The day started out so well—sleeping in late, and cuddling up on the couch with bowels of cold cereal on our laps while we watched cartoons. Then visiting the grandparents she missed and repeatedly asked to see. JJ romped and played with her cousins in the bright afternoon sun. She splashed in the pool, and dried off jumping on the trampoline. Grandpa ordered a pizza for lunch, and we all dove in—cheese dripping off our fingers, our faces smeared with spicy tomato sauce signaled delight.
JJ didn’t want to leave. I couldn’t blame her—her father, Mr. X, decided that he doesn’t like my parents and has been actively working to keep my children separated from their maternal grandparents, basically all my relatives, and any connection to our heritage. This was especially cruel because Mr. X used to allow the children overnight visits with their grandparents.
My parents created a room in the house for the children—with bunk beds to sleep and a closet overflowing with toys. The dresser was filled with clothes my parents bought for my children. Even the kitchen cupboards were filled with brightly colored plastic plates in animal shapes, bottles of water, and healthy snacks for the kids—Grandpa made sure they ate organic, and drank purified water.
My children share a close, loving relationship with their grandparents; they suffer a tremendous amount of grief due to alienation and an unjust legal order tearing my family apart.
Which brings me to the park… I left my parent’s home to bring my daughter and my toddler, RJ, to a museum. Time was running short, and JJ was a bit cranky so I drove to the park instead.
It was a warm, sunny day and the playground was filled with noisy children. RJ ran happily toward the slide. JJ hung back, almost refusing to walk. She crossed her arms over her chest, tucked her chin down and wouldn’t look at me. When I asked JJ what was wrong she only replied in grumbling noises. JJ glared at the playground like I was dragging her into the pit of hell. I did my best to ignore her, and tried to remain upbeat, hoping some distraction would lift the clouds—to no avail. When I tried to talk to JJ she completely ignored me, and continued to grumble.
I was not deterred by JJ’s attitude—she is so much like me in her personality and energy. I once had a fighting spirit that was only broken by a brutal act committed by Mr. X that left me silent and complacent. I admire the fighting spirit in my daughter; I know it is going to save her from the abuse and dysfunction she is now living in. As much as I want to reach out to JJ, I also want to honor her fighting spirit—what she was trying to tell me—and find a way she can talk and feel that her words are valued, that I am listening. So I sit a few feet from JJ and spoke, not looking at her because I knew this would invite challenge and said, “You look like you are upset and want to say something. I am here if you need to talk. I won’t bother you or make you talk, but just know when you are ready I am listening. I love you a lot and I really want to help if I can.”
JJ glared at me. She didn’t say anything for several minutes and then, “I want to go back to Grandma’s house! Why can’t I see my Grandma? It’s not fair! I used to get to see her all the time.”
I always try to be careful what I say to the kids about anything court related but try to give them enough that there is some resolution so they are not left with more questions. “We only get one visit a month, and I try to fit everything in as best as I can. I will try to make more time to visit Grandpa and Grandma. I’m sorry about that.”
“It’s not fair.” JJ grumbled, “Why can’t I see you more too?”
“I am not sure why, I did ask for more time but the court says only once a month. We will just have to do our best. I love you very much and think about you every day. I will keep asking for more time to visit, but we will have to be patient if that does not happen right away.” I reply.
JJ is nearly shouting now, “Why can’t you talk to the judge? Tell him I want to come home! I want to see Grandma! It’s not fair!”
“Honey, I did talk to the Judge and this is what he says… I did the best I could. Even if I can’t see you a lot, I will write letters and we can talk on the phone.” I was writing letters almost every week since the children have been taken from me, then Mr. X moved and won’t give me an address–any address–to send the letters. So now I only get to see the children once a month with no contact in between.
My daughter is furious, “Why don’t you get a lawyer? I saw on ‘Rockford’ that a lawyer is only $75! You could get a lawyer!” –Mr. X watches the 1970’s detective series, “The Rockford Files”, my daughter must have been watching. I couldn’t help but to wonder if Jim Rockford were investigating my case, would things have turned out differently??
“Honey, lawyers are more expensive than that. But I do my best talking to the Judge—and your Dad—on my own. This is what they decided, and I know it’s not easy but we just gotta do the best we can. No matter what, I love you, and thank God for you every day. I will keep asking for more time to visit with you.” It has taken alot of practise for me to remain this calm.
“But I saw on ‘Rockford’..” JJ is nearly in tears now. Her shoulders sag, and she came to cuddle on my lap. “Rockford gets a lawyer all the time. You can too, Mommy…”
I am near tears myself. I just want my children to have a normal, happy childhood—and to be their Mother. I see my children struggling, their safety is at risk, and now they are being kept away from their loving mother and anything that represents her…I don’t have money for a lawyer. And I don’t have the knowledge or skill to adequately represent myself in court pro se. I don’t have the answers why. Why would Family Court conspire to take my children away? Why am I being denied my legal rights, and due process? Why is the Guardian ad Litem covering up evidence of abuse, refusing to interview witnesses and will not do a home observation with the children and I? Why is Judge Bobo refusing to do any sort of reunification efforts, even when I request? Why are these children continuing to show emotional distress and make concerning reports and no one is listening? I don’t have the answers. And they are not the answers a child should hear. So I keep my thoughts silent. Force a smile. And push the pain away…these questions will revisit me in the night, keeping me awake, only in silence and darkness, I don’t have to be so strong anymore, the tears fall.
So I do what I have been forced to do time and time again over the years, smile, try to act like everything is fine and enjoy the moments I have with my children. I scoop RJ up from the bottom of the slide, swing him in the air until he giggles and announce that we are going on a hike. We walk around a path meandering near the lake. I remember how warm my JJ’s hand feels, her fingers closing over mine…tears sparkle in her eyes but something else too: excitement. She dashes away to collect rocks and then again to help her baby brother climb a low hanging branch. And just for a few moments the pain passes away, the storm recedes into a brilliant blue sky, and we are family.