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

Learning More About PTSD

This is from “A Warrior’s Garden”:

What if I’d told you that when you are exposed to a traumatic experience or event, if you develop PTSD whether acute or chronic you will renavigate Erickson’s stages of psychosocial development? And your speed and ability to navigate your trauma and move past your diagnosis into your healing phases will be dictated by how quickly you renegotiate those stages.

#PTSD

#PTSDAWARENESS

#knowyourself

#ACTIVEOVERPASSIVE

#selftherapy

https://squareup.com/store/AWarriorsGarden/item/a-warrior-s-garden

I am always interested in new ideas about PTSD. Being an educator in the field of special education, I was familiar with Erickson’s Stage Theory. I learned about PTSD after leaving an abusive marriage, and helping my son through what was referred to as PTSD from being raised by a dad who I have come to learn through parenting evaluations, demonstrates all the characteristics of a sociopath.

There is not a quick fix to navigate the stages; just consistency, frequency, and perseverance among those involved in treatment. When reading the chart, I see Brother entering the third stage, “initiative vs guilt- 3-6 year olds”. When I finally left the situation, Brother was 6 years old, but very delayed in social/emotional development. Regular contact continued with the dad for another three years, during which time, Brother would have meltdowns related to having to visit with the dad or in response to things that happened during visits. He was at the tipping point of having a complete breakdown when a judge intervened and required all future visits to be supervised in a center. This was a huge protection, but unfortunately, not enough. Brother ended up having a complete breakdown requiring hospitalization after attempts to self harm.

Visits were put into the hands of the children’s therapists with regard to when the kids were emotionally ready to resume supervised visits. It has been over a year now, and visits for Brother will resume tomorrow. I am thankful that he has been given time to heal a bit before being put back into the situation of navigating a relationship with the dad. There are so many people supporting Brother now, that even if he falls, there is a safety net that is right there.

I can’t help but think of all the kids out there who are navigating Erickson’s Stages after PTSD related to domestic violence and other issues. I ask myself,”What can I do to make a difference?” I think I will start by reading “A Warrior’s Garden”. I have a feeling that some of the ideas can be applied to the children whose lives I touch!

~AoA❤️

Check Off One Goal, Little AoA!

Learning to swim was one of Little AoA’s goals for this summer. She just finished a two week swim program, where she went five days a week and worked in a one on one situation to learn. She still has a way to go, but from being too scared to pick up her feet or leave the safety of the pool edge, to having Her face is in the water and kicking feet is big! I will be continuing to work with her at our recreation center.

Adding to the fun, we created “Banjo Bear”, who will be traveling this summer with various friends, and sharing his adventures through pictures in his own Facebook group and on Instagram. Banjo is traveling to Williamsburg, Virginia next week with some friends. We can’t wait to see his adventures!

Little AoA and I went to our first camera club this week. It is called,” Life through the lens”. It inspired us to explore the world, and share. We don’t have fancy cameras, but we will be working on getting creative shots with what we have. I found some photography lesson cards on genre, and we will be working through them.

Here is my attempt at creativity- looking at my environment through the lens while waiting for the kids at music lessons.

One of my goals is to help the kids find things that they are passionate about, and things they want to learn, make, or do. When Brother started the homeschooling journey this last year, all sparks of interest were gone. He was in darkness with no joy or hope…just anxiety and depression.

Photography has helped him be able to communicate, and he expresses interest in going to places where he can take interesting pictures. Here are the latest pictures he took from an adventure to The Hermitage- Andrew Jackson’s home:

~AoA

Supervised Visits

Today I did a test run to the supervised visit center we will use beginning next week. There are not many visit centers to choose from, and even fewer that actually follow best practice standards to some degree. The center we will use is about an hour from where we live. In fact, it is the closest center to us. Supervised visits were the only type of visit that the judge approved of for the dad, back in January of 2017. Those visits went on for about 4-5 months until the behavior of the dad and his mother at the visits became beyond disturbing to the kids. The visits were halted, and Brother ended up in a psychotic break, including self harming, and trips to the hospital. Visits would not start again until a therapist felt that Brother was ready, and had evidence that the dad could maintain boundaries for a short visit.

After our last experience with a visit center, I have become more proactive in advocating for the needs of Brother. I was very trusting the last time, that the center would do what they said they would do. That didn’t work out, and cost a lot of heartache, time, and money to get the kids back on track.

I went to meet the new center, armed with the Supervised Visitation Network’s standards. I insisted on a written copy of their policies, even though they said they were really only for the visiting parent. I went through each policy out loud, with both Brother and the main supervisor. I also pointed out some additional concerns that arose before, like a supervisor being on the cell phone or social media during the visit. I also made sure that we were clear on drop off and pick up procedures, and had a way to communicate if someone was going to be late or absent. The center is in a bit of a run down kind of neighborhood where I would definitely not feel safe being in a hidden parking area with the dad, without supervision or even a police escort!

This is the “building”, and the actual visitation room has its own entrance in the back. Brother was close to a panic attack when we started down the street. I actually had a different address, and had not been informed that the address on their web page was not correct. The supervisor sent me the new address when it got close to our scheduled arrival time. I drove to the address she gave, and it was obviously someone’s private residence. She texted me to go to the back, which I did. It felt wrong and creepy. I texted back that I was pulling into the church at the end of the street. The next thing, I was texted that she had given me the wrong house number! That was certainly not a very strong start.

It is difficult to convey the complexity of the years of litigation we have been through, but I wanted to make one thing clear. When the kids’ therapists think they are ready to increase visits, or reduce supervision, I am on board. I do not need to go through litigation to do what the kids need. If the dad does not want to do what is in the best interest of the kids, he will not be supported by me or child advocates. He has burned those bridges many times over.

I like to be positive…glass half full, but it is hard. I have had to compartmentalize my thoughts and feelings about the trauma I lived in with the dad, and remind myself that those days are behind me. The only thing I have to navigate now is making sure to follow the court order and the guidance of the kids’ therapists. I already know that unless some miraculous change has occurred, the dad will play the victim card and try to triangulate with the supervisor. In my proactive endeavor, I have already addressed this elephant, and reiterated to the supervisor and Brother, that the supervisor does NOT make the decisions about increasing visits or removing supervision. I hope and expect that the dad will respect boundaries during their visits, especially when he knows the supervisor is paying attention. I do not expect that Brother will be able to advocate for himself in front of the dad, or point out a need to change conversation topics. His feelings about the actual visits will come out later with his counselor or with me.

Moving forward….

~AoA

Keeping a Safe Distance

Supervised visits with Brother and the dad will start next week. I have had some much needed peace for the last year, relatively speaking. Supervised visits stopped last July, and I have not had to coordinate anything with the dad for the year. He stopped responding to texts about doctor appointments, and refused to pay the agreed upon child support for the year. He was always in the background, however….stalking and acting like it was just coincidence that we were in the same place at the same time.

Now that Brother is older (13), and has learned a lot about setting boundaries, it is time. I can tell that he doesn’t know the entire set of circumstances, and has blocked out many experiences he had with the dad. He understands that the dad has limited intellectual capabilities, but has fallen into the same trap I was in, excusing inappropriate behavior because of it. Brother doesn’t see the dad jumping around to 9 attorneys, lying about situations, and continuing to try to work against the kids and me instead of being a supportive parent. Brother doesn’t know that the dad and granny committed a heinous crime and got away with it. Brother doesn’t know that the dad lied to DCS, my employers, attorneys, judges, the psychologist who did our parenting evaluation, and care providers. That doesn’t even include the time we were married. At that time, I was excusing the lies, and even believing the lies on things that I had no proof to back my disbelief on.

The place where Brother is right now, is understanding that the dad “doesn’t always give all the facts”.

Well….I suppose that is one way to call it. That is what I use to think. There came a point though, where it was so important to have provided ALL the information, that it crossed a line. I remember he use to accuse me of lying to him on a regular basis. He would tell me how he HATES liars more than anything! The sad thing is, it was him who was lying.

It seemed that by the time I had reached my limit of excusing the regular lying, it seemed that the dad truly could not distinguish between the truth, a lie, and an omission. I remember my initial divorce attorney stating that a competency hearing was where we were headed if we had gone to trial at that time, because it was noticeable that the dad was delusional and unable to appropriately assist his counsel.

Today, when I spoke with the supervisor for visits, she shared that the dad has already asked about bringing his mom to visits. Since the initial separation, there have been no legal restrictions on the dad’s parents maintaining a relationship with the kids. They stopped the relationship when the judge ordered supervised visits with the dad. Despite their ability to maintain relationships of some sort, they never acknowledged the kids on holidays or birthdays, except for the ONE time that a hateful message was left on my mom’s phone. They have acted as though they were victimized.

I had a brief conversation with Brother about whether he wanted the grandparents at visits. He said that as long as they respected his boundaries, he was ok with it. Over the years, I have periodically asked Brother if he wanted to contact the grandparents, and I let him know that there was no restriction on those relationships. He never felt comfortable with it. I reminded him today, that even though the dad wants the grandparents at supervised visits, he was free to see them whenever he wished. There was never any court order about grandparents. I was surprised by his response to this….he suggested that the grandparents probably never knew that they could contact the kids, because the dad probably didn’t tell them the whole story! I was told by Brother, that I turned “everything into a conspiracy theory”. Unfortunately, the truth ends up sounding just like a conspiracy theory, because it is just incomprehensible that people would do these things on purpose. I mean, why would the dad not tell his parents that they could still send things to the kids and have some kind of relationship with them while he worked through his things?

Ignorance seems a much more acceptable reason than a conspiracy to make his parents suffer the consequence for his behavior.

While I am on the subject, conspiracy or ignorance? In an earlier post, I mentioned that the first supervised visit had been scheduled without my knowledge. I was proactive, and reached out to the visit center. The supervisor said that the dad had given her an incorrect phone number for me! I have had the same number for about 20 years. I found that oddly suspicious. In my gut, I suspect that someone has told the dad that if I don’t follow our court agreement, he can take me back to court. Not unlike the advice he was given about making a trail of reports to DCS in order to take me to court.

I know that Brother sees the truth, but is he strong enough to endure? I pray that with the continued support of his therapists, Brother will be able to maintain healthy boundaries, and see the truth for what it is. I pray that he will not fall into the trap of believing the dad is innocently forgetting the truth, and excuse bad conduct.

I feel the mental exhaustion sneaking up on me.

~AoA

How Much Do I Share?

One question I ask myself whenever I introduce the AoA kids to new experiences is, “How much do I share?” I could share nothing, and just hope that all of the disability characteristics stay hidden for the time they are involved with other people. This doesn’t seem fair to those who work with them. Will the characteristics always come out? Kids with seizures or peanut allergies don’t show their areas of difference all the time, but we would be negligent not to inform caregivers, and hope for the best.

With the AoA kids, I know that after working with them, caregivers would know something was different, they just may not know what to call it. Both kids have been said to be selectively mute. Little AoA is rising above this some, with a lot of support and encouragement. The intense anxiety around animals is another thing. Little AoA has full on panic attacks when a dog or a cat appears in her line of sight. Most people where we live, have pets. I feel bossy, suggesting that people hide their pets…but it is only a suggestion. I realize that ultimately I can’t control other people’s pets. I think it is fair that they are made aware of the likelihood of having to deal with a panic attack, and what to do, “just in case”.

With Brother, it is the dissociating that throws people off. Much like panic attacks, it is triggered by an experience, then a self-defeating thought. He starts staring blankly, and freezes. He doesn’t respond. This may last for a few minutes, 15 minutes, or more. It looks like he is in a trance, and one wants to just clap their hands and watch him snap out of it….

Unfortunately, that doesn’t work. He may stay frozen until the activity ends, or until he is excused to leave. Many people have tried different techniques to bring him back from this state. I have found that even if I do tell people ahead of time, that doesn’t really prepare them.

Short term memory loss is another challenging characteristic of Little AoA. The movie “Finding Dory” does a pretty good job of representing this. While it is kind of cute in the movie, in real life it is frustrating. Little AoA responds with,”I forgot”, quite a lot. Her army of angels works with a lot of repetition and hands on learning to try to move information into her long term memory so it can be retrieved.

One of the best things we have done that helps EVERYONE, is to put up dry erase boards for each family member. On Sunday evenings, I go to each board and write the activities for the week. It definitely eliminates the constant question,”Now what do we have to do today?” Every week there is therapy, tutoring, music lessons, and then the grandparents have doctor appointments. Little AoA is the most proactive with the scheduling and keeping everyone straight. Brother needs time to mentally adjust and wrap his mind around activities. Rarely do we act on a whim, and do something spontaneous.

Spontaneity is something to work toward with the kids. I must say that when “Pokémon Go” first appeared, it was encouraging us to go on little adventures. It was pretty short lived as a passing fad. I look forward to more adventures!

~AoA