Tag Archives: child custody

The rage of Taz

bear

This morning my son tore his room apart. Annihilated is a good word. He had so much anger pent up inside of him that he didn’t know how to control it. And so he raged. He threw things. He ripped his bed apart. He knocked over his chair. And he growled deep into his throat with a primal energy as he slammed his hands against the wall.

We were at odds this morning. He got on the video games when he wasn’t supposed to. And though I knew he would argue against any limitation I placed on him for the two minutes of game time, I also knew I had to follow through. So I told him they were gone for the day.

Hence, the rage.

I don’t know what to do when he gets this angry. I know that, probably, the thing he needs most is for me to stay calm and loving with him so he can find an anchor in me and bring himself down. But when he gets that overly angry, being loving with him is like hugging a grizzly bear.

My natural impulse was to get angry back. But I refrained and chose to walk away. I had to get ready for work. He was to leave within the next 5 minutes. I was frustrated that all this was happening at the worst possible time. The last thing I wanted him to do was to go to school totally amped up with rage. So walking away seemed like the best choice.

And that’s when he tore his room apart.

So next I got angry. And when I got angry, I got really angry. I let loose with the language, told him this was unacceptable. And we yelled at each other, both so angry at what was going on.

And then the truth behind his anger came out. Because you don’t just get that angry over video games, you get angry about all the stuff you’ve been stuffing inside. The video games just made all that stuff overflow.

boy holding a teddy bearHe’s angry about stuff going on at school and at baseball – how he’s rejected by the cool kids on his team and deemed fat and ugly by his classmates. He’s angry about being so out of control. He’s angry that he keeps getting in trouble. But mostly, he’s angry over his dad, who failed him many times over during his last visit – a visit that I keep learning more about.

Like that my Ex told him secrets from my past – a past that happened before my son was even born.

Like that my Ex yelled and screamed about anything and everything while my son sat in a corner of the room.

Like that he threatened the lives of anyone who dared to come to his house.

And the latest, that a game of roughhousing took a wrong turn, and my Ex took his anger out on Taz – physically.

And no one was there to protect him.

I am so angry right now. Angry, devastated, torn apart…exhausted…  Mostly, I’m furious with myself that I actually let Taz visit his father all by himself, knowing how delicate Taz is underneath his rough posterior, and knowing that the Ex has a lot of flaws.  And I’m furious with the Ex that he can’t recognize just how much his son idolizes him, even when the Ex lets him down over and over again.  The Taz is always ready to forgive his dad.  He even kept all this a secret for as long as he could, afraid that I would take his dad away from him.

I called the counselor this afternoon to try and get the earliest appointment we can. At Taz’s last appointment, Taz had us all believing everything was fine. But over the past couple of weeks, he has had several intense moments of rage that prove everything is NOT okay. The counselor talked me down over the phone, the concern evident in his voice as he sensed the brokenness in both Taz and me. And we see him next week. In the meantime, Taz is to write down everything that makes him angry in an effort to control his rage. And I have to do my best to remind him that his rage makes it too hard to help him.

In the meantime, my life is still being controlled by a man I never should have made children with or married. I will never be free from his torment. And now, he’s making our kids’ lives a living hell. And I’m tired. So, so tired.

Words cannot express the rage I feel at this man.

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This is why.

“I want to come home.”

These are the words my daughter, DQ, spoke to me a month after she moved out of my house to live with her father. They were the words I had hoped to hear from her every day since she left, and yet, they felt so sad as she said them out loud. As her mother, I wanted to scoop her up and tell her of course she could come home. But both of us knew it wasn’t going to be that easy.  After all, I still had to convince her dad this was a good idea.

“I feel like I’m giving in too soon,” she confided in me, citing the rule both her father and I had come up with that dictated she would have to live in her dad’s house until the end of the school year, at least. But after she described the drastic differences her life over there had been from her life in my home, I told her it was okay and we would figure this out.

A whole other lifetime ago, life was very different in our family. We didn’t have a lot of money, and things were really tight. When money is tight, so is patience, as well as everyday common decency. DQ’s father and I thought nothing of our verbal sparring matches we held way back then. There were some nights when we screamed at each other through to the early hours of the morning. Eventually, those screaming fights escalated into something more physical.

Abuse was not something that just popped up out of the blue back then. It had first appeared many years before, when we were first dating. The first time it happened, a guy I knew had looked at me suggestively when we were at a party. The guy had obviously been drinking too much, and likely wasn’t even seeing straight. But that one look sent the Ex over the edge, and he challenged him to a fight. Naturally, we were told to leave the party. But when I defended my friend to the Ex, he reached his hand up and came down hard on my leg next to him. He immediately apologized at his action, breaking into tears as he repeated, “I’m sorry,” over and over. I was so shocked over the action that I didn’t know what to do. And I was disgusted in myself as I reassured him that it was okay, placing all sympathy on him over what he had “accidentally” done to me, forgetting that I was the one who had been wronged. The next day, where he had hit me developed into the blackest bruise I had ever seen, taking up my entire thigh.

I often look back at that moment and wonder how things would have been different had I done what many women swear they would do – LEAVE AFTER THE FIRST HIT. It’s so easy to say. But trust me, the grooming from an abuser begins long before that first strike. First, the abuser chooses a girl who lacks self-esteem. In the beginning of that relationship, he puts her on a pedestal – telling her how pretty she is, how much of a better man he is with her, and spoils her with affection. Sometimes, the guy will come to her damaged, and let her help put the pieces together. For the Ex, he came to me only days after I met him to tell me that one of his friends had been killed. He was devastated, sharing real tears as I comforted him in his sadness.

“I’ve never met anyone who cares as much as you do,” he told me.

An abuser will also look for anything they can use to hold over their girlfriend, further chaining her to him. This opportunity didn’t take long to arise. When the Ex and I first started dating, I was also seeing someone else. The Ex wasn’t my boyfriend, and neither was this other guy. So I didn’t think anything of it on Valentine’s Day of that year when the Ex presented me with a rose earlier that afternoon, and I went on a date with the other guy that evening. Yet, at the same time, I knew it wouldn’t go over well with the Ex. Sure enough, the Ex found out and spent the next day screaming at me over the phone. As I tried to plead my case and apologize to him, he wouldn’t hear anything of it. I found myself on the defensive with him, trying to earn his forgiveness.

While the first hit was the beginning of the physical abuse, this should have been my first and last red flag that something was wrong. I had known the Ex for less than a week, and was trying to hold onto him over this mistake. But I felt horrible for hurting him. I had added to his pain so soon after his friend had died. I had betrayed him. I owed him.

He had his hooks in me.

Over the next couple years, I stopped attending many regular teen functions so I could be with him. I stopped hanging being around my friends because they couldn’t stand my boyfriend. I skipped my Senior Project Grad party because he told me he was going to go out and get drunk if I went. And the day after I graduated high school, I moved into a tiny one-bedroom apartment with him. He was homeless at the time, so I felt like I had to just so he had a roof over his head.

We lived in this apartment for one year. That year was the worst year of my entire life. I have actually blocked out so much of that time. Every now and then, pieces of that year will come back to me in flashes, surprising me out of the blue. Abuse does that – it creates holes in your memory. I heard that this happens with young children when there is abuse in the home, affecting their growing brains in those first 5 years of life so that they develop issues later in life. I often wonder if this is why the Taz is the way he is, if it’s because he spent those first several years of his life tuning out his dad beating up his mom.

In that hellish year, I gave up college in favor of working full time. He worked sporadically, usually losing his job because he was stealing from the register or he mouthed off to the boss. I faithfully kept my job, handing my paycheck over to him so that he could pay the bills. We had no car, and never had money to pay for even a simple bus ride. So I walked three miles to work, and three miles back. We also had no money for food. I lived on a Top Raman diet and got down to 98 pounds.

He, on the other hand, was living high on the hog. Somehow he made friends with money. He would come home with new clothes his friends would apparently buy him (as he told me). Sometimes he’d be gone for several days at a time, and I’d have no idea where he was because he’d ignore me when I paged him (those were the days of pagers). When he came back, he’d always have some excuse as to why he was gone – he was helping a friend in need, he was trying to secure a job, he was stranded and couldn’t make it home.

We would get into awful fights over everything. He would choke me, hit me, use his body to push me against a wall. He would lunge at me, and I would instinctively fight back before he even threw the first hit, giving him the open to beat the shit out of me. One time he hit me in the nose causing me to cry out in pain next to an open window. That time, the cops were called. I lied to them, saying it was nothing. They knew I was lying. But in those days, they couldn’t do anything unless the victim pressed charges. Now it’s better because the police can press charges even when the victim doesn’t. But if I pressed charges, two things would happen – he would come back and hurt me, and even scarier to me, he would break up with me.

One of these instances of abuse caused me to hold an empty beer bottle above my head as if I were going to bash it against his head. He had just finished saying something so incredibly mean to me, I couldn’t think of anything else to do. He took the bottle, threw me on the ground, and proceeded to kick me all over my body. Then he left, and I was left alone to cry in the middle of my living room floor. The bruises remained on my body for a week, and I covered them with turtlenecks and long sleeves. But when I involuntarily winced upon being hugged by my sister, my family knew something was up.

Eventually, I worked up the courage to leave. Or rather, we were being kicked out because the rent wasn’t being paid. But I moved out and was back in my parents’ home knowing that I would soon be breaking up with the Ex.

That’s when I discovered I was pregnant.

Long story long, we stayed together, and the abuse stopped – for a while. But once we were married and had a couple of kids, it all started back up again. I don’t know what started it – the stress over lacking funds, the fact that we had just lost our third child to stillbirth, the needs of the kids we did have, the depression that was threatening both of us… All I know is that soon we were screaming at each other, he was drinking more, I was being accused of cheating on him, and the hitting began again. Another year of that, and I finally said enough was enough and moved out – for good.

So when DQ asked to move in with her father, the past was the biggest memory that made me want to say no. What if she made him angry? Would he hit her?  If he could hit someone he claimed to love romantically, what would stop him from hitting his own daughter?

This was also on the memories of all those closest to us. When I decided to let DQ go, I had to answer to multiple people who thought I had gone off my rocker. But something told me that I needed to let her go. He was her dad. In all the years she had visited him, nothing had ever gone awry. I needed to trust that it would be okay.

I mention all of the abuse and our past life together because it’s relevant. I have slowly moved past this reality. It took some time, but I am no longer that girl who feels responsible for picking up the pieces. Being a punching bag is no longer normal. Even being called a mean name is not normal.

But I don’t believe the Ex has moved past this reality. I have spent the past couple of years being nice about him, not talking about the abuse – especially here – because he or the kids might read it. I pretend to the public that we had a normal divorce and get along now for the benefit for the kids. And truthfully, we do get along for the kids’ sake. I have forgiven him for all those years of torture, and even own my own part of the puzzle for the times I messed up, as well as when I allowed the abuse to continue by not walking away. But I have also forgiven myself for not walking away, because abuse is so much darker than the black and white of it. Walking away sometimes just doesn’t feel like an option.

In case you were wondering, he never did hit her. He never abused her. They hardly even fought. But life in his home was very different. The depression was still very thick in the air there. Her dad was suffering from it, and spent all his time either working or in his room watching TV. DQ was left to her own devices 90% of the time. There was no food, and she relied on the free breakfast and lunch program at school. In the evenings, she would have to make her own dinner. Often it was frozen pizza or the like.

But more than that, the Ex and his girlfriend were continuing the cycle of screaming matches at night that would last well into the early morning. DQ would lie awake at night as they screamed at each other. And there’s reason to believe that her father was still abusive.

There were other reasons, too, why DQ needed to leave. But those were the biggest. And somehow we needed to convince her father that she needed to move home. We blamed her depression, which was true, and how she was homesick, also true. We failed to mention that we knew anything about the abuse. And last weekend DQ came home with me.

“What happened? “ the counselor asked DQ when we re-enrolled her into school the following Monday. Neither of us wanted to talk about it. DQ looked at me for help, and I stepped in.

“It just wasn’t what she expected,” I explained.

“Not much greener on the other side,” the counselor chuckled.

She has no idea.

I am trying to figure out how to write an article for the newspaper on the fact that DQ came home, and why. I want to give hope to parents who have children that want to try moving out – that they may just come back when they’ve discovered the “grass isn’t greener on the other side”. I still don’t know what to write. I can’t write all this. But I needed to include the truth somewhere. So here it is.

This is why.

Why I let my teen move out

I know I already wrote about this.  In fact, she has already moved.  But after much thought, I decided to also write a newspaper article about what’s going on in our home.  I figure plenty of divorced families are going through the same thing as their child decides which parent to live with full time.  So I am sharing my own personal story.

Note: I am doing ok.  DQ is too.  It’s still a transition, and a lot to get used to.  But so far, everything seems to be going smoothly.

This article will print on January 11, 2013 in the Press Democrat.

LETTING GO

My 14-year-old daughter, DQ, is moving out.

It’s weird, I never thought I’d type these words before she turned 18. But here I am, standing by as she packs up her bags and prepares to leave the nest. My nest. The one I have padded with protection and comfort since the day she was born, through a messy divorce, during financially tight times, and in her tumultuous teen years. She is flying the coop with my assistance when I drive her a full three hours away to live with her father.

And this might just be the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.

For 14 years, I have been her primary caregiver, the one who is responsible for every aspect of her life. I am the one who has filled out her school forms, checked her homework (till her homework got too smart for me), packed her lunches, and made her doctor’s appointments. I was the parent she told about her first love, and the parent who picked up the pieces when her heart was broken a few weeks later. I am her chauffeur, her personal chef, her nurse, her cheerleader, her everything she needed me to be so she can be a happy kid. I’ve gone to every one of her soccer games. I volunteer at the camp she attends every year. And I have done all this on my own. So to hand over the reins to her dad, allowing her to move three hours away and out of my realm of parenting, was way beyond my comfort level.

My first impulse was to say no, absolutely not. But she asked me to at least think about it. So I agreed to mull it over before I ultimately said no.

I was at war with what was the right thing to do in this situation. Of her two parents, I had proven to be the more responsible. Our two children, DQ and Taz, live with me full time, and I have fit my whole entire life within their schedule and comfort. Their father, who moved several counties away a few years ago, has never had the privilege of moving heaven and earth to make it to a parent-teacher conference at the same time as a mandatory meeting at work. I’ve been the parent while he’s been the one they visit occasionally. I’ve accepted that this is what works for raising the kids, and hold no bitterness over this. It’s just the way it is. But to give up my place as my daughter’s primary parent was rocking a boat I didn’t want rocked.

During the time when I was to be thinking this over (even though my mind was still set on NO), DQ took the time to patiently discuss all the perks of her living with her father. She talked about her new baby brother over there, how she would get a chance to know him and help take care of him. She took me on a virtual tour of her new town through Google Maps, pointing the cursor towards all of her favorite hangouts a few blocks from her home. She told me about the friends she had there, helping me to get to know them though her description. She handled the whole situation like she was the adult and I was the child. She was patient and kind, helping me with a hard transition. I was stubborn and tearful, refusing to budge.

Then a funny thing happened – my eyes were suddenly opened.

It didn’t happen on my own, but through a lot of help. I talked with my husband at great lengths about the whole decision. I discussed it with a counselor. And eventually, I called my ex-husband himself and talked about the possibility of our daughter moving in with him. After much deliberation and thought, I realized I had much less reasons to say no, and many more reasons to say yes.

So I let her go.

DQI know in my heart that I’ve made the best decision I could for her. DQ gets a chance to get to know her other side of her family, the part that makes up the other half of her. I, in turn, get to feel what it’s like on the other side of the coin – the one where I merely get to visit her instead of seeing her every single day. This still feels like a bad dream. I keep waiting for DQ to tell me she’s changed her mind. Of course, she hasn’t and likely won’t.

But I’ve realized something. Loving a child isn’t just about holding on to them and protecting them. It isn’t just about being there every step of the way.

Sometimes love is knowing when to let go.

Kid-free week

Right now my kids are a couple days into their visit with their dad. He doesn’t live close by, so their visits are mostly dedicated to longer weekends or vacation times. This means they don’t get to see him very much. Luckily, social alternatives like cell phones and Facebook have allowed for a constant communication between them. The other result of such few and far between visits is that I get pretty used to them being around. So when they aren’t, the house is pretty empty.

This time around, it’s a little different. It used to feel ultra lonely when they’d leave for their dad’s house and I was stuck in an empty apartment. There is only so much cleaning and straightening that can be done. And the quiet that was once so coveted starts to feel louder than the noise. Even taking advantage of being kid-free by going out still meant I was coming home to an empty house. This time, however, I’m not alone – Mr. W and his son are still around while my kids visit the other half of their life. But even with the added company, it’s hard to know what to do with myself when my whole identity is wrapped up in being a mother.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I have definitely taken advantage of the reprieve from parenthood so far. I’m not even going to pretend that I’ve been moping around the house, because I haven’t. Even though my kids are older and don’t require a ton of assistance in whatever they are up to, I’ve found a ton more time on my hands to do things like read a book, relax in the sun, and even enjoyed a visit to Francis Ford Coppola’s pool in Geyserville (seriously a must for all you families!) without having to keep an eye on the kids to ensure they weren’t drowning or bugging anyone around them. A delicious Mai Tai even made it to my hand, thus enhancing my relaxed state. 🙂 

Before the kids left I made it a point to spend an even better amount of quality time with them. The night before their departure, I dyed their hair the awful red color they had been begging me to ruin their do’s with (see photo). Actually, I kind of like it – if I can just perfect the application process. The day they were to leave I did every single bit of their laundry, including all the towels that had been dyed red. I had been up all night with stomach yuckiness – no doubt a result of nerves over my kids being gone for so long – and I hung out on the couch with my daughter as we folded laundry and watched chick flicks. And before we made the long drive to their grandfather (who would transport them the rest of the way), I bought us all smoothies at Juice Shack, which we happily slurped the whole way there.

Since they left, the kids haven’t called me once. And I haven’t expected them to. In fact, it’s a good sign they haven’t because it means they are having a good time. Their dad, on the other hand, has been wonderfully keeping me informed of what they are up to. He called me the day they arrived with their grandfather to let me know they were there safe, and to go over the details of Taz’ diet and videogame restrictions, and other such instructions my little mini-mom DQ gave him just to be on the same page. He called on Father’s Day to fill me in on the events of the day and what he had planned for the kids. And he even admitted today that the Taz stayed up all last night (and has been sleeping all day) when the Ex forgot to snag the video game controllers before they went to bed, sending me a photo of the little gamer.

It’s a huge difference from the tumultuous way we used to interact with each other in the first few years of our divorce.

There are a few more days left before the kids come back. It’s funny, when the kids are here I can think of a million things I’d love to do that require kid-free time – most ending up in some sort of beachy scenery with a tropical drink and next to no clothing. However, with the kids gone, I find that my time is pretty much the same as when they’re here – just quieter. I do miss the kids, and can’t wait to see them again. But at the same time I would hate to let this rare opportunity pass me by without taking advantage of the situation a little – thus missing it once it’s gone.

If you could snag a good amount of kid-free time, what would you be doing with it?

Single mom seeks help

Every now and then a reader emails me a question that I could not possibly give an unbiased answer to. And so, with her permission, I am passing her email off to all of you – hoping that you may have some advice for a single mom in quite a predicament.

—–

Hi Crissi,

I have been divorced from my sons’ father for 8 years. They are now 14 and 9. During our marriage, he was physically abusive to me and addicted to drugs and alcohol. After our divorce, he continued using drugs and abusing alcohol. The courts still mandated that we share legal and physical custody. It finally came to a head 4 years ago when he got drunk with the kids in his care, the police were involved, and he brandished a weapon on the cops. Needless to say, he was arrested. I was awarded full legal and physical custody, and he was not allowed visitation for 2 years. After that time was up, the kids were reintroduced to a relationship with their father through court-ordered supervised visitation, eventually turning back into unsupervised visitation. While I had my suspicions that he was still using, I had no proof. And it seemed like the kids were doing well in his care. It has been two years now since he re-entered the kids lives. Just two weeks ago, he got drunk again and attacked his own mother. He was arrested and is now in a yearlong rehab program. It was admitted that he never stopped using. And it’s apparent that he hasn’t changed, either.

My question is, what do I do? My personal feelings are that I want him out of our lives forever. I’m angry that he lied over and over, and that he has never taken responsibility for his addictions. I’m angry that we all worked so hard for this reunification to work, and now my kids may have to go through it all over again. And I have no faith that the rehab will do him any good this time. He tried several different programs the last time around, and lied about his progress. And I’m afraid he’ll do it again But I understand that I need to separate my personal feelings from what is best for our kids. My 14 year old son wants nothing to do with him. My 9 year old son cries and misses his dad. I just want my kids to have a predictable life they can depend on without the rollercoaster their father keeps putting them through. But I’m having a hard time seeing past my own resentments to come up with a solution towards future visitation. He’s been in rehab for 2 weeks now, and is already calling to talk to the kids. And I haven’t been able to answer the phone because I don’t know what to say.

Help!

-Confused Single Mom

Jealousy over the "fun parent"

With the new summertime schedule, the Ex and I decided to try out a new way of sharing time with our kids. Starting in a couple of weeks, the plan is to have the kids alternate weeks at each other’s house. Because the Taz has a lot of baseball coming up until closing ceremonies, we decided to wait until after then to try out this new arrangement. But DQ had other plans.

“I want to stay at Dad’s house this week,” she told me as I picked them up from our meeting place in between our hometowns. She insisted that she had enough clothes packed for a whole week, and barely gave me a second glance as she climbed back into her father’s truck and waited for him to follow suit.

I have to admit, I was hurt. I didn’t show it, and smiled and waved to her as the Taz and I pulled away. But inside, I couldn’t help but notice that a bit of jealousy was creeping up as DQ made it clear that she would rather spend time with her father.

It only makes sense that she wanted to hang out with her dad. During the school year, he has them on the weekends. On those days, there is no school or homework, and their dad is available to spend the whole time with them. From the time they wake up to their very late bedtime, their only obligation is to play. At my house, on the other hand, it’s another story. Monday through Friday is work for me and school for them. Free time only happens after 6pm, and it is spent making dinner and doing homework before getting ready for bed around 9pm. It is also when we take care of any miscellaneous errands or chores that need to be done, or attend a baseball practice or game. In essence, this makes me the strict, all about business, boring parent, and the kids’ father the fun, spur-of-the moment, “let’s go to Discovery Kingdom” parent.

In a two parent household, different parenting styles are the norm. In my childhood house growing up, my mom was the one who set our schedules, made the rules, got us to do chores around the house (or at least tried to), and was always open for a “just between us” heart-to-heart. My dad was the one taking us on cool road trips, coaching our soccer team, introducing us to swimming holes all over the county, and was the enforcer of the rules my mom had set. I’m sure that each parent may have felt twinges of jealousy as we favored one parent over the other from time to time. But being that we all lived under one roof, it all worked out. We kids were happy as we got the best of both worlds, and my parents each took turns being the “fun parent”.

However, it’s different in single parent homes. Parenting alone means that we have to play the good guy and bad guy simultaneously. In essence, we are both mom and dad. We have to set and enforce the rules, and we have to play catch and wrestle with our kids. But sometimes life gets in the way, such as working all week long during time with the kids while the other parent gets to play and have fun with them until it’s time to say goodbye.

Back to DQ. We chatted some during the week, in as meaningful a chat as a tween and her old fogey mom can have (“How are you?” “Ungh.” “Are you having fun?” “Ungh.” “Anything new and exciting?” “Ungh.”). And in between her grunts, she let me know that she was a little homesick, and wondered when she was coming back to my house. She even chatted with her brother (“Hi.” “Hi.” “Bye.” “Bye.” Literally, that was it.). And after telling her that I loved her and missed her, she told me the same – actually using the words. For those of you with tweens, you know that’s huge.

Once the summertime schedule starts, both the Ex and I will get the better parts of the week and the more down to business parts of the week.  And perhaps we’ll be able to hone in on our less familiar parenting styles as we each get in some true quality time with our kids.  But for now, Dq, and now her brother, come back this Wednesday. And I’m counting down the days.