Let Us Not Forget The Silent

It is the time of year where we start to think about kids returning to school after summer break. In our community, the churches have really stepped up to see that every child has the school supplies needed. There is a school supply drive during the summer, called ” Stuff the Bus”. The supplies collected are divided among schools. Some churches hold “Back to School Bashes”, and hand out school supplies to anyone who needs them.

This year, our church purchased several boxes of backpacks. People took backpacks, and returned them the next week, packed with supplies.

While I absolutely love this project, I know there is a silent population that may not get what they need. The families who are experiencing domestic violence are on my heart. These will not be the families to step out and participate in a community event. They are in survival mode. Victims with children may have had all of their money taken by the abuser, in an effort to control. They may be dealing with trauma symptoms, and barely hanging on to what strength is needed to take care of children.

I have been in that place. I was blessed to have my parents there to offer support as I recovered and rebuilt from scratch. I also had the support of our local domestic violence center. There were days when I ended up at the center, scared for my life and the safety of my kids. School supplies were not on my mind…survival was key. Thankfully, my kids were provided with supplies at those times, by the Domestic violence center. Everyone in my life did not know what we were going through. Even though we talk about standing up and speaking up, it is not that easy. Victims are mentally beaten down so far that talking about it may be farther down the road.

Little AoA was reminded of our experience with the domestic violence center, and thought it would be nice to make up some backpacks just for them. We did just that! She was really excited to take them to the center. I am happy to be able to pay forward, the support we received!

~AoA

Is it Safe?

I have never thought of myself as a big risk-taker. Nevertheless, I received a risky gift for my birthday. I thought it was cute. I had seen one in use by my 31 year old daughter, and had commented on how cute it was.

I put it in my car, and took off in style.

Then I had to take my 13 year old somewhere in my car. The first thing he said when he saw it was, “Is that safe? Because that doesn’t look safe?” He made comments of fear during the ride.

If that wasn’t enough, I gave my dad a ride a few days later. The first thing he said when he got in my car was,”Where did that come from? It doesn’t look safe.”

I can honestly say that it did take some getting use to, but I feel safe. I don’t think it’s for everyone….just risk takers…living on the edge.

My daughter asked me to start making some for her friends.

Risky business!

Crochet steering wheel covers!

~AoA

You Are Not Trash!

You are not trash!

Throughout the movie, Toy Story 4; the new character, Forky, tries to throw himself into the trash. He has always known that he is trash, and even though he has now become a beloved toy, he still thinks of himself as trash. Forky is mentored by Woody, who tries to convince him that he is now loved. No matter what Woody tries to say or do, Forky just doesn’t comprehend.

There are so many metaphors that could be at work here! For me, I see Forky as a person who has been mentally beaten down. This could be an adult or child, male or female.

I always thought of myself as someone with a healthy self-esteem. I never imagined myself being a victim of domestic abuse. After a 12 year relationship (8 years married), I felt like trash! The lowest point came during the last year of marriage. All of the lies of my spouse started coming to light, the demands became more and more unrealistic, and the insults magnified. I truly felt that my spouse would not be happy as long as I was alive. His anger toward me was escalating, and I knew he had a history of gun violence. I remember being at the lowest point…feeling worthless.

When I finally gathered the courage to leave, I had to start back at zero and build from there. I remember at one point saying,”if I just go back and let him rape me, he will be fine.” Who says that?!

Thank goodness I had supporters like Woody in Toy Story 4, who repeatedly pulled me back and reminded me that I was valued! I call those people the “Army of Angels”.

I can only imagine that the metaphor can apply to any situation which involves a change of self-perception. It helps to have support and encouragement along the way.

Have you been through a transformation of your perception of yourself? Who stood beside you?

~AoA

The Low Before Surgery

In our multi-generational home, medical challenges are not uncommon. This week, my dad will have his heart defibrillator replaced with a pacemaker/defibrillator. The procedure itself is not unusual or considered risky. With my dad, the complications have historically come after surgery- water retention, dehydration, and weakness. He is considered a 100% disabled veteran. Once a month, I sit with him for about an hour, sorting about 900 pills into a months worth of pill boxes.

We have all learned to lay low for about a week prior to surgery. He starts worrying about things that are to come, that he may not be able to do or help with. This surgery, he has prepared by getting a new giant tv for his room. I am the designated “helper”, which means that over the past week, I have learned how to mount a giant tv to the wall. Dad and I relocated his old tv to another room, and mounted his new tv. The new tv is pretty fancy in my opinion. I sat with him while he hooked it up and set up the system.

The other thing we did was to drive together to the tire store to check on a noise in my car. Well, I needed a couple new tires. All is well now.

We have had some great conversations since I have been the “helper”. He may not know what to do to help sometimes, but he does care, and has a desire for understanding.

Adding to this, my mom has some heart testing this week. She has had a leaky valve in her heart for a very long time. It is monitored yearly, just waiting for the doctor to say it is time to repair it.

I just want peace for my family as we go through medical challenges. Sometimes, the hustle and bustle needs to take a backseat to resting and relaxing in order to settle the mind.

~AoA

Visit #2

As I write this, Brother is at a supervised visit with the dad. I have two hours to hang out somewhere before I pick Brother up to go home. Our visit center is about an hour away from our home, so the visits take some time.

At the first visit, the dad wondered why Little AoA wasn’t there. He hadn’t checked in with her therapist, or responded to anything I sent him for the past year, regarding her health or needs.

Since visits have started again, I feel the anxiety rise. I don’t feel safe. I wake up on visit mornings, wondering if this will be the day that he shoots me at the visit center, or runs me off the road on the long drive back to our town.

I try my best to stay calm on the outside, as Brother is with me. He breaks in stress and chaos. It has been six years since the marriage break up, and still the threats haunt me. I have minimal contact with him, but even in that he is very cryptic. He uses his attorney to communicate with me, mostly about things that were already settled.

The glimmer of hope I once had that the dad would step up and be supportive of the kids, has faded into darkness. He is a sociopath….I am accepting what that means for the kids. I can’t fix it…

If you have ever had your life threatened, you can imagine the fear. Staying vigilante and fighting the anxiety can take its toll. I am thankful that the visits are every two weeks, and that there is time to catch my breath in between them.

~AoA

More Summer Adventures

We finished out the month of June with some adventures in Nashville. We started with a night of performing arts, seeing the musical, ” Fiddler on the Roof”.

It had been a very long time since I had last seen it. I am sure the message resonated more this time than in the past, as I have witnessed more changing traditions over the course of my life. I am not a big fan of change, but I have learned to adjust and move on for my own wellness.

We went to the Country Music Hall of Fame another day. Little AoA had been there on a school field trip, but didn’t get to explore. Brother isn’t much into country music, but he endured it with us.

We finished up the month by going to see Toy Story 4. There is just something mesmerizing about the animation of Toy Story. I loved the messages in the movie, and the new character, Forky the spork.

Now it is on to July. We don’t have big adventures lined up for the month. There is a lot of organizing to do before I return to work at the end of July. The kids will be starting back into their homeschooling routines, and easing back into a daily routine.

June was fun!

~AoA

They Keep Trying

Just when I start to think that the dad is ready to step up and be a supportive parent, he takes three steps back into the land of control. When we were first divorced, and the time with kids was split 60/40, the dad would send notes through the kids, demanding that I do things that were well above and beyond my boundaries. For a while, he was using text to make demands. Over time, I gave less and less attention to his demands. When he saw that I was not rattled by his demands, he turned to other people whom he would engage to try to hurt me in some way. He went to my employer and insisted that I was abusing my own kids during the school day while I was at work and working extracurricular events. I was investigated by my administrator. She saw right through his evil intentions. Next was the department of children’s services. Once they open an investigation, the kids are disrupted during the school day, my work days were interrupted, and we had to arrange for home visits. One of the caseworkers who saw through the false allegations, advised me to go to court or move far away from the dad. He said he had seen people like the dad in his career, and that they don’t stop abusing.

These days, the dad tries to use attorneys to intimidate me. He is on his 9th attorney now. The attorney has sent subpoenas to all care providers for the kids. He has made requests on behalf of the dad, but the requests were either completely inappropriate, or things that were already documented in a court approved written agreement.

The kids and I have come a long way from where we were back in 2013, when we escaped. There were many steps backward until 2017, when a judge stepped in to protect the kids by ordering only supervised visits with the dad. There is still a long way to go, and we are not totally free.

Today, for example, I had to notify the dad that I took Little AoA to the doctor for a fever and severe earache that had all lasted over 48 hours. I took a picture of the receipt for the copay, and sent it as well. His response was, “i can not read that”. It didn’t really matter that he couldn’t read it, because he has not helped pay his percentage of medical costs…..nor do I believe that all of a sudden, after six years of not paying, he is suddenly going to realize that being a parent means taking care of your children medically. I did not respond. The receipts only serve to document that he is not doing what he agreed to do. His portion is 24%, which amounts to about $7 on a regular doctor visit. I guess he is showing me that he is in control.

~AoA

Suspicions and Evidence

Last weekend, we took a little day trip to an amusement park. I heard Michael Jackson songs coming from one of the rides. This sign was on the ride. I absolutely loved Michael Jackson and was always intrigued by his music, dancing, and projects. I was heartbroken when allegations of abuse started filling the news.

In my own family, my stepfather was charged in a sexual crime against a minor- one of my siblings. To say that trust is shattered is not a strong enough sentiment. I learned that no one is immune to sexual abuse. We were a loving, church going, family. My mom and step dad had adopted a sibling group of five so that the kids could stay together. They were always willing to help others in need. My step dad did not spend time in jail, but was restrained from contact with the family. He had to go to therapy, and to my disbelief, ended up marrying his therapist, who happened to have a young daughter!

Sadly, reporting anything other than pregnancy or a sexual disease, means nothing. The other signs of abuse can also be from other conditions. Protective parents can easily be accused of trying to hurt the other parent if there are custody issues in litigation. This is a no-win situation, with a child being used as no child should be. Child sexual abuse stays in the dark…in the closet…behind closed doors.

Perhaps it is so evil that people choose to look the other way, rather than face the horror and empathize with victims. Perhaps people are more sensitive to potentially harming the reputation of an otherwise “good person”. Some predators are given second chances, third chances, or more.

In this era of “#metoo”, and “#nomore”, the voices are being heard. The voices of today’s victims may be forced to stay in the dark, but the rise of victims sharing their experiences is giving a voice to all. Coming out of the darkness of sexual abuse is an act of bravery in my book.

Shine light into this darkness!

~AoA

48 Hours

For the last six years, I have always made sure to tell the dad whenever I traveled outside our state. In a normal co-parenting situation, it is a common courtesy. In my situation, it apparently is an invitation to be harassed or stalked. I pulled out the parenting plan to refresh myself on those “common courtesy details”, as I prepared to take some short summer trips with the AoA kids.

My world shifted as I read that I only had to provide details for trips over 48 hours in another state. We live in one of the short, long states, and we can easily be in a different state in less than two hours. It takes more than three hours to get to the east or west of our state. I didn’t need to stress about our recent overnight trip to a concert venue in another state. We were actually only in the other state for about 24 hours. The other thing is, I venture to guess that this was written before everyone had cell phones.

What were we doing?

This was Little AoA’s second concert. She is emerging as more of a country music fan, so we are keeping our eyes open for experiences in that genre! I, on the other hand, LOVE 21 Pilots! I am feeling blessed to have performing arts in my life! This is something that was stripped from me during my 8 year trip through levels of hell with the dad.

(21 Pilots evolution)

In preparation for the concert, I had a great hair tie to match the album attire. Brother informed me that I was too old to be wearing props. My concert costume consists of a black shirt… it still doesn’t bother Brother when I dress up for Halloween, so I will stick with that. Maybe I’ll dress up as a teenage concert goer for Halloween!

I have learned about physical struggles at venues with Little AoA. Her gross motor functioning is not at a typical level for a ten year old. Steps are really a struggle for her. Most times, she is not able to alternate feet on steps, and needs to hold a rail or a person at all times. We use ramps when they are available. She had physical therapy when she was little, but “graduated” from it when she could perform basic tasks. I have become more aware of other people who struggle with stairs, and make an effort to give them a smile. I know it is frustrating. Besides Little AoA, I had a partial knee replacement a couple years ago, and on bad days, I can’t alternate feet on steps either!

We have one more performing arts experience planned for the summer, seeing “Fiddler on the Roof” at our performing arts center. What next???

~AoA

Oh Yes, Father’s Day

I struggle a bit with this day of celebration. At this point in life, my dad lives with me and the AoA kids, and we enjoy each other. I can honestly say that I love this guy. He has picked me up when I was down, cared for me when I was sick, and cheered for me when good things happened.

This has not been the case for all of the chapters of my life. My dad was an alcoholic during my childhood. He and my mom divorced when I was about 11 years old, and I didn’t see or hear from him again until I was 18 years old. He became part of my life again, and after both he and my mom had failed second marriages, they married each other again. His health started failing in his 50’s; a byproduct of having been exposed to agent orange during his time in Vietnam is what was suspected. There have been a few near death experiences over the years.

One thing I will always cherish, is his love for music. To this day, he picks at one of his guitars almost daily, filling the house with music.

I love this quote, and pray that fathers everywhere realize their importance, and step up to care for their children in this way. My time for this with my dad came later in life.

This quote is another prayer for fathers. Even if divorced, kids see how their parents treat each other. They know if their father is not supporting them, by the way he treats their mother. Does he provide financial support? Does he use common manners when communicating to or about their mother? You don’t have to be in love with the other parent of your child, to treat them with respect.

Father’s Day brings me sadness when I think about the AoA kids. Thankfully, they do have people who care and provide for them….it’s just that the dad isn’t one of them. They will someday have another load to carry, when they learn more truth about their father….

~AoA