Saturday, October 31, 2015

Tiny Dancer

Lexie has been involved in dance for the last few years.  She was able to take dance last year in school, and was in one of the dance company performances.  The performance of "Thriller" for the Halloween program is something they began working on as soon as school started, and Lexie was super excited for it.  We did not realize last year how big of a zoo the Halloween program was.  Each performing arts program in school performs, and it's free to go so everyone invites their family.  The performance is at 6:30, and the doors open at 6:00.  Lexie had to be there at 5:45, so we decided we would drop her off and go wait for the doors to open.  We went to the doors of the auditorium, and there were people EVERYWHERE.  We had Phillip with us, so we didn't want to get too in to the crowd.  He doesn't do well with them.  So we hung back and waited until the doors were open and the crowd thinned out, and we barely got seats.  People who got there after 6:10 were actually being turned away because there weren't enough seats for everyone.  We were way far in the back, could barely see Lexie, and the lady behind me got mad at me for trying to get a picture of her because it interfered with her being able to see.  Plus, Lexie decided she wanted to wear her Halloween costume instead of dressing up like a zombie.  She was an Egyptian goddess, and she was the only one not dressed like a zombie.  The costume was not meant to be worn when someone is dancing around, and she had a little malfunction. Overall, it was NOT a pleasant experience.

This year, we decided to leave Phillip with my parents, and get there early enough that we were at the doors when they opened.  We were in the front row, right by where Lexie told us she would be performing. While we were waiting for the program to start, Lexie sent us a few pictures of herself from backstage, after she had finished getting ready.  No Halloween costumes this year.. she decided to go for the zombie look.
 Her cousin had made her a zombie shirt, and apparently did such a good job that it was too scary, and Lexie had to add some blue and black to it so it didn't look so bloody.  The dance company girls helped her with her hair and makeup.  She was more familiar with the program, with the dance, and she really seemed to enjoy the experience.  It was so fun to be right up front and be able to see her dance.  The practicing paid off, and the dance was great.

About a month after the performance, Lexie fell down the stairs in the auditorium and injured her knee.  It wasn't healed enough for her to feel comfortable performing for the Christmas performance, so she had to miss that one.  I think she felt bad, and she didn't like disappointing her teacher.  She has semi-decided that she may not want to do dance next year.  We are trying really hard to be supportive parents and let her make her own decisions, but help guide her in not making snap decisions based on emotions.  We'll see how things play out.  She has a couple more months to decide before we have to select her classes for next year.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The "Incident"

It all started with a visit down to St. George to visit Cory's aunt who lives down there during the winter.  It was Presidents' Day weekend, and the plan was to take Cory's kids down to visit.  His parents were down there staying with his aunt, and his sister was also making the trek with her grandson.  It was going to be a very full house, full of family and fun.  We had Cory's kids with us the whole week before as Lovely Ex had a work conference somewhere back east that she needed to be at, and we provided the child care while she was out of town.  The week had gone amazingly smooth with all four kids.  We were able to get up and get all of them ready and to school on time, we would pick up Cory's kids on our way home and I would drop the three of them off at our house and then go pick up my kids and bring them home.  It definitely took some timing and coordination, but it was good to know we were capable of handling it.  Friday afternoon I took my kids over to spend the weekend with Delinquent Ex, and then Saturday morning the rest of us headed out of town.

We got down there Saturday afternoon and took a walk around the complex that she lives in.  It is a very quiet resort-type community with a clubhouse and a pool.  The kids loved being out of the cold and being able to play outside, and the weather was absolutely gorgeous.  That night, we went and bought the kids swimming suits and took them swimming at the clubhouse pool.  All four of us were sharing Cory's aunt's bedroom, Cory and I in the bed and the little ones on the floor.  I think it was rough adjusting to all sleeping together, and even though the kids were exhausted from playing so hard, none of us got much sleep that first night.

The next morning, we got up, had breakfast, and then played around the house for a little while.  Then, when lunchtime came around, we told the kids we would take them swimming again when they were done.  Both had a hard time focusing and eating their lunch, but they finally finished and after waiting for their food to settle we took them swimming again.  This time, Cory got in and swam with them.  They had a blast in the pool for a couple of hours, and then we went home and got them cleaned up.  They played a little bit more, we had dinner, and then it was time to clean up and put them to bed.

Michael has ADHD and is medicated to help him concentrate.  Lovely Ex had sent us enough medicine for the five days he had school, but none for the weekend.  We have noticed in the past that when he is off his pills for about 24 hours, he hits a really bad dip and has a really hard time focusing on anything.  Add that to the fact that he was in a place that wasn't his home, he was tired from not sleeping well and playing all day, and it was a little past his bedtime for that night.  He was having a hard time listening and doing what was asked.  Around 7:30 Sunday night I asked Michael to pick up his transformers he was playing with and put them back in his backpack.  He pretended he couldn't hear me.  I asked him again .. and again he ignored me.  I asked him a third time, and when he ignored me again I put my hand on the back of his neck and guided him in to the bedroom we were staying in and sat him on the bed.  We talked for a few minutes about what he did wrong, and then I went and put him in time out.

While he was in time out, I picked up his transformers and got Katelyn ready for bed.  After his nine minutes had passed, I went and got him out of time out and sat him down on the couch and had him explain to me why he was in time out and what he needed to do the next time.  We talked about consequences and why it was important for him to learn these things while he was young, and then I asked him if he had any questions.  He said no, and I went to go take off my makeup and get ready for bed.

Cory came in while I was taking off my makeup and asked what I had said to Michael.  I told him a brief version of our conversation, and he said Michael was hiding in the corner and wouldn't talk to anyone, and seemed upset.  I told him I'd see if I could get him to talk, and went back out to talk to him.  He had been upset by something I had said that he hadn't understood, and we talked it through a little bit more.  When that was done, he was his happy self again, and I told him to go cuddle with his dad and make sure his dad knew he was ok.  He did for about fifteen minutes, and then we put him to bed.

We came home the next morning, and dropped the kids off to Lovely Ex that evening.  I didn't think anything else about it, until about a week later when I was served papers by a deputy saying that Lovely Ex had taken out a temporary protective order.  She was stating that I had strangled and choked Michael.  I called our lawyer and he walked me through the steps to take, including contacting the police department in St. George where Lovely Ex had filed the claim, and contacting DCFS.  Cory handled both of those for me as I was unable to handle reality for a couple of days, and we set up the interviews for me to talk to both departments and clear up the situation.

I spoke with the detective in St. George first, and after explaining the story to her and answering all her questions she told me that she could see there was no abuse, and she told me a story about her brother who was going through the same situation with his "crazy ex" where he felt he wasn't even allowed to discipline his kids at all because he knew she was going to go "all psycho" about it.  She was very sympathetic, and told me she was closing the case as unfounded and I had nothing to worry about.

A few days later, the DCFS worker came to our house to do a home-interview.  We showed him all around the house:  where the kids slept, the food we had in our pantry, the clothes we had for them, the playroom where they played, etc.  Then we sat down, and I told my story to him.  He also said that he could see there was no abuse.  There were no marks on Michael, he understood my story and could "tell that I was telling the truth".  He said that there were consistencies between both of our stories that matched enough for him to tell that I wasn't hiding anything.  He told us that children with ADHD tend to have such active and powerful imaginations that the image they have in their mind becomes their reality, and he was positive this is what was happening with Michael.  He had imagined this whole scenario, and because his imagination was so powerful, it became his truth.  He told us we had nothing to worry about, and that he would see us in court on Monday.

Cory and I headed in to court nervous, but feeling fairly confident that it wouldn't be too horrible of a situation.  After waiting for ten minutes for the DCFS worker to show up, the judge continued the court until he was able to be there.  It turned out he had an emergency situation he needed to deal with at the last minute and was unable to come.  It was rescheduled for two weeks later.

Two weeks later we showed up to court again, and this time all parties were there.  Our lawyer went in to one of the conference rooms with the guardian ad litem and Lovely Ex, and they talked for about ten minutes.  He was hoping to be able to settle it without going before the judge.  When he came back out, he said he was in favor of dismissing everything, and so was the guardian ad litem, but Lovely Ex wanted to go ahead with the proceedings.  No big surprise there....

We went before the judge and my lawyer told my version of the story, Lovely Ex said that Michael was "terrified" of me and would probably need counseling now because of the horrible abuse he had endured, and the guardian ad litem said that she "believed Michael's version of events".  She had not talked to me, the detective from St. George, or the DCFS caseworker.  She had only talked to Lovely Ex and Michael.  But she said that because he was "consistent in his story" and "really seemed afraid" she believed that the event had actually happened.  She did say that she believed it had only happened once, and wouldn't happen again, but the damage was already done.

The judge said when kids are consistent in their stories it means that those stories are true because when kids tell lies they tend to change the story depending on who they are talking to, or they forget what they have said.  She told me that she was granting an order of protection stating that we could have the kids at our house, but I was not allowed to discipline them or be alone with them.  Cory had to be with them the entire time we had them.  I was heartbroken.  The judgement wasn't too harsh.  I understood that if there was a situation the kids needed protecting from, she was making a decision that would keep the kids safe, but still allow Cory to spend time with his kids.  I was heartbroken for a multitude of other reasons.  It killed me that Lovely Ex had convinced the kids that I was capable of hurting them.  It made my heart ache that they thought I would ever do anything to hurt them.  I had tried so hard to make them feel like part of the family, and treat them the way I want  my kids to be treated.  But most of all, I hated what this was doing to  Cory.

We had been having issues with the kids for our last few visits, about the last three months.  It started with comments the kids would make when we had them.  They would tell us the horrible stories that Lovely Ex had told them about Cory and the things she said he did when they were married.  Absolute lies that had no purpose other than to make the kids see him as a monster who would hurt them the way he had hurt her.  They would ask Cory why he was making their mom go to court.  Michael would ask his dad to please not take his mom to court, because he really wanted a new video game and "Mommy said we don't have enough money because you won't stop taking her to court and lawyers are expensive."  They wanted to know why he hurt her and why he made her cry.  Cory would try to do the right thing and not discuss the adult situations with them while they were so young, but as a result they only got their mom's side.

From there it turned in to them feeding their mom stories when she would call them during our visits.  They would be having a great time, but as soon as their mom called, they would say things like they were cold and we wouldn't let them have a jacket or a blanket.  They were sick but we refused to give them medicine.  Their stomachs hurt, but we wouldn't let them have food.  Katelyn had fallen down and really hurt her arm, but we wouldn't give her a bandaid or take her to the doctor.  Everything they would say was something they had never once mentioned to us.  Within hours of Lovely Ex picking them up, we would have huge emails of all the things the kids had complained about, and all the things we needed to do differently to make them happy when they were with us.  It made us on edge and  nervous every time we had them.

Then about Christmas, Katelyn started refusing to come with us anymore.  She would throw a fit and hang on to her mom and cry and scream until her mom told her she didn't have to go.  She was fine if we picked her up from school, but Lovely Ex would go get her from the after school care and take her somewhere with her so we had to go meet her and try to take Katelyn away from her.  She always told Cory that she wasn't going to make her go, and Cory didn't have the power to make her go.  It had been months since we'd had her, and the only reason we had her that week is because Lovely Ex had to go out of town and there was no other choice.

After all of this, court was the final straw.  Lovely Ex had found her way in.  She had been repeatedly proven as a liar in court before the judge for the divorce, and had been denied anything she tried to come after us for.  She had been held in contempt a few times for her refusal to comply with the divorce decree and judgements against her.  She knew she wasn't going to get her way before that judge.  But now she had found a judge who would believe whatever she told the kids to say.  We were extremely lucky that the police and DCFS worker believed the truth instead of believing Michael.  It could have gone so much worse.  I could have ended up in jail.  They could have taken my kids away.  It could be any one of us the next time, and the next time we may not be so lucky.

Cory and I talked about it quite a bit over the next couple of weeks.  We asked for advice from people who knew the most about our situation.  We talked about what all our different options were.  We discussed all the different ways we could keep ourselves safe from getting accused of things again.  We discussed all of our options. In the end, we decided what all of this came down to is what is best for the kids.  They were miserable when they were with us, because they thought they were supposed to be.  We could watch in their faces when the realization hit that they were having a good time and weren't supposed to, and they would always immediately say something like "my mom says...", or "my mom does...".  They knew she would not be happy if she knew they were having a good time.  They knew they were supposed to be unhappy and think of bad things to tell her.  We knew that as soon as they got home she would ask them a million questions and want to hear all the horrible things so she could have "proof" for next time we went to court.

We decided that for right now it is not in any one's best interest for us to take Cory's kids for his visitation.  Our hope is that Lovely Ex can relax a little and be the mom that the kids need instead of pushing them to lie and manipulate.  We are hoping they can have a normal childhood and not have the pressure on them of being put in the middle of an adult situation.  It has been unbelievably rough on Cory.  There are days that are definitely harder than others.  He thinks about them all the time.  We talk about them all the time.  We miss them all the time.  But sometimes being a grown up is about making the best decisions you can for your kids.  We know, and have heard from others, that this may not be the best decision but we really had to go with what our hearts felt was right.