.  I asked a few of them if they had ever witnessed anything disturbing.  One man mentioned that he had witnessed Luc abusing a child in public, right outside this man’s house.  When I asked the man why he didn’t report it, he said, “it wasn’t any of my business, so I didn’t get involved.  I almost said something, but I didn’t want his anger to turn on me.”  The man then told me to keep my head down, and that it would all work out for the best.  Since Prince died, I often wonder what people like this man would think now.  Would he regret never reporting the abuse?  Would he look at my situation and think that things worked out for the best?

Recently, I was accused of having an agenda – as if this is a bad thing.  If you are as passionate about an important issue as I am, you should be proud that you have an agenda too.  I will never hide from my agenda.  I will continue to have this agenda until the day when I stop hearing about children dying from abuse.  I don’t want to just stop hearing about it because I stop listening.  I want to stop hearing about it because I want it to actually stop happening.

Please join me – please have an agenda too.

 

 

 

 

My First Post Baby Half – Marathon

 

Before I got pregnant with Prince, I was a runner.  I had run two marathons, two half marathons, an olympic triathlon, and countless smaller races (5k, 10k, etc).  I loved being an athlete.  Running was my way of relieving stress, and running was part of who I was.  I ran until I was eight months pregnant with Prince.  Then one day…I stopped running.

When I stopped, I told myself it was because I was too pregnant, but it was more than that.  I had become depressed because my relationship with Luc was confusing and scary.  Earlier that year, I had signed up to run a marathon with my sister (it was going to be five months after Prince was born).  I ended up flaking.  Shortly after Prince was born, when I learned that I had been living with a murderer, I started the most intense and emotional fight of my life.  For the next 15 months, I fought to try and save my son’s life.

Those of you who have been following my blog know that I lost the battle to save my son.  After 15 months, Luc killed my son Prince.  When this happened, it was the worst part of what had been a painful two years.  I was devastated, and I knew that my life would never be the same again.  There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t think about how much I love my little boy, and how I wish he could be here with us.  Dealing with the reality of this loss left me feeling further away from the woman I once was.

My Revenge:

I have often heard that the best revenge you can have on someone (especially a psychopath) is to live well.  Since taking a bat to Luc’s private parts doesn’t appear to be an option, living well is what I must attempt to do.  Those of you who have been entangled with a psychopath know how easy it is to look in the mirror one day, and not even recognize yourself.  I had gotten to that point.  I was about 60 pounds overweight, my hair was horribly damaged (it actually had started to fall out due to stress), and I realized that I no longer did many of the things I used to love.

While my daughter is an incredible source of happiness, I realized that in order to truly have my revenge I needed to get my whole life back together.  I needed to get back to doing things that made me happy and relieved my stress.  So, I got myself a new pair of running shoes, strapped Stela in the BOB stroller (with the infant carseat insert, of course) and ran.

Painful Journey:

Similar to childbirth, getting back into running shape was painful.  Unlike some women, I never enjoyed pregnancy.  Getting fat, getting kicked in the ribs, and watching your extremities swell on the daily wasn’t ever my idea of enjoyment.  (Note:  I am not ashamed to admit this – it doesn’t make me love my children any less.)  While I love running, running as an out of shape post-pregnancy mom was not glamorous.

The first run was torture.  I felt every one of those 60 extra pounds I had gained between my pregnancies.  Luckily, Stela was along for the ride on most of my runs.  While pushing a heavy stroller is no picnic, her smiles helped me remember why I was enduring all the pain.  The extra stroller weight also made running without the stroller feel so much easier.

After a month of some short runs, I realized that in order to get that piece of me that I had lost back – I needed to sign up for a race.  I needed the experience of lacing up my shoes on race morning, hearing the starting gun, running through the crowds of equally as nutty folks, and crossing that finish line.  In a moment of confidence, I signed up to run the DC Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon.  The race was only 4.5 months after giving birth to Stela, but I figured, ‘I have some muscle memory – I will be alright.’

Race Day:

In the days leading up to the race, I would be lying if I didn’t admit I was a little terrified.  Ok, maybe I was a lot terrified.  It had been four years since I had run an endurance race (the last one being June 2010, DC Olympic Triathlon).  Since DC has experienced an unusual amount of snow this winter, I hadn’t even been able to train to the level that would have been close to enough.  All these factors aside, however, I wasn’t about to flake this time.  I needed this race.

On race morning, I got up before the sun and made my way to the starting line (Constitution and 14th street to be exact).  As I nearly froze standing in the Porta Potty line, I wondered if my boobs were going to explode before I would be able to pump or get to Stela in order to breastfeed.  In the end this seemed like a silly concern compared to the actual physical monster of a race I had before me.

After what felt like being stuck in a pack of hungry cattle, corral 28 was finally released to start the race.  Adrenaline got me through the first five miles.  Then, my entire body began to remind me that it hadn’t been long enough since I had given birth to a child.  ‘What am I going to do,’ I thought frantically.  I needed a plan.

Running Goddesses From Kentucky:

Just as I was losing hope that I would ever finish the God awful race, I spotted two women who looked as though they were having a blast.  They were both dressed in St. Patrick’s Day attire, but I was really drawn to the fact that they seemed as though they had a brilliant plan.  One of the women had a stop watch that beeped every minute reminding them to walk.

When I heard the beep, and realized that they had a plan, I jogged over to ask them about it.  Likely seeing that I was struggling, they asked me to join them.  I owe miles 6-11 to these amazing running Goddess’.  They told jokes and stories – and they fed me pretzels.  Sadly, around mile 11, I hit the runner’s wall.  For anyone who doesn’t know what this means, let me explain briefly:  Have you ever been punched so hard that your entire body feels it?  If the answer is yes, you have experienced something similar to what it feels like to hit “the wall”. It is possible to run through this feeling, but it takes a ton of mental strength and distraction.  Needless to say, when I hit the wall I had to wave the two running goddess’ on so that I didn’t slow them down.

The Finish:

Those last two miles were the hardest miles I have fought for in all of my years of racing.  With every step, however, I realized that living through the trauma of the past few years has made me mentally stronger than I ever was before.  I was running this race to prove to myself that I hadn’t lost myself during the battle, but what I learned on the run (during the most difficult time) was that I am now a better version of myself.

Most everyone can look at something in their life and have pity on themselves for it.  For me, it seems so easy sometimes to sit and cry about all the terrible things that have happened in the past four years since I met Luc.  What isn’t easy, however, is finding ways to move on.  I wasn’t physically ready for this race.  I drank too much water, ended up depleting my electrolytes to a dangerous level, and almost bought myself a trip to the emergency room.

The last 30 seconds of the race, however, were amazing.  I felt the last four years flash before my eyes, and it seemed like a moment of incredible closure.  I realized that I will never be the woman I once was, but I am hopeful that I will look in the mirror one day and realize that the woman staring back at me is better than the woman she once was.  She is better for having survived the storm.  She is better for having run through the pain, and made it to the other side.

 

 

 

 

Daddy Doin’ Work: Empowering mothers to evolve fatherhood

If I had a dollar for every time I have seen a mother carrying a baby on her chest, pushing toddler in a stroller, and carrying several bags at the grocery store at the same time, I would be a wealthy woman.  This is a common scene amongst mothers, but if I had a dollar for every time I have seen a man in this same situation – well, then I would be on food stamps.  When you do see a man in this situation, however, people act like it’s epic.  A man carrying his baby on his chest elicits the sort of ogling that you’d expect only from teenage girls on a  school yard when the hot dude walks by.

Why is this?  Why is it normal and expected for women to parent their children, but considered Godly when a man does the same?  Why  do we find changing tables in the women’s restroom, but the same tables are noticeably absent from men’s restrooms?  Is society trying to tell us that a guy can’t change a diaper?

Those of you who know my story know that calling my ex simply a “deadbeat” Dad would be like calling Mother Teresa just a nice lady.  If there were a term for something much worse than a deadbeat – my ex would likely fall more closely into that category.  I mention all of the above to say that part of the reason men are the way they are today, part of the reason that many fathers have not evolved beyond cavemen times, is because of the low expectations we as women have for them.

My good friend Doyin, aka Daddy Doin’ Work, is on a mission to change the face of Fatherhood as we know it.  You might have heard of books that talk about how to be a good parent (like how to change a diaper).  The market is loaded with those types of books.  This, however, is the sort of book I wish had been available when I met Lucifer (this is what I call the D bag who killed my son).  What is refreshing about what Doyin has to say is a no nonsense kind of guy.  He is the first dude to praise the Dads who are doing great things, but he is also the sort of guy who isn’t going to make excuses for the guys who do things that all men should be ashamed of.

I recently wrote a blog about how racism isn’t just a black issue – it’s an everybody issue.  I feel the same way about the evolution of fatherhood.  This is a conversation that everyone should be having regardless of gender.  As a woman, however, I love the idea that Doyin is tackling this issue by speaking to women.

Doyin, congratulations on your book my friend.  I applaud you for attempting to raise the bar on fatherhood – the role model you are for your daughters – and your attempts to empower women.

 

Racism – An Everybody Issue

Before my son was born, while I was pregnant with him, someone asked me what I wished for.  I said, “I wish that before my son is born, we could live in a place where racism no longer existed.”  (Note:  This was before I realized that I had more immediate concerns – i.e. that his father was a psychopathic serial killer)

None the less, I wanted my children to be born into a world where they would not be judged but he color of their skin.  Recently, I have been encouraged by the amount of interracial couples I see on a regular basis, and the popularity of the cheerios commercial featuring that cute little biracial actress.  While I was born in 1980, well after the Civil Rights Movement, our country was still the type of place where I became painfully aware of racism at a very early age.  I have lived long enough, however, to see things change a lot.  People no longer stare at my family when we are out in public, because seeing interracial families has become normal.

So much progress has been made since my parents were children, that I had been able to live 33 years without being terrified in a situation due to the color of my skin.  This fact, however, changed this past week.  The following encounter made me realize that for as much progress that we have made, many of us still find ourselves wondering when race will no longer make you the target of violence.

The day of my eye opening experience began relatively unremarkable, like many other weekend days.  I am training for a half marathon in a couple of weeks so I dragged myself out of bed, bundled up Stela, and hit the trail for a run.  While I had planned to run at least 4 miles, Stela had other plans.  After about 2.5 miles, the diva came out and Stela started to scream at the top of her lungs.  After stopping for a mid run breastfeeding session (Note:  I don’t recommend this.  It was awkward.  I should have packed a bottle.), Stela decided that she wanted to hold my hand to go back to sleep.  I spent the last .5 miles running while holding her hand.

By the time I finished my run, I was exhausted, sweaty, and a bit cranky (given that I had planned to run further).  As I was walking back to my car, on a very narrow sidewalk, my eye caught a strange looking man walking in my direction.  Normally, I would have crossed the street, but construction forced me to continue on the narrow sidewalk.  The man, who was carrying several bags and walking aggressively, ran up to me and screamed, “There are too many Niggers around here!  You all are cock sucking Niggers!”  He was no further than a few inches from my face when he said this.  While many people might think to yell back at him, my first reaction was to put the entire force of my bodyweight behind the stroller and book it up the hill and back to my car.  I was terrified because this man didn’t appear mentally stable, and I was sure that if I hadn’t gotten out of there he would have turned the verbal assault into a physical one.

As I sat in my car, after this encounter, I held Stela trying to calm her down (she had been crying hysterically).  I realized that I was also trying to calm myself down.  Why had this encounter scared me so much?  In the past nearly three years since my son was born, two black teenagers have been murdered – one for “looking” like a criminal (Trayvon Martin) while carrying a back of skittles and and some iced tea – the other (Jordan Davis) killed because his music was too loud.  Possibly more disturbing than the fact that these two innocent teens were murdered is the fact that our court system was unable to see that justice was served.  Trayvon’s killer was set free, and the jury in Jordan’s case just couldn’t seem to find his killer guilty of murder.

It’s nearly impossible to have escaped media about both of the cases I have explained above.  While I am multiracial, I am here to tell you that the moment I came face to face with a crazy racist man while innocently pushing my little girl in her stroller – I felt very black.  I became extremely conscious of the color of my skin, and knowing the environment of my country right now, I was terrified.

Next time I go for a run, I will be carrying mace.  I don’t tell this story just to tell an interesting story.  I tell this story to prompt conversation.  I encourage everyone, regardless of your skin color, to think about how you can be a part of the change.  What needs to happen in our country so that racism is no longer acceptable.  What needs to happen so that a company like cheerios can make a commercial featuring an interracial family and NOT be subjected to negative racist comments?  What needs to happen to end these violent racially motivated murders?  What needs to happen to hold these murdering racists accountable?

We are all a part of this society – we all share this burden.  This is not a black issue, not a white issue, but an all of us issue.

 

 

 

 

 

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.