Co-Parenting With A Psychopath: The Story of The Headless Bear

 

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Some of you who have been following my blog since the beginning, may remember this story.  I am releasing it from the CQ vault today, because I think it illustrates the complete chaos that many parents feel when forced to co-parent with another parent who is mentally unhealthy (or specifically, a psychopath).  I wrote this post a little over two years ago, when I was in the throws of co-parenting hell with Luc.  Every visit was a nightmare, and my mind would race from the time I dropped Prince off to well beyond the time when I picked him up.

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June 2012, a week before Prince’s first birthday: 

When I first became exposed to the term “co-parenting”, I remember having a visceral reaction.  I was sitting in the three hour court mandated co-parenting class, breaking into a sweat, and having what felt like a full on panic attack as the woman leading the class showed slides of “parenting schedules.”  ‘How in hell was I going to co-parent with a man who was capable of such terrible things,’ I thought as I tried to get myself under enough control to not look like a crazy woman.  At the beginning of the class, the leaders made a point to tell everything to disregard most of what was being said if you were in a situation with abuse/domestic violence.

For some reason, this statement made me feel worse because I knew that somehow the courts were not going to treat my case the same as a cookie cutter domestic violence case (as if there ever is one).  I knew how good Luc was at playing in that “grey area” of criminality and how adept at making himself look like the victim he was.  That panic that I felt throughout the entire three hours of that class only seemed to get worse as the months passed.  While I don’t break out into sweats and actively panic every single time I drop my son off, I never feel at ease because I know his father is damaging.  The point of co-parenting is to allow the child to have a healthy relationship with both parents even if the parents are no longer together.  My motherly instincts will not allow me to trust that baby boy is ever going to be able to have a healthy relationship with his father because his father is not healthy.

One of my coworkers wrote on the white board at her desk the phrase, “Crazy people make sane people crazy.”  Most people who have never had the misfortune of co-parenting with a sociopath (if that is even what you would call this) might think that the below story sounds a little crazy.  Honestly, I feel a little crazy sometimes whenever I try and get in Luc’s head and proactively prepare for his next crazy stunt.  You tell me, is this crazy?  Or is this just a reaction to the insanity of being forced to co-parent with a sociopath?

 

The Headless Bear

When a person creates an environment of distrust, it makes you question everything.  Since the beginning of this nightmare (i.e. the existence of Luc in my life), I have been lied to on a regular basis by this man.  Many of the lies have put both me and my family in harms way.  Every time I think that things have calmed down, the man pulls another crazy move that I didn’t anticipate.

These crazy moves have left me attempting to anticipate the lies and deception before they happen.  Please note, this is not easy as sometimes it makes you feel like you are going down the rabbit hole of crazy.

For my son’s first birthday, Luc bought him a build-a-bear.  This was the very first thing that Luc had ever gotten the baby so as you can imagine I was a bit skeptical of this furry creature.  Part of me thought, ‘come on cappuccino queen, it’s just a bear’ but then the other voice (the skeptic) said, ‘wait a second…he never does anything just because he is trying to be nice.’

(Note:  Two years later, I now know that the bear was not the first thing Luc bought for Prince.  The first thing Luc actually bought Prince was a life insurance policy worth over 580k if Prince died.  I guess the policy wasn’t for Prince.  Oh well, I digress…)

While my first instinct was to tear the bear apart with my teeth and throw it in the mall trashcan, I decided I would do the more sane thing and ask my mother and aunts (who were standing right next to me when I first saw it) what they thought.  This is when I realized how truly traumatized my entire family had been.  One of my aunts said (before I even told them how I was feeling), “you better check that and make sure he didn’t bug it.”  The other said, “It’s too risky, just throw it out – don’t even let it in the car.”  I shook my head, threw the bear back in the box and took my son home.

I thought about the stupid bear the whole ride home.  I also thought about how throwing it out wasn’t the answer as this could be the ONLY thing my son would ever get from his father (I suspect it was purchased in order to look good in front of the court ordered supervisor who would be testifying in court the next day).  That being said, I still didn’t trust the bear.  That night the bear spent the night in the garage.

The next morning, I walked downstairs (having dreamed about that stupid bear) and low and behold my mom was awake and didn’t waste any time to ask me what I had decided to do with the bear.  I told her that we were being paranoid and that there was nothing wrong with the bear.

On the drive to work, I couldn’t stop trying to figure out if there was more to this bear thing. This is a man who has been lying and terrorizing since he met me.  A bear couldn’t JUST be a bear.  Once I got to work, I brought up the bear to my coworkers.  Some of the more paranoid ones were all for the idea of cutting the bear open and making sure it wasn’t bugged.

Eventually, I allowed my mom to check for a bug.  She cut the bears head off and pulled out all the stuffing.  Of course, there was nothing there.  It was JUST a bear filled with stuffing and a fake heart.  (A lot like Luc himself actually)  I felt terrible – and a little crazy.  My mom told me I shouldn’t feel bad and that the bear was a “casualty of war.”

Yes, one could say it was JUST a bear – but it was more than that symbolically.  That bear became a symbol of the environment of distrust.  It also made it very obvious to me that co-parenting would be impossible.  I have a lot of work to do on myself to get to the point where the little things don’t bother me.  I also need to get to the point where I can safely stop anticipating his next crazy move.

 

 

 

 

 

Gender Wars In Family Court Undermine Child Safety

 

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“There is no accountability or oversight in Family Court today.  There is no integrity.  Who is looking out for our children while everyone is getting rich at their expense?”  -  Kelly Rutherford, Actress and Co-Founder of The Children’s Justice Campaign

 

Last week, The Good Men Project posted an article about non-custodial fathers.  The article discussed how a man named Marc Hudson was creating a documentary about how non-custodial fathers face terrible stereotypes and an unfair system of custody.  While I found Mr. Hudson’s brief video both interesting and important, one of first things I noticed about what these men was that none of what they said needed to be painted as gender specific.  Many of the things that these fathers talked about, I have also heard from women when they are discussing the terrors of the Family Court system.

This week, I raise this issue because I would like to challenge those of us who have been touched by this broken system to break down gender barriers.  A person could walk into any given court and see a father who is being mistreated and stereotyped.  Then, that same person could walk into a courtroom down the hall or even in another state, and see a mother being stereotyped and mistreated as well.  Even though these two courtrooms might have very different gender politics occurring, they both have one thing in common – a complete and utter disregard for the civil rights of the child.

We often get so hung up on which gender is being mistreated on a given day in court (trust me when I tell you that Family Court does not discriminate when it comes to the poor treatment of men and women alike), that we completely miss the point.  Getting caught in gender wars and trying to argue about which gender is treated worse, is the same as throwing those small circle bandaids at a huge gaping wound.  It might make you feel better to peel open the package, and stick that useless bandaid to your terrible cut; however, almost as soon as you stick it on, it is going to fall off and continue to bleed.

Real Life Examples:

Many of you are likely still reading this post thinking, ‘This Cappuccino Queen has no clue what she is talking about!  I am in the middle of some crazy sh*t and I know my gender is treated worse when it comes to Family Court.’  To you folks, hang in there.  I have compiled the list of below anecdotes and quotes, and I have intentionally withheld the gender of the individual this happened to.  As you read through this list, I ask that you try and guess the gender of the person speaking before you look at the reveal beneath each quote.

1) “My son told the social worker that “Daddy” sexually abused him.  I need to get him out of that house.  I am afraid he is going to be hurt, but I don’t have custody.  I am living pay check to pay check just to make sure I don’t fall behind on child support.  I can’t afford a lawyer.”

Reveal:  This quote came from a non-custodial father.  His son’s mother had asked the child to call his step father “Daddy”. So when the child reported that “Daddy” abused him, everyone initially thought it was the child’s biological father.  When this father found out that his son was being abused by his ex’s new husband, he fought many years in court trying to protect his son.  In addition to fighting for his family attorney, he was placed under investigation for sexual abuse before the authorities were able to clear up that it was the stepfather and not the biological father who had abused the child.

2)  “I now have supervised visits because the family court system would not protect my children. One evening, I called my son, and he was ordered by father to get off the phone. The phone was never hung up and I sat there on the other end of the line listening to my son getting beat up, my ex screaming, my son crying.”

Reveal: This story comes from a woman who was placed on supervised visits for eight years. Her children sadly endured years and years of abuse before she was able to regain custody of them.

4)  “I don’t have primary custody of my children, even though my ex frequently has to be hospitalized for mental breakdowns and tries to hurt herself.  When my ex has a breakdown, Social Services takes my children from the house…then they call me.  I have fought to get custody, but have run out of money and now just try and do the best I can for my children.”

Reveal:  This story came from a father.  Even though his ex-wife had a clear history of being a danger to herself and potentially her children, the court refused to protect the children by putting them in the custody of their father.

5)  The final story is an anecdotal one:  Two parents had shared custody when one parent began to act erratically and started to speak about committing suicide and killing the children.  The healthy parent pleaded with the court to get a protective order against the parent who continued to make threats.  The court stated that a protective order could not be issued until the threatening parent proved that he/she posed a threat to the children by actually physically hurting them.  After the protective order was denied, the threatening parent brought the three children to a hotel, and drowned them one by one.

Reveal:  This happened to a woman named Amy Castillo.  Her ex-husband is now serving multiple life sentences in prison for the murder of their three children.

 

I have heard many people throw out amazingly ridiculous comments like, “99 percent of women who come to court lie about abuse” or “most men are deadbeat fathers”.  Outlandish  comments like these ones are sexist propaganda.  When dealing with the health and safety of children, such statements undermines child safety.

Throwing around those types of stereotypes are dangerous, especially when mentally healthy fathers and mothers have to then face those very stereotypes playing out in their personal custody case.

While I can certainly understand how one can become bitter after a terrible experience in Family Court, it is dangerous to try and paint an entire gender or an entire system based on your individual experience.  If I did that, I would assume that all men killed their children just because my ex has been charged with drowning my son.  Even though my experience was unimaginably terrible, I understand that it was just that – my experience.

Finally, Family Court Judges are people too.  Given that there is little to no oversight in our flawed system, many families are at risk of terrible court decisions at the hands of biased judges.  I have spent many hours thinking about how to reform the Family Court system in America.  One of the first things I wish for is that good parents could come together for reform, and recognize that these gender wars cloud the issues and stop real progress from happening.

 

 

#JusticeForPrince

 

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My son Prince would have been three years old today, if his father had not murdered him.

 

Prince was born on July 1, 2011. I remember the day he was born as if it was yesterday, but sometimes it feels like a lifetime ago. The first time the doctors put him on my chest, his big brown eyes looked directly into mine. I was meeting him for the first time, but it was as if I had known him my entire life.

For those who do not know my story, Prince was murdered on October 20th 2012 when his father drowned him during his fourth court ordered unsupervised visitation when he was only 15 months old. Two weeks after my son was born, I learned that the man I thought I loved was not at all the man he had portrayed. After fleeing his home with my two-week-old son, I began the hardest fight of my life in Family Court.

Currently, my son’s father (whom I call “Lucifer” or “Luc”) is awaiting trial for capital murder in Prince William County, VA. In addition to the medical examiner ruling that my son died of drowning, the police discovered that Luc took out over $580,000 in life insurance on Prince before killing him.

 

Living Well After Tragedy:

 I have often heard that the best revenge is a life well lived. This seems especially true when an angry psychopath who seems determined to tear out your soul is the source of your pain. I would be lying if I didn’t admit to you that this sort of “revenge” was part of what got me out of bed in the weeks after my son’s murder.   I should also admit that I have had my fair share of days when getting out of bed was plain impossible.

Just the other day, while I was dropping off my daughter in the church nursery, a kind woman asked me, “Are you happy?” She asked me this with tears in her eyes as she remembered the mornings when my son would bounce into the room, ready to play with the cars and eat cheerios with the rest of the children. While I responded with a simple “yes”, I thought about her question for some time afterward.

“Am I happy? Or am I still just trying to be happy as some sort of revenge to exact upon my son’s killer?” I thought about this for the better part of the day, and I welcomed the reflection that this question caused for me. As I went through the day, I realized that the reason I choose to be happy has changed since those initial days after my son was killed. I am now happy, but my happiness is now for my son, despite his killer.

I have a good life, but I will always have a hole in my heart. The conflicting emotions of being capable of happiness, but at the same time feeling a nagging pain is something I have found hard to explain. It is possible that only those who have faced such a tremendous loss could understand.

Several months ago, my father was talking to a friend about what happened to my son. He explained it well when he said, “It is like there is a huge stain on your carpet, and no matter how much you scrub the spot – it never goes away. You can put furniture on top of it, but you will always know that it is still there.” There is never going to be a day when I think what happened to Prince is okay. The hole in my heart is never going away, just like that permanent stain on my father’s metaphorical carpet.

If losing my child didn’t put a hole in my heart, I am not sure how healthy a person I would be. If someone had asked me in the days after my son was murdered if I thought I would ever be happy again, I would have said that happiness was impossible. Now, I would tell that same person that happiness can live along side of sadness.

 

Prince’s Legacy:

On this day, I choose to celebrate my son’s short life and his important legacy. Since my son died, I have spoken to many parents who have lived and continue to live through tremendous pain and tragedy. Many of them tell me that my story is the worst that they have ever heard. I still hold firm, however, that pain is relative. Mine is no worse than the next person – it is just a different kind of pain.

Before my son came into my life, I was consumed by my “first world” problems. I spent a lot of time being unhappy about things that now seem completely trivial. Since my son, I think I am a happier person for having known this sort of tragedy and for having known how it feels to hit rock bottom. I have also become the type of person who believes that many times what you think is someone else’s problem will eventually become your own.

Lately, many people have asked me why I continue this blog now that I am no longer in the throws of a custody war. There are several reasons I continue to write. I continue to write because:

…I promised my son that I would finish the job he started, and continue to raise awareness about Civil Rights abuses against children in our country.

…I want to spread hope to other families in crisis.

…I want to be a part of the change, so that no other child has to suffer the way my son did – and that no other parent has to bury his or her child the way I had to bury mine.

Happy Birthday Mr. Prince:

Prince only lived to celebrate one birthday aside from the day he was born. I am so thankful that I took him to the beach, and let him play in the sand on his big day. On his birthday, I remember he woke up in a great mood. He wasn’t walking yet, but he loved to crawl. One of his favorite things to do was to crawl down long hotel hallways and greet all the other guests. We spent a large part of that day following Prince down halls, and watching him beam with happiness.

This year, I am taking my daughter to that same beach. I would give anything to have Prince here with us. As I am sitting on the beach, I will try to imagine a world where there aren’t people who kill their children. In that world, my son would still be here. I will also try to imagine a world where all people care as much about children as I do. I will imagine what things could be like if everyone stood up against the gaping holes in our system that continue to fail our children.

This world I imagine is the world I want for my daughter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

#Justice Fails A Survivor When…

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On Monday June 23rd, a passionate group of women started a twitter campaign to raise awareness of how the criminal justice system treats rape, sexual assault, harassment, domestic violence, and trafficking survivors.  The campaign began as a way to ask a seemingly simple question that unfortunately doesn’t have an easy answer.  The golden question is, “who don’t survivors go to the police and put their assailant’s in jail?”

Since the campaign started, it appears as though hundreds of women and some men have joined in to speak out about how our justice system fails victims.  I am the first to admit that I have a lot to learn about Twitter.  When I first heard about twitter, I felt as though it was pretty silly and could never imagine that I would become someone who tweeted.  A few years later, however, here I am.  I wanted to share some of the things I read as a result of this campaign, because I think it highlights the good of social media.

#JusticeFailsASurvivorWhen…

1)  “Police success statistics mean rape cases are dropped”:  Most law abiding citizens probably held the believe, as I did, that when someone breaks the law (and is caught) they will be arrested.  In reality, however, there are many police departments that cherry pick cases in order to ensure impressive crime fighting statistics.  Sadly, while there are some amazing police officers who work day and night to fight crime, there are also officers who don’t have altruistic motivations.  Police officers are people, and when you have people – you have the potential for moral corruption.

2)  “People assume a rapist is innocent because the police won’t arrest him or he wins in court.  No, this just means he got away with rape”:  Again, unless you have seen a criminal get away with horrific crimes time and time again, you might feel as though our justice system is successful at keeping us all safe.  Let me be the first person to tell you, in the event that you haven’t already heard this, most good men will never be accused of rape.  If you know someone who has, you might want to keep your distance because something could be seriously amiss about this person.  Like, for example, that person could go on to kill his own child.  Despite what many corrupt officials would like for us all to believe, women don’t just go around reporting false rape right and left.

3)  “When terms like ‘legitimate rape’ exist”:  This is a term that is so insane that most people would have to hear an official say it to really even believe it was said in seriousness.  When I read it on twitter, however, I absolutely believed it had been said.  I believed it because I have heard equally as ridiculous things said to me by people in powerful positions.  I would challenge anyone to explain to me what this official could have meant by “legitimate rape”.

4)  “Only 3% of rapist ever spend a day in jail”:  This statistic is alarming, because it means that the other 97% of rapists are walking the streets and likely to rape again.  I know from first hand experience that if a dangerous person is not caught the first (or second, etc) time he/she commits a crime, that person becomes emboldened and gets a feeling of being “above the law”.  When a rapist doesn’t get stopped, he doesn’t just decide to stop raping – he continues to rape.

5)  “When even convicted rapists and pedophiles are allowed full parental rights and access to their children”:  This last tweet hit me hard.  When a woman is raped, and there is a child produced from that rape, that child could most likely be forced to visit with their rapist parent.  If the rapist serves any time, which we all know is rare, his parental rights remain fully intact and upon his release he would be allowed to begin his dangerous influence on this innocent child.  Not to mention, the courts will remove the child from the custody of his mother if that mother is incapable of fostering a relationship between her child and her rapist.

Dangerous Parallels:

I think a lot of parallels can be made between how rape is treated in this country, and what is happening in family courts. There was a time when society understood the role of a mother as a nurturer and protector. It seems as though old school misogynist views are being played out in the Family Courtroom and in police stations across the country.  Why are rape cases assumed to always be “he said/she said”?  Why wouldn’t each claim be actually investigated before an officer makes the assumption that the claim is likely false?

While my ex didn’t get custody (because it was clear that he had no means to take care of Prince), when it came to discussion of abuse, the court saw him as a credible reporter.  I came to court with a parade of reputable character witnesses, an impressive history of work, educational achievements, and a clean record.  Luc, on the other hand, was unable to provide even one family member who could speak positively about him.  He had no proof of ever paying taxes or holding any kind of employment, and he wasn’t even honest about how old he was.    Even though these facts existed, our court system still cancelled out both of our comments and chalked them up to “he said/she said”.  Luc was only able to tip the scales when he found a therapist who would support his compulsive and dangerous lies.

 

I have often discussed what I believe is the death of justice.  I applaud the group behind this twitter campaign, because they are trying to resuscitate the justice system.  They are trying to pry open the eyes of those people in our society who refuse to realize how bad things have gotten.  Even though the issues that these women have tweeted about might not be immediate in your life at this moment, there will be a day when every single American will feel the negative impact of the monstrous holes in our justice system.  One day, the child of the rapist (who was forced to spend years being influenced by a violent felon) will show up on your door step.  He will be taking your daughter to prom.

 

 

 

 

My Two Year Bloggerversary

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Two years ago today, I started writing this blog.  For today’s post, I thought it would be fitting to reflect on the past two years.  For those of you who have been with my from the beginning (or just had the chance to read the historical posts), you can likely see how my life has changed tremendously in the past two years.  Sometimes, when I think back on who I was two years ago, it shocks me at how much I have learned and grown as a result of some pretty crazy life experiences.  Here are some of the things I have learned over the past two years that I think are worth sharing on this special day:

 

Don’t Let Chaos Steal Your Identity:  A few short weeks before I created Cappuccino Queen, I was talking to an old friend about how traumatizing my life situation had become.  I explained to him that I had learned that my ex was a suspected serial killer only two weeks after my son was born, and that now I was fighting to make sure this maniac didm’t harm my son.  While I was describing the likely unbelievable chain of events, my friend stopped me and said, “Hera…what happened to Cappuccino Queen?”

To give you brief background, while I was studying in college I had a screen name/email by the title of Cappuccino Queen.  It was a fun play on my cappuccino colored skin, and my name (“queen” of the Gods in greek mythology).  This screen name represented my fun and playful side.

It was clear as my friend asked this question that he wasn’t just talking about my screen name.  He wanted to know where that fun loving, playful version of Hera had gone.  He had noticed that I was losing myself in all this extreme life drama.  Immediately, I nearly had a panic attack when I thought about how my son didn’t know the good version of myself – that version was being smothered by the psychopathic terrorist who was draining the life out of me (aka the man I call “Lucifer”).

From this phone conversation, I realized that I needed to take back my identity.  I needed to remind myself not to let the chaos consume my life.  There are many things that I regret about my 15 months with Prince.  There are many things I wish I had the chance to do over.  What I do not regret, however, is making the conscious decision to show my son the happier version of myself that I thought I had lost.  He knew his Mama, despite the nearly constant chaos we lived in.

Lifetime Movies Are Real:  Five years ago, before I met the devil incarnate, I used to think that Lifetime movies were all about the drama and that stuff didn’t really happen that often.  That believe system changed when my life turned into the sort of terrible situation that I had only seen on Lifetime.  Occasionally on a bored Saturday afternoon, I didn’t mind watching Lifetime.  It was like watching a train wreck that you couldn’t look away from.  Now, I can no longer bring myself to watch these stories because they are just too close to reality.

Improved Psychopath Radar:  If there is any silver lining to being entrapped by a psychopath, its that it teaches you to spot one from miles away.  That man at work who constantly talks about killing his wife?  Stay away from him.  The guy who throws computers a fit of rage?  Yep, he is not someone you want to invite to your family BBQ either.

People Show Themselves In Tragedy And In Good Times:  In the past two years, I have experienced the worst tragedy (losing my son), and the greatest joy (having my daughter and rebuilding my life).  In both the good times and the bad, you find out who your friends are.  Some people, only like to hang around you when your life is going to shit.  The moment you start to rebuild, they disappear.  There are also those people who only want to be around during the good times, but disappear during the times when you need them.  I have learned to hang on tight to those people who can weather the storm, and celebrate your happiness as well.

Ignore Haters/Victim Blamers:  After my son died, and my story showed up in the media, you wouldn’t believe how many people came out of the woodwork to hate on me.  The real trolls of the internet came out and spewed their incredibly ugly hate.  Many people blamed me for getting involved with the psycho, as if I had knowingly dated a serial killer.

Then, when my daughter was born, the second wave of haters came.  Every internet troll with a computer had something to say about their opinion on my choice to become a mother.

In these two years, I have learned the good lesson that if you don’t have some haters – you aren’t being loud enough.

Love Is Powerful:  When I had my son, I didn’t think it was possible to ever love someone as much as I loved him.  The love I had for that little boy (and still have) was incredible.  In the last two years, I have learned that love doesn’t end when someone dies.  I have also learned how possible it is to fall in love again and again.  The moment my daughter was placed on my chest, I couldn’t believe that it happened again.  I couldn’t believe that I was staring at someone that I loved just as much as I loved Prince.

 

Finally, I cannot express to you all more how much I have appreciated my readers in the past two years.  You all have seen me through the biggest challenges in life and some of my greatest joy.  I truly believe that this is the beginning of a community and of a movement.  This blog has allowed me to create something positive out of a terribly negative situation.  It is my goal to continue my son’s legacy – to teach people what I wish I had known before I met Luc – and to try my hardest to save children.

Thank you for following me.  Thank you for being a part of this journey.

Father’s Day For Mama…Who Is Also Daddy

 

Photo by Mary F. Calvert

Photo by Mary F. Calvert

A few months after my daughter was born, I had a conversation with a good friend of mine who is also a Single Mother By Choice (SMBC). I told her I was thinking about what it would be like for my daughter when Father’s Day rolled around each year, or when her school has Daddy-Daughter dances. While I have a father, and a brother, Uncles, and male cousins who would all gladly go to school with Stela on those days, I still wonder how she will feel about just having a Mama. After explaining to my friend that I had been thinking about these “deep thoughts”, she said to me, “Well, I am going to go to school on Daddy-Daughter days. I am not going to send anyone else, because I am Mommy and Daddy.”
After this conversation with my friend, I thought, ‘she is totally right! Why can’t I go to the Daddy-Daughter dances along with all the guys? Why can’t my daughter make me a card at school for Father’s Day?’

While I fully intend on showing up for both Mother’s and Father’s events at Stela’s school one day, I am also aware that it takes a village to raise a child. In my village, there are lots of men – my father, my brother, uncles, and cousins. When I made the decision to have Stela on my own, I also made the decision that I would always validate my daughter’s experience. I plan to show her the world, and I can appreciate the “father figures” she will have in her life.

“Not The Mama”:

Lately, my sister has been joking that Stela looks like the baby from the old television show Dinosaurs who used to scream, “Not the Mama!” My sister is even showing Stela the videos in an attempt to get her to actually scream that phrase.  Up until this week, my daughter was not a fan of my father. I was sure that one day Stela would start to scream, “Not the Mama” whenever he would walk into the room. It had gotten to the point where I almost felt bad for my father. He and Prince were so close, yet for some reason Stela would cry when he walked in the room.

Prince used to crawl to my father as soon as he would walk through the door from work. None of us could understand why Prince could be in the worst mood, but when Grandpa walked in he was ready to be picked up for his evening walk.

Today, I learned my father’s secret to both my children’s hearts. While Prince and my father never told anyone the secret to their walks, Stela came in today with it written all over her face. At first, when my father wanted to take her for a walk, Stela gave him her usual stink eye. Despite Stela’s protest, my father insisted that she take a walk with him. About 20 minutes later, they came back inside and the dynamic between then had obviously changed.

When my mother went take Stela from grandpa, Stela put her head on his shoulder. Then, when my sister went to try and take her from grandpa, she put her hand on his shoulder as to say, “no thanks – me and Grandpa are hanging out.” Just when we were all scratching our heads as to what had occurred, Stela gave us all a huge smile that revealed that she had just eaten some berries with Grandpa. He had found the key to their hearts. Apparently both of my kids enjoy sour wild berries from my Father’s yard.

Grandpa’s Lessons:

I am fully willing to admit that I would likely not give my children sour berries from the sketchy bush in my Father’s yard. That said, the berries can be a representation of the unique parenting style my father brings to the village of people raising my daughter. Prince grew to love Grandpa because Grandpa would let Prince do things that nobody else would let him do – such as: tear up books, taste strange foods, or get extremely dirty playing outside. I feel like I was always taking things away from Prince that I worried would hurt him, and my father was always giving him things to let him try it out.

I am confident in my decision to have Stela on my own. While her experience will not be traditional, she will have her own experiences of value that will write her story on life. And for this Father’s Day, I am going to celebrate being a single mother. I am going to celebrate being Mommy and being Daddy.

We will also make sure we go visit grandpa so that Stela can have some of those nasty sour berries.

 

 

Appreciating Life’s Blessings – Even #ToddlerTerrorists

Baby yoga

Baby yoga

When Prince died, I distinctively remember trying to actively stop my mind from racing.  I had been a toddler Mama, and with that comes a complete change in your brain – at least that is how it felt.  From the moment Prince was born, I never stopped thinking about where he was.  When he became mobile, however, it became almost impossible to get my brain to think about just one thing.  If it was silent, I would always be looking around identifying potential hazards or wondering where he might have crawled off to.

As so many mothers who have lost children can likely relate to, when your child dies your brain does not stop acting as that child’s mother.  When Prince died, my mind raced.  I would look for him when it was silent, only to then painfully realize over and over again that he was not there – and why.  I didn’t feel normal because I couldn’t stop my mind from racing.

Prince toddling:

Prince didn’t start crawling until he was 8.5 months old.  For weeks, he would get on all fours and reach his hand behind his butt as though he was trying to push himself across the floor.  Then, he would do what we called the Quasimodo crawl.  We called it this because he would walk on one leg and crawl with the other.  While Prince was later to crawl than Stela, he loved his independence.  Shortly after crawling, he was walking (and then trying to run).

I frequently had to chase him places as he was always determined to run in the opposite direction.  He would run down the street like a little determined fellow who was so curious about the world.  There was not a moment in my day when I didn’t think about his safety.  For months after he died, I would instinctively look in the back seat of my car expecting to see his face smiling back at me.  It is impossible to turn off your motherly instincts – even after your child dies.

Stela Toddling:

Stela has been threatening to crawl for a couple of weeks now.  This past Saturday, I took her to a gym class where she was able to observe several other babies crawling on all of the equipment.  Stela, being the cerebral little diva that she is, watched them closely.  There were moments when I could almost see little light bulbs going off in her head as if she was thinking, ‘Oh snap!  That is how I am supposed to do that crawling thing!’

A few hours after her gym class, Stela crawled for the first time.  As I sat on the floor with her trying to grab the cell phone, that ended up being the crawl motivator, out of her mouth – I cried.  While for many parents this might feel like a frantic time, I finally feel like I am normal again.  There are still moments when I look around and think about where Prince is, but now my mind also races for Stela.  My Mama brain has kicked back into overtime as my infant is quickly becoming mobile.

My Appreciation:

I complain a lot about the lack of sleep I am getting, and how many hours I spend trying to get my child not to go after all that is dangerous in our home.  That said, I cannot express how thankful I am to have this opportunity to be my daughter’s mother.  From the moments she is punching me in the face at 2am, to the times when she does the Mama dance as I walk through the door after work – I am constantly aware of how precious her life is.  I am constantly grateful that I am able to be her mother.

It used to bother me when I would hear the news talk about the death of a child.  The reporters almost always follow those stories by telling parents to go home, and hug their child just a little tighter.  After Prince died, I always hated hearing this because it would always make me think about the parents who would have to go home without their children – those parents wouldn’t be able to hug their children at all.

Instead of telling all of you to hug your child a little tighter, I wanted to share this all with you today as a way to express what I have gone through.  My hope is that no parent will have to experience the pain that I felt losing Prince in order to appreciate their children the way that I do.  So when you hear my story, it shouldn’t just make you go hug your child tighter.  It should make you realize that you should love your child every day.  It should make you think about how privileged you are to be a parent, and how you should hug your child tight every single day.   It should make those tough moments when your toddler is throwing a fit, and being a little monster (because they all are like this at one point), a little easier.

When Prince was around six months old, I took him into a fast food restaurant to grab a sandwich before running back to the house.  He was tired, and decided to throw a royal fit inside the restaurant.  He screamed, kicked, and caused such a scene that all of the non-parents gave me the stink eye until I left.  I remember how frustrated I was with him that day.  I remember that in that moment I did not appreciate how precious even that time was with him.  Today, I would give anything to go back to that moment, and relive it with him a million times – just to be able to hold him in my arms one more time.

The Psychopathic Relationship – Five Lesser Known Signs

screamingdude

Image:  www.huffingtonpost.com

Every so often, I get an email from someone asking me whether or not I think their significant other is a psychopath.  This is a tough question without meeting the person, and I must note that I do not have a degree in forensic psychology.  Having been in a relationship with a psychopathic serial killer, however, I have learned a thing or two about red flags.  Before I get into red flags, though, I should note that sometimes flags can be “pink flags”.  “Pink flags” are things that might make you raise an eyebrow, but don’t raise the hairs on the back of your neck.  If there are things that don’t make sense in your relationship, and your partner’s story just isn’t quite coming together – listen to these “pink flags” because something is likely wrong.

Red flags to identify a psychopath have been written about a lot, but I am going to highlight some that are a little less discussed in popular media.  If you recognize any of the below signs in your partner, you might want to run…fast:

1)  Instant love connection – have you seen Frozen?  Remember the part when Ana falls in love with that dude whom she just met?  Remember when she almost died and that same dude revealed himself as a punk ass mother F?  Well, this was Disney teaching us about psychopaths.  (bravo Disney for trying to make up for allowing young girls to think that true love happens at first sight.)  Psychopaths are intense and work to shower their target with so much attention that it is hard to not be taken with them and believe that you have fallen in love quickly.  If you feel this way after the first date, slap yourself.  I am not ruling out the possibility of just having a good date and enjoying yourself, but most normal people don’t stare at you the way a psychopath does.  Most normal people are slightly cautious on a first date and don’t try to make you believe that there is an instant love connection.

2)  “Everyone else is crazy”-  Are you dating someone who has been divorced several times?  Does he/she claim that she is just unlucky in love, and that all of his/her ex’s have been “crazy”?  While I can completely understand making several bad decisions, there is something wrong if the person is claiming that all his/her ex’s were nuts.  Psychopaths like to make it seem like everyone else is nuts.  If they are well into their adult years, they have likely already made lots of enemies.  They might even still be in litigation with some of them. If you meet someone who has a child, and who claims to not have a good relationship with the mother/father of their child because that person is “crazy”, it is possible that the real “crazy” is the person you are with.   Luc was famous for claiming that so many people who had come and gone from his life were nuts.  The only common denominator for all of these people, however, was Luc himself.

3) The Scary Rage:  Before I met Luc, I used to think that people don’t really “look” crazy.  Well, except for maybe the person wandering the streets screaming about cameras that have been installed in their teeth by the US Government – I guess I always knew those people looked crazy.  But before Luc, I thought those were the types of people who looked crazy.  Luc was great at hiding his crazy.  Most of the time when he was angry, he would try and leave the situation or attack back in some weird passive aggressive way.

There were some times, however, when he would go into a psychopathic rage.  The first time I saw the rage directed toward me was when I told him that I could not afford to pay his mortgage by myself.  His eyes seemed to turn darker, his eyebrows crinkled, and the screws appeared to loosen in his head right before my eyes.  He screamed, irrationally, that he would never forgive me.  Just as I began to collect my things and try to walk out (and he saw his money walking away), things changed.  As quickly as he went into the rage, he seemed to snap out of it.

4)  Pathological Lying:  We all know people who stretch the truth for story value.  A psychopath, however, will get off on full out lying.  Often, they are trying to cover up some deep seated insecurities that they have, or they just want to see if they can make someone believe something isn’t true.  If someone is making grand claims that seem as if they cannot be true, it is quite possible that they aren’t.  Not only would Luc lie about himself, he would often set his son up by lying about his son’s abilities.  He would claim things that were impossible for his son to achieve, thus setting him up for grand disappointments (not to mention abuse when he couldn’t live up to these outlandish lies).  Luc would also make incredible statements, before asking people to check the truth of the statement on Google.  I guess Luc banked on nobody actually checking up on his lies via Google, or maybe he just figured that even when they realized it was a lie he would be long gone.

5)  Gaslighting: Gaslighting is a form of mental abuse in which false information is presented with the intent of making a victim doubt his or her own memory, perception, and sanity.  Instances may range simply from the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred, up to the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim.

I would often get into arguments with Luc where he would say something incredibly verbally abusive (or contradictory), and he would deny having said it.  He would go on about how he wished he had tape recorded our conversation, but he must have known that if he had a recording it would only prove that he had actually said what he was denying.  This behavior came to light glaringly during Luc’s deposition for our custody case.  Per his usual behavior, Luc denied saying something inflammatory.  My lawyer, determined to prove that Luc was doing this, had the court reporter rewind the tape and play it back.  Once it was proven that Luc said the very thing he was denying, Luc attempted to twist the story in another direction.

Gaslighting can be really scary for the victim.  The psychopath will do things to make you feel as if you are living in chaos without knowing the cause.  He/she intends to disorient you, and make you believe there is something wrong with you.  For example, a couple of days after Prince was born, I changed Prince’s diaper and handed him to Luc while I took a shower.  When I came out of the shower, Luc began to yell at me about how I was a bad mother because I hadn’t put Prince’s diaper on correctly.  To this day, I am sure that Luc intentionally took Prince’s diaper off and messed it up just so that he could chastise me about it.

 

This list is by no means exhaustive.  There are loads of other bizarre things that psychopaths will do.  My number one point of advice, however, is that if you feel that something in your relationship isn’t right – listen to your gut.  While psychopaths are really good at catching their targets, it is hard for them to keep up the mask for very long.  Watch for these moments when they lower the mask.  When they lower the mask, don’t stick around long enough to dig their claws into you.

Chris Mackney – A Casualty of Family Court

chris

“In hindsight, I recognize that my reactions to being bullied, abused and denied access to my children gave my ex- wife’s attorney the ammunition they were looking for to bring me into Court…

The love that my daughter and I shared was truly special… I am so sorry that I will not be there to see her grow into a beautiful woman.  My son Jack was just entering Kindergarten, when I lost access to him… It absolutely breaks my heart that I will not be able to help him grow into a man. I love you to, Jack. I miss you both so much.

Truth, facts, evidence or even the best interest of my children had no affect on the outcome. The family court system is broken, but from my experience, it is not the laws, it’s the lawyers. They feed off of the conflict. They are not hired to reduce conflict or protect the best interest of children.

I took my own life because I had come to the conclusion that there was nothing I could do or say to end the abuse. Every time I got up off my knees, I would get knocked back down. They were not going to let me be the father I wanted to be to my children. People may think I am a coward for giving up on my children, but I didn’t see how I was going to heal from this. I have no money for an attorney, therapy or medication. I have lost 4 jobs because of this process. I was going to be at their mercy for the rest of my life and they had shown me none.”

           - Excerpts from Chris Mackney’s suicide letter

On December 29, 2013, a man named Chris Mackney took his own life after spending years in Family Court fighting for his children.  While it has been months since his death, I only just learned of it this past weekend when I was notified by a reporter who plans to cover the case.  When I first read the email, I was stunned and speechless.  I am no stranger to stories that demonstrate the devastating impact that Family Court has on the lives of many.  Chris’ story, however, has hit close to home.  It has hit me because Chris was one of my readers, and he had reached out to me only a few short months before his death.

Upon googling Chris’ name to find out the details of his death, I noticed many websites that have attempted to exploit and twist his story in an attempt to make it appear as though it was something that it was not.  The very fact that Chris had asked to work with me shows that he was not a man trying to tie himself with an anti-women’s movement or speak out against mothers.  From what I knew of Chris through our conversations, he was a man who was trying to survive the horrible legal abuse he was enduring.  He was trying to find a way to get back into his children’s lives.  He was trying to navigate a broken system.

Initial Contact:

12/31/2012 – “My name is Chris Mackney.  I post on your site as madmacks…my case is so bad it’s incredible. I want to call for an investigation because there is so much corruption.  The pattern is so clear and they pretend it’s not there.  I wanted to see if we might work together to expose the courts failures in our cases.”

I was initially skeptical of Chris because I receive loads of letters from all sorts of people – some of them don’t appear to be psychologically sound.  I asked Chris to tell me a bit about his story.  Chris responded with a long email explaining his belief that his ex-wife and her father were both psychopaths.  He claimed that he had proof that his ex father in law was a murderer and heroin trafficker.  Chris went on to explain that his ex in-laws were very wealthy, and that his ex-father in law was extremely litigious (sadly, a strong characteristic of psychopathology).

While Chris wanted to stay out of court, and was willing to give custody to his ex-wife to just have access to the children, his ex’s family was determined to eliminate him.  Chris believed that he was being targeted by his ex wife’s family for uncovering the truth about their criminal behavior.  He also believed that if he went public about his case, he would get to see his children.

1/28/2013:  Psychopathy seems to be the problem.  No one wants to touch it.  Even the Father’s Rights groups…On one hand, it is absolutely the single source of conflict in my case, so I want to have it addressed by the court.  On the other hand, I almost do not want to bring it up, because I know they don’t know how to deal with it.  Dealing with psychopaths in court is hopeless.

This was one of the last times that I heard from Chris.

My reaction:

Many people likely read about my story and wonder if there is something wrong with me too for falling for such a sick and twisted person like Luc. Even though I have seen corruption at its worst drive the justice system into the ground, I still read Chris’ story with a skeptical eye.  I wondered if he had been the abuser.  I wondered about the other side of the story.

 Chris’ story haunts me because many things he said were absolutely true.  The claims he made, while seemingly outlandish, could have absolutely taken place given our broken system.  I was never able to help Chris.  I am not sure what I would have been able to do; however, I still feel sadness that I could not help him see that taking his life was not the answer.

The Ending:

In August 2013, a friend of Chris’ reached out to me to tell me that Chris had been arrested.  She claimed that his ex’s family had orchestrated this arrest, and that she feared Chris would kill himself in jail.  In December 2013 – he did kill himself.

I believe that Chris suffered from Post Traumatic Stress as a result of the legal abuse that he endured.  Psychopaths are bullies.  They enjoy litigation and have a strong need to win.  In Family Court, you will always find a lawyer who is willing to take your money.  Sadly, these cases that involve a disordered person can go on for years leaving people completely penniless and emotionally wrecked.

Some people have looked at what Chris did and thought, ‘he must not have loved his children if he was willing to just give up and kill himself.’  Anyone who has been a victim of this sort of vicious cycle of abuse, however, can understand exactly how Chris felt.  Many of the words he wrote in his suicide letter are not rational, and his final behavior doesn’t seem all that sane.  I would argue, though, that what Chris endured as a result of trying to be a father would drive any sane person crazy.

Currently, Chris’ ex wife is trying to erase Chris’ message from the Internet.  She claims that she owns the right to his final words through some sort of copyright.  I wish Chris had stayed and continued to fight here on earth for his children, and for those children who would come next.   I pray that beyond all the rhetoric not he Internet, that his children one day know that their father loved them.  I also hope and pray that after this tragic situation, we can come together and discuss the real issues apparent in Family Court and stop clouding the issue with gender politics.

Rest in peace Madmacks.

A Different Kind Of Mother’s Day

 

mother'sday

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.