Friday, May 24, 2013

The Bunny Hop

Within the past few years, there has been an overabundance of rabbit sightings.  Almost everyone I know have told me about the bunches of bunnies they see in their yards.  Everyone seems to love bunnies.  Of course, they are so cute, hopping through the grass, or just sitting with their little noses twitching.  These small mammals seem to be the perfect pet for someone who does not want to walk a dog or change cat litter.  I do not mind the latter, so I never entertained the thought of acquiring a rabbit as a pet.   But the emergence of these cute little animals hopping through the yards reminded of the time my children begged me for a bunny.

“Can we get one mom, please?”  The children were begging me to buy the bunny for sale at a country fair.  I was torn between wanting to please them, and disappointment.  I wondered how my children’s father would feel about having a docile, pet that required little care in comparison to a dog or a cat.  I remembered his reaction years ago when I suggested getting a dog as a pet for the children.  

 “Okay,” he had said; then added, “but I want an aggressive breed – not a stupid terrier like your mother has!”  Wow…there was SO much wrong in his answer.  In suggesting a pet for my children, I had assumed he understood that we would get a breed that would be gentle with children.  I did not have my heart set on a particular breed, but I did wish for certain traits.  Aggression was not one of them.  And with that, our discussion ended.

Now faced with their pleas for a bunny, I wondered how he would react.  I decided to try to call him.  When he did not answer, I left a message and waited for a return call.  It was not unusual for him to ignore my call as he called only if he needed something from me.  Oddly, when picking up the children from a visit, he would greet them with fabricated concern, “I was so worried about you guys!” despite the absence of any check-in calls.  As a worried parent would have called, his comments were strictly to plant a seed of fear with the children.  Cruelly calculated, as he was smug in knowing he only had custody due to his attorney’s unethical behavior and my record was spotless.

“It will be fine with dad!”  The children assured me.  “He said we could have a pet!”  Really?  Well, his wife had an old cat.  So perhaps he was ready to introduce a new pet, prior to the inevitable death of the cat.  And it was only a small rabbit that lived in a cage.  So, against my better judgment, I bought them the bunny and the cage.  I stress it was against my better judgment.  However, when a good mother is victimized by her batterer within court, and loses custody inexplicably, she tends to over compensate to her children’s wishes. 

On the ride home, the children talked excitedly about their new pet.  They debated about what to name her, and talked about the fun they had that day – the music, the hayrides and the food.   As we got closer to Natick, their demeanor began to change.  Their chatter had stopped.  Their voices were no longer enthusiastic.  They sounded strained and nervous.  When we got to the house, they were downright frightened.  Halfheartedly, they took the caged little bunny and closed my car door.  Suddenly, their father ran out of the house.  “Give that back to her!  You can’t have that here!” 

The children started screaming, “You said we could get a bunny!”      

“I’ll get it for you, not HER!” he shouted.  Turning to me, he snarled, “You better take that with you.”

Reasonably, I said, “I left you a message and you never called me back. But if you do not want it, let me know tomorrow and I will find a home for it.”

My ex, a narcissistic sociopath was selfish to a fault, often cruel, and lacking empathy for anyone but himself.  He could not listen or accept reason as he was the one who had to make the decision or have the final say.  But, at the moment, he was stuck.  “YOU can’t just get them a pet without my approval.  I am the one in charge of everything.” He declared pompously, in an attempt to let me know that he relished in being allowed to have some control over me. 

Sweetly I replied, “I will find the bunny a home.  Now, I have to run because I have a date.”  And I drove off.  My last comment was like sticking a knife in his gut.  I could not resist because the thought of me with another man made him livid.  I knew I was risking some sort of retaliation, but for the moment, the look on his face was priceless.

I called the children before I went out that evening.  I wanted to make certain they were safe, and their father did not take his anger out on them.  They gleefully told me that their step sister had a friend who had several pet bunnies and welcomed one more.  Their voices reflected the relief that they would not have to bear the burden of their father’s anger. 

At least for that night.    

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Thoughts From The 10th Annual Battered Mother’s Custody Conference

The 10th Annual Battered Mother’s Custody Conference was held the weekend of May 10th, 2013.  I was honored to be a presenter among a distinguished, brave and respected group of people.  Upon reviewing the list of workshops, there were several I was interested in attending.  My own experiences as the wife of a batterer, and subsequent victim of him and his unethical attorney in the family courts, led me to select only a few workshops to attend, as I could not bear to endure an overload of listening to tragic cases of abuse, unjust custody and brainwashed children.  Too many stories or ones with similar themes still bring back flashbacks of horrific incidents, and evoke bouts of panic.  While not full-blown post traumatic stress, listening to comparable events can cause quickening heart beats and rapid breathing. My sporadic attendance did not keep me from hearing the experiences from some of the attendees.  Every case was shocking and unique yet contained some nuances of what I had endured, either by my ex husband or in conjunction with his (former) second wife.  But listening to others, serves as a reminder that your own story is just as compelling, and your participation as a supporter and survivor is truly valuable.           

Hearing the cruelness other women endured by their ex always cause a painful remembrance, yet there is renewed validation as well.  It is common for batterers to either deny the abuse, or place the blame on their victim.  When living with a batterer, it is not uncommon to become prey to gaslighting Taken from the 1944 movie Gaslight, the term is used to describe an abuser’s behavior of accusing his victim of false deeds, as well as ensuring her isolation.  It’s a way of creating self doubt, as well as forcing her to lose her independence.  A victim can often question herself when under the control of an abuser.  In writing my book, “…Until You Die”: The Narcissist’s Promise, there was the slimmest thread of uncertainty.  It was not until I was in class for domestic violence advocacy certification, that I even heard the term gaslighting The description of the term was a revelation as well as the final piece of validation I needed.        

During the conference, when one survivor related a time her abuser utilized a mocking tone that left her feeling sickened and helpless, which induced the exact pit-in-the stomach recollection after hearing that same nauseatingly mocking tenor from my abuser, as he continued his harassing deeds that continued for years.  There was a tremendous tale of survival from a young man who fled from his sexually abusive father, finding his freedom by emancipation with a young marriage in Nevada.  Another story reminded me of my ex’s cruelty toward my children with his second wife as a willing accomplice.  Hearing of the perverted glee of tormenting the children brought back these heinous memories.  Even during the conference, I began to wish my oldest son had the same courage after his step mother exposed herself to him, and his father openly made lewd and lascivious comments to her teenage daughter.  It was a house full of cruelty, perversion, abuse and intense fear.  My children were terrified, yet too young and unable to do anything to change their situation.

Many of the women attendees were interested in making modifications in our family courts so abusers will no longer be able to freely manipulate the system.  When that was brought up in the workshop I was conducting, I explained that our courts need a complete overhaul beginning with something as minor as administrative errors.  For example; the report written by the guardian ad litem in my case did not include anything that warranted losing parental rights.  The judge denied my ex’s motion for a change in custody.  If our court had accurate ways to track motions that were previously heard, his unethical attorney would never have been able to judge shop and present the motion two additional times until she got the answer she sought for her client.  In essence…I lost custody of my children due to an administrative mistake.  And that’s tragic.     

If all the work, dedication, support, and solidarity can someday bring about significant changes in our family court, our children will not have to endure the same fate.  Many of us are fighting despite the fact our children may be gone as well as severely damaged.  But, as loving, strong and fabulous mothers, we feel it’s our responsibility to continue to fight this battle, even if our children have been lost. 

I am thankful everyday for the daughter I have with me.  In comparison with my three older children who were ultimately raised by an abuser, it is crystal clear on who succeeded as parent and who failed.  Sadly, the products of failed parenting will probably be facing their own court battles, as they are no longer emotionally healthy individuals.  And if we are successful in changing our family courts – in their future, they may find themselves in the unenviable role of a non-custodial parent.