Comic Book Day!

Red Hood is my 16 year old. We walked into our local comic book store, and who should be at the door? Batman!! I took a picture before I left the store (Red Hood didn’t really want mom at this). I did some errands, then returned to the store. Red Hood said that several people took pictures, and they are hoping to see them later!

In the meantime…….

I walked around our courthouse with my very own “Columbia Cruella”. We took a few pictures to start her journey into public character play.

We are part of a local cosplay group that is trying to get started. People don’t seem to commit to activities like when I was young. In order to grow relationships, people need to spend time together. Friendship doesn’t happen in an instant! I plan on hanging in there, and building relationships in our community, or wherever we end up calling “home”.

~AoA

Hiding in Plain Sight

It has been purely by chance, that the AoA teenagers have found a safe way to start doing things in the community, after the trauma of being stalked most of their lives. I just recently realized, without a doubt, that the dad has been stalking us for quite some time. When I realized that he started attending a church that is on my road, about two blocks away, it got real. He lives at least 30 minutes away from us!

The AoA kids both have dealt with social anxiety, and really didn’t like going to fun activities. It occurred to me, that this could very well be a result of being stalked.

I think the AoA kids may have found a way to start becoming more sociable and engaged in the community….costumes! Little AoA (well, 13 years old now), has acquired quite a collection of wigs and costumes. They are mostly inspired by Halloween characters and Disney villains. She has pseudonyms for social media, and makes sure that everything she does is off the beaten path.

A couple years ago, when one of my kiddos came out as transgender, my circles of friends shifted. In hindsight, this has allowed me and the kids to experience more of a feeling of safety, as there is no way the dad would think to look for us in the LGBTQ community🏳️‍🌈

It is mostly me and Little AoA who socialize and try to find friends and engage in service projects to help others within our friend groups. I have found some of the kindest, most caring people in our new circles. I have embraced people who I never would have known in the life I was living, trying to please others and meet the expectations of society.

The biggest lesson I have learned, is to embrace my authentic self. I have learned to love myself for exactly who I am. I have learned that I am enough, and I don’t have to be perfect in order to be valid and worthy of acceptance. It only took me 55 years🙄. I hope that my offspring embrace their authentic selves earlier than I did! I think they are!

~AoA

A Little Weird: The Teen Years

No longer a child, not yet an adult…. Longing to fit in somewhere, anywhere….other teens seem so confident, and beautiful….talking and laughing together, about nothing….How do I make myself fit into this mold?….I sit alone at lunch, usually in the library…..Reading about human behavior, and trying to figure it out…..Where do I fit?….

I am a band kid, playing multiple instruments…..still, I don’t fit with them….the teacher says I don’t have enough soul in my music…..I am not good enough….

I know some teens who hang out by the bleachers and smoke….”bleacher creatures” they are called….I tried smoking…..thought it would make me fit in…..it didn’t…..

Finally a psychology class…..something that interests me…..our first activity is to draw a random name…..and write a couple words that state our first impression….I listened….cute, nice, athletic, smart…..then came mine…..”fat and homely”….I cry…..I leave the classroom……that night, I find some pills…..if that is all that others see in me, why am I here?

I didn’t want to die…..I just didn’t want to feel…..what have I done?…..am I going to die this night?….my stepdad finds out what I did….”tell me next time, and I’ll make sure you do it right”…..that was what he said…..why am I even here?…..

I’ll show them all……I set out to find my place in the world….to be continued….

~AoA

Dissociative Identity Awareness Day- March 5

Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) has always fascinated me. I have just started learning more about it, and as I typically do, I am diving all in! I have a personal reason to explore this now….my (almost 16 year old) teenager was diagnosed with it about a month ago. I had suspected this diagnosis several years ago, but my child was really too young and there wasn’t enough data to make this diagnosis. So we went down the diagnostic path, seeking answers and support.

My child started at about age 7, hearing voices in their head, and having intense fear. The diagnosis at that time was “adjustment disorder”, and anxiety. Dad and I had divorced, and this seemed to be a common thing. By the age of 9, the “intellectually gifted” label was added, as well as CPTSD. The anxiety was becoming more intense. By the age of 11, additional diagnoses of selective mutism and schizotypal personality disorder were added. At this time, they started refusing to get out of the car to go to school, started self-harming, and doctors were trying to treat symptoms with anti-psychotics and anti-depressants (not at the same time). It was after months of needing to be physically dragged from my car every morning and having several adults working to help, that I decided to try homeschooling, and remove that stressor from my child’s life. Now the healing would begin.

Without the stressor of public school to deal with, my child went through a phase of decompressing from all of the stress. I was unaware that in public school, my child was made fun of from a young age. In 3rd grade, other kids started calling my child “gay”, and by middle school had started teasing more and escalating to involve shoving. After about a year of decompression, they began to find joy. They became excited about learning new things, and dove into many different areas.

Just before turning 13, my child shared with me that they realized that they had gender dysphoria, and felt very strongly that they were really a girl. This was new to me, but the way I responded, I will not forget. I said that out of my four kids, I just knew at least one would be a rainbow. Then I asked what they needed from me. My child wanted to paint their nails. That, I could do! I asked about a name and pronouns, and my child had already chosen a name, Hazel. My next step was to consult with trusted therapists to learn how to move forward with this. I learned that the APA position is that affirming care is the best practice. I made sure mental health providers would use best practices, made changes as needed, and moved on.

By 14 years old, Hazel asked about getting assessed for autism. She thought that she has a lot of characteristics, and wanted to know. Soon after, came the autism diagnosis. This was at the beginning of the pandemic. About a year into the pandemic, one of the therapists went to seeing Hazel in person once a week. After doing this for over a year, and giving some assessments along the way, the unsolicited diagnosis of DID was added.

My Hazel is the most unique and complex person I have ever known. No diagnosis changes that!

The most commonly known cause behind DID, according to the diagnosing therapist, is pre-verbal trauma. I will never know all that my child endured during those years. At the time, the dad, a diagnosed sociopath, was the daytime caregiver while I went to work. Five days a week, ten months a year, eight hours a day, for six years…..

The dad had me so broken, that he was able to convince me that he knew far more than I did about raising children; even though I had already raised two, and he had none. It was when Hazel reached the age of seven, that I finally woke up and escaped. The kids would spend the next three years having unsupervised time with the dad, and taking the full force of the psychological, emotional, and physical abuse.

The kids are free from abuse now, and finally doing the work of healing as they move through the teenage years.

The best advice I can give to anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation is, LOVE THE KIDS!

~AoA

Begin Again

It’s been a really long time since I have added to my blog. My body, mind, and soul were spinning and drowning…hoping to someday be able to come up for air again! That day is here…..finally.

All of the weight I was carrying for my loved ones was further trampled upon by the domestic violence continuing court drama brought on by the dad. We separated 10 years ago, the divorce was final 8 years ago, and twice he has taken me to court to try to get “custody” of our two kids, who are now well into their teens. This week closed the latest chapter; a case he brought against me three years ago. I didn’t realize exactly how much this looming case was holding me down, until it was finally lifted. No more fight or flight mode everytime I get an email, wondering if it is my attorney telling me some new piece of crazy that came up….

I won’t go into much detail today, as the whole day would easily make a great stand up routine, short story, or novel.

As soon as we all got into place to begin the “trial”, the dad fired his attorney (I believe maybe the 8th in 3 years). The dad said that the attorney wasn’t prepared, but he was prepared to go forward representing himself. The judge tried to talk him out of it, with no success. The dad was spiffy, dressed in a nice suit, and carrying an old backgammon case as a briefcase. The trial went forward….

I watched with my gray rock poker face, as the hole he was digging got deeper and deeper. He had no witnesses that he had called, but rather, called the kids’ three therapists. They were actually on my side’s witness list, but that’s ok. He called me to the stand, and tried to trash me, with no luck. Finally, he took the stand and told his dad story, complete with tears on command. My attorney then cross examined him, and completely filled in the hole that had been dug. There was no way out.

In the end, the dad got nothing he asked for (unsupervised time with the kids), and was ordered to pay ALL my attorney fees and court related costs that have accumulated over the past three years of defending against this nothingness. I know this means I will probably be putting a lien on his farm, for him to always know that he did not destroy me as he wanted to.

My prayer over the last ten years, has been for God’s army of angels to go before me in battle, and help me through. The night before court, that prayer and vision once again entered my realm of vision, as I carried peace with me into the courtroom. One of the biggest lessons I have learned through this, is that you can’t fight hate with hate. Hate in the heart of a person, eventually consumes them, and they dig their own holes….tie their own nooses….

When it was over, as I turned to leave, I saw a couple who had been in the courtroom, waiting for their turn to talk with the judge about their parenting plan. The mom looked directly at me, gave me a smile and a thumbs up….there is hope.

~AoA

Making it to 2022

I’m afraid that 2020 and 2021 have finally caught up with me. The sadness, the fear, the anxiety that has come with living and dying during a pandemic….all swims in my head this New Year’s Eve. To add to it, I am weaning off of pain medication from my recent knee replacement.

I can only remember a time or two in my life, feeling this empty. My youngest kids are now 15 and 13, and their dad just hired a new attorney….maybe his 15th or so? We go to court in February to hopefully put an end to the madness. He has chosen not to see the kids for the last two years and doesn’t pay the very little amount of child support he is court ordered to pay until he is ready to take me to court. I am really not afraid, but my mind wonders to the “what ifs”. Neither child has seen him, and they have both come into their teen years, full of emotions and attitudes. I remember how angry the dad use to get at my older children when they were in their teens. I had to send them to live with their dad when they each turned about 16, as the dad couldn’t stand them! My 15 year old is FAR more complex that my older kids were, so just imagining a confrontation between them hurts my heart. I know I need to let go of these images and anxieties, but they are just triggered when the dad starts this crap. Did I mention that the dad killed his own father? Yes, he was 17, nearly 18 when he shot and killed his own father. I feel like I am holding my breath hoping that history doesn’t repeat itself. There are no guns in my home, but the dad has plenty of them in his home. He has even pointed out to the 15 year old, which one he is going to use to shoot me! This was years ago, when we had only been divorced a year or two. We are at nine years now….I need to be free.

My shining spot this year has been this 8 year old Basset Hound, Wally. I adopted him this year, just feeling the need for a fur buddy. If it wasn’t for getting up to feed him and take him out, I may have had days of not getting out of bed at all. He can be annoying at times, but he has really stayed by my side this year through two major surgeries, and much grief.

I hope that going back to work lifts my spirits. I had really hoped that I would have actually been able to get some things done while on this medical leave, but that has not been the case. My poor house has been neglected since February. Luckily, we have help cleaning a couple times a month, so it’s just the clutter that has built up. I am looking forward to being able to do more, as my back and leg strengthen….I wish it would happen faster. I don’t remember it taking the Bionic Woman this long!

Hoping to make it to tomorrow….

Happy New Year!

~AoA

Back With the World for a While

2021 has almost turned the corner, and I honestly don’t know how I am still able to smile. I had a falling on ice accident in February, fracturing my back and completely messing up my knee. This year saw two major surgeries and recoveries…well actually I am only three weeks out of my final surgery.

March sent my mom to the hospital for a month. She was in and out of ICU with lungs that presented like COVID-19, but wasn’t. She ended up having a heart valve replacement and a pacemaker implant. Her dementia took a giant nosedive, and part of her short term memory is completely gone.

In August, we watched as a neighboring town, and some of our friends, faced death and devastation from flash flooding like I could never have imagined.

September was the most difficult, as my beloved dad passed away in his sleep. He was 78 years old, a Vietnam Veteran living as 100% disabled from the effects of agent orange. I miss him so much…

If that wasn’t enough, by the first of November, a dear friend of our family passed away from COVID-19. He was in his early 50’s, and a healthy parent of two young children…this was a shock to everyone in our community, and a reminder of the seriousness of this virus.

There have been days I didn’t know if I could go on another day. There was one good spot…we adopted an 8 year old Basset Hound in February. Little AoA was first to insist on a Basset. I felt in my heart that a doggy friend may be a good support during emotionally difficult times. I had no idea…

Wally comforts me…

I have so much to process and share, that my mind swims just thinking about where to start. You see, I have always had a deep faith in God, and how He shows me the path…lights the way for my life. One of the recent turns made was one I never saw coming. I haven’t mentioned it before, because I needed time to learn more. My teenager came out as transgender….new name and pronouns, all of it. I listened to a lot of solicited and unsolicited advice and opinions. I sought answers through research and support groups. I eventually found my place as mother to a transgender teen. I may write more about this particular journey in time. My teen is not flashy or pushy….just wants to be a normal, average girl. We live in a smallish Southern town that is not openly accepting or affirming of the LGBTQ community. I have been building community and support, and leading efforts to help families love and affirm their children who are questioning or identifying as part of the LGBTQ community. I can honestly say that I knew next to nothing in this area, but I have always known in my heart that diversity is a positive and living your truth is better than trying to live to please others.

On a fun note, Little AoA recently discovered the joy of WordPress blogging. She started a private blog for tracking thoughts, feelings, experiences, and ideas. Today’s kids are so amazing! They intuitively know how to navigate technology and do some amazing things! In education, we often hear that we are preparing students for jobs that haven’t even been invented yet! Part of my educational philosophy is that we teach students to read, write, and do basic math; but we must allow them to stretch their wings and explore their interests in order to preserve a love of learning❤️

I look forward to catching up with everyone. I have missed the blogging connection❤️

~AoA

Dad’s Memorial

My dad passed away three days ago, on September 2, 2021. He was fine the night before, and gone in the morning. He had a heart device that must have gone off and sent a signal to the local Veteran’s hospital, because the sheriff and an ambulance showed up before anyone realized there was a problem. Little AoA had gone in his room to say good morning, and noticed that he was really cold…..

My dad was born on March 23, 1943, in Virginia. There were many, many chapters in his life…..but my favorite is the chapter that started 13 years ago.

He and my mom made the decision to move from Florida to Tennessee, to live near me, as I was about to give birth (at the age of 42), to their 6th grandchild, who I affectionately refer to as “Little AoA”. I begged a little, but it didn’t take a lot.

Once Little AoA was born, I dutifully returned to work when she was 6 weeks old. My parents took on a co-parenting role with me. Every morning, I would bundle up the baby, and take her to my parents house. My dad spent a lot of time holding a sleeping baby. He participated in early intervention therapy for years with Little AoA, joining my mom in taking her to various therapies and pre-school.

When Little AoA was just three, my dad took me and my two youngest kids into his home, as we made an escape from our abusive home. He became our protector, our refuge, and our rock. When it was time to meet the ex-husband at court as he attempted to lie and bully to take our kids, my dad was there beside me. I felt so loved and supported…..after years of being told how worthless, dumb, and disposable I was.

For the next several years, my dad battled medical issues that sent him in and out of the hospital. He had received a quad bypass many years earlier, so we all knew that medical issues were serious for him. During one of his emergency room trips, his heart stopped, and he was revived by a team of healthcare workers. This was our second chance at life with my dad. The rehab wasn’t easy, and took a long time. Finally, he arrived at a place of stability. The things that hurt were going to hurt, but were manageable.

He took on a passive lifestyle, and did little things that brought him joy. He restored and built guitars, of which we now have many. He restored old amplifiers, of which we now have many….he liked buying broken laptop computers and making them work again.

My dad instilled a love of music to not only my sister and me, but to all of his grandkids. His hope was always to have at least one who would make music with him…..he finally got that….in Little AoA. Around the age of 10, Little AoA fell completely in love with old country music. She especially loved Dolly Parton, and the mountain instruments. Dad and her ordered and played with many different stringed instruments. No one knew how she came to connect so deeply with the music of Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline, Kitty Wells, and so many others from that era….but we all embraced it. For the last three years of my dad’s life, he spent a lot of time making music with Little AoA. Homeschooling started at that time, so once again, Little AoA spent a lot of time with him. She loved her Papa so, so much. She gave him love and hugs all the time.

We took time to appreciate the little moments more in his last years on earth. After his last health emergency, there were home health nurses for a while. As they phased out, I took on the roll of doing the monthly pill sort. At first, dad stayed with me to make sure I did it correctly. As months went on, this became our monthly time to catch up with each other. We used this precious time to talk about our thoughts and concerns for our family members and the state of the world. There was always a plan by the end of the pill sorting….a peaceful path forward.

As we all make a path forward in our lives, there is an emptiness. We will carry dad in our hearts and minds always….he will always be part of our lives.

~AoA

Where Have I Been?

I have been missing from my blog for quite some time. After a month of my mom being in the hospital in a touch and go situation, I herniated a disc in my back. Further investigation revealed that I had actually fractured my back on top of the disc situation. I went on disability leave from work, and spent about a month doing very little, while I waited for surgery day.

Surgery was on June 17th, and everything went well. It was a very invasive surgery, leaving about a 12 inch scar down my back. It involved a plate, screws, and a bone graft…..and lots of pain medication. I have weaned myself from the heavy pain medication, but I am sure not back to my pre-accident level of activity!

As soon as I was released to drive, I took Little AoA (not so little anymore) to Loretta Lynn’s Ranch, where we attended a concert with Tayla Lynn, Loretta Lynn’s granddaughter. It isn’t far from where we live, but I anticipated it being a lot for me, so we booked a hotel room for the night. I packed up my walker and cane, and hobbled myself to the fun! We had a really nice time!

Little AoA and Tayla (and her doll is also Tayla)

Little AoA was so excited! She had written letters for Loretta and Tayla, and made stickers for Tayla’s little boys. She also had pictures and a CD ready to be autographed!

I was planning on having knee replacement surgery this summer as well, but insurance took so long to approve the first surgery, that it didn’t leave me enough time for it. I will be hobbling along for several months at work, until the next school break season comes along in the late fall.

I have said for many years that we are all just an accident or illness away from being disabled. How true that has been….with one fall, I became a person with physical limitations, unable to navigate day to day activities without modification or help. My heart goes out to all those who live with physical disabilities. They are true super heroes!

~AoA