I recently came across an essay I had written last summer in the midst of my battle to bring my children home. I’m sharing it as is because it is a testament to that time in our lives. I teared up reading it, feeling the pain and frustration all over again.
“There’s a plan for your life.”
So many of us have heard that phrase, but what happens when days, weeks, months and years go by, and the thing you want most desperately remains out of reach? My heart’s desire is to have my children home with me. In December 2017, sitting in a courtroom clutching my six month sobriety chip, I listened to a judge tell me that if I loved my children I would not have drank. And with that, he awarded custody to my ex-husband. I was given visitation in public places only, with two visits during the week and one on the weekends.
8 hours a week in public and a phone call every night.
My children are allowed in my home once a year, for 4 hours on Christmas. I am not allowed to drive with my children, or even be in the car with them. Due to the fact that I am only able to see my children in public, their schools informed me I was no longer allowed in their schools. No parent teacher conferences, no class parties, no field trips, no volunteering. Only a public event at the school, like a concert – that is the only time I am allowed at school.
Last Tuesday, on June 18th, I was back in the same courtroom, again with Judge Norman as he heard our motion to recuse himself from this case. He began the hearing with the announcement that he was aware I had filed a request for a judicial misconduct hearing. That is a process by which you report a judge for bias and prejudice. He said that even with that knowledge, he felt he could hear the motion to recuse. He did not feel the fact that he had denied every request for a hearing since 2017, effectively making custody permanent, was an example of his not being able to be impartial.
The same day, Judge Norman heard my ex-husband’s request for an emergency hearing. My oldest son, Dashiell, tried to leave his father’s house in March due to continuous mental, emotional and physical abuse. Three weeks ago, Dashiell again told me I had to get him, he could not endure being in his father’s home. So, again after a failed protective hearing April 1st – because abuse without proof is simply one person’s word against another – Dashiell has been with me again since May 29th. We went through a hearing because my ex-husband will not give up custody of Dashiell, even though Dashiell will be 17 years old in September. During the past three weeks, while Dashiell was with me, I was denied the chance to see Trafford and Ridgely and was only been allowed to talk to them on speaker phone. On Tuesday, Judge Norman decreed that normal custody was to resume with Trafford and Ridgely, but that Dashiell was to return to his father’s house, and granted my ex-husband’s request that reasonable force to be used by the police. Reasonable force on my son. The Baltimore County Police Department refused to enforce this order, so it was turned over to the Sheriff’s Department.
After 23 days I finally did get to see Trafford and Ridgely last Thursday. To hold them, breathe them in, just to sit and talk with them. Ridgely kept noticing that my eyes were bright, but I could not help it. I was so happy to be with them and so emotional that it had been so long, and so grief stricken because an hour and a half seeing your children in the library is never enough time to be their mommy. One of their favorite things to do is look at pictures on my phone – they love seeing pictures of their rooms, of their house. They haven’t been home since their Christmas visit. And always, every single time I see them, they ask when this will be over and when they can come home. All I can do is tell them, we will keep doing the right things, and someday this will all change – it has to.
Dashiell is safe for now. To watch my son’s courage to tell his story, to talk about what has happened to him in his father’s home, and to see him not protected by family law court. – it breaks my heart. To not be protected by Child Protective Services – with 10 years of reports by school counselors, therapists. I can never get over not only my own disbelief, more importantly how this must feel for him? Because how many times do you get up the courage to fight, and not be believed, before you just give up? So now we have a judge’s order hanging over our heads that Dashiell must return to his father’s house – and reasonable force can be used to get him there. How terrifying is that for Dashiell? And how can you force a child, who turns 17 in September, to return to a scary and dangerous situation?
The great irony is I am a better mother for my experiences – for having to confront the years of abuse I suffered, my default to drinking when I could not deal with the fear and anxiety and the terrible grip alcohol had over me. I have learned varied and lasting coping skills, found a strength inside myself that sustains me daily, become my children’s emotional touchstone and created a life based on honesty and doing the right things.
Two years sober this past Saturday, June 22nd – such a important milestone, but like all special days it was colored with grief. When is enough time that I will have earned the right to be a mother to my children? To have them home with me? And Dashiell – where does this all end for him and when does he start having some rights? The right to live in a healthy and happy home?
I have been quietly fighting these battles for years. I won’t be silent any longer. The struggle to keep my children safe, to have them come home – I’m finally sharing my truth.