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.

 

 

 

 

 

I Stand Today…Because I Believe

princefrog

 

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.