The Space Between Thoughts

One day… or Day One

lifting

Today was for that moment when the orthopedic surgeon said I’d likely never walk again without a cane. I was flat on my back in a hospital bed at FMH, fractured pelvis, crushed sacroiliac joint, internal bleeding, stomped by a horse. The only question I had was, “Will I still be able to lift weights?”

The doctor laughed. “You’ll never carry a backpack again, squats and deadlifts are out of the question. Your climbing days are over. We can look at installing a morphine pump for pain management, but you’ll be in a wheelchair for at least twelve weeks. You’ve got spinal cord impingement, sciatic nerve damage, your pelvis is fractured like a sheet of plywood and you have a fracture 2mm from your spinal cord. If you take even one fall, you’ll be paralyzed for life.”

That was October 4, 2003. I was 26 years old. I had a two year old toddler, a brand new full time job with the State of Alaska and a 12 credit course load at UAF in the criminal justice program.

Every day since that day, I’ve fought hard for every step. I live with the aftermath of a crushed sacroiliac joint and the sciatic nerve pain that resulted. I’ve learned a couple things, though. Life hurts whether you’re trying or NOT trying, whether you bench yourself and sit on the sidelines of your own existence or whether you push the limits of what is possible with every breath you take.

You get to choose your pain. The pain of not engaging fully in your own life, the pain of apathy, listlessness, purposeful ignorance, self-pity and the destructive, distracting behaviors that result from that are monumental. I know. In December of 1999, I weighed in at 306 pounds because I ate myself into oblivion. At 23 years old, I was ancient. Weighed down by my own misery, I hit the end of my rope. I changed my mind. I shredded 150 pounds off in eight months. I had a brand new baby to raise and I didn’t want her memories of me to be those of a woman who made excuses. I took up powerlifting in those years, because it was a natural fit. I was incredibly strong from carrying so much extra bodyweight.

As I lay there in the hospital on October of 2003, I made a decision. I decided that I would walk again. I would crawl if I had to, but I wasn’t going to live a half-life, reliant on pain meds and drugged into oblivion. With whatever life I had left, I was going to truly live.

When I stood on top of my first mountain, deep in the heart of the Alaska Range, in May of 2009… I cried. I spent two weeks in the range that spring, hauled 100# in a sled and 75# on my back. I dug snow kitchen after snow kitchen as we moved down glacier. I held my climbing partner’s fall when he stepped into a crevasse. We weighed the same: 185 lbs.

Years passed. I climbed mountains. I biked. I hiked. I backpacked. I raced. I lifted heavy, trained hard. I set a goal for myself five years ago: to break every personal record I’d set in my 20’s before that accident.

Today, I deadlifted 300 lbs.  I haven’t pulled that kind of weight since I was 26 years old. I haven’t broken my record yet on that lift, but I will.

Strong is what’s left when you use up all your weak. The choice is yours: is it “one day…” or is TODAY your Day One. You decide.

deadlift-300

She flies with her own wings.

avp

Photo credit:: Michael D. Ames

* * *

The early morning sun had this way of peeking through the window in the little attic bedroom, like a toddler with sleepy eyes tiptoeing in little onesie pajamas. Playful rays of light crackled through the glass, a narrow bathroom window repurposed and set curiously along the center of the sharply-sloped roofline.

Waking up to the spring sunlight, cradling espresso mugs and eating freshly baked banana bread, my Sweetheart and I would talk for hours about everything and anything at all as we watched the “angel wings” pattern move from one side of the room to the other.

One morning, I sat forward to play in the light and let the light-wings originate along my latissimus dorsi. This photo was born in the moment that sunlight and shadows, strength and transparency, absolute power and absolute vulnerability melded indelibly.

As in art, so in life.

Today, as I celebrate the halfway point between winter and spring, I pause to acknowledge the sounds of change. The sound of wings unfolding. The current is changing, the winds are blowing, the tides are turning. Spring is coming. More than just the return of the warmth and light that we treasure, there is a thawing of the frozen darkness.

 

“Life does not accommodate you, it shatters you…

Every seed destroys its container

or else there would be no fruition.”

-Florida Scott-Maxwell

 

As a mother and as a medic, I have held both life and death in my two hands. Sometimes within moments of each other. I am grounded and anchored by the knowing that seasons come and go, that ALL of life is a cycle. That all that is good now may be different later and all that is difficult, painful and hopeless may also be different, later.

I celebrate the transitions. The arduous, troubling, uncertain and unknowable is friendly territory for me because of the strength in these wings, forged in those same dark places. Embracing the dark, the deeply frozen places within ourselves, we turn toward the sun and the light of spring and we gather strength for all that will come.

 

All will be well

And all will be well

And all manner of thing will be well.

-Lady Julian of Norwich

The Peace of Wild Things

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms –

to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

-Viktor E. Frankl

* * *

reach

* * *

Last year, I read a beautiful poem by Wendell Berry: The Peace of Wild Things. I’ve had good reason to return to it again and again as 2016 came to a close and as this new year has begun. There’s a deep calm in the eye of a storm, a quiet certainty that lives and thrives while the weather system is raging. There’s an understanding that this, too, shall pass. Berry writes:

 

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

In fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feed.

I come into the peace of the wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water

and I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and I am free.

 

Today, this moment, this small fragment in time is ours. This present moment is all that exists. With courage in the here and now, we rest in the space between thoughts.

* * *

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

-Viktor E. Frankl

Celebrating Hopeless Places

happy-feet

“The soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts.” – Marcus Aurelius

* * *

Often, we don’t realize how black-and-white life has become. Deep sorrow cradled in small sandbags of sadness adds up to the enormous weight we carry on our shoulders, sometimes for years.

We settle. Worn down by life, exhausted by stress, we respond to the slightest comfort or kindness with every cell in our being, apprenticing ourselves to relationships, jobs, landscapes, lifetimes where we don’t belong. Months or years later, we wake up a little. Slowly. Look around at the cage we’ve managed to bury ourselves in (again).

Usually, the door on the cage is open… but we’ll spend any amount of time rearranging the cushions inside the box, trying to “make it work”. We might even occasionally rage at the bars and the low ceiling and the floor.

Some of us walk out. Or crawl. It’s the ugly shuffle. The embarrassed, lost, empty, sad stumble toward freedom that actually matters. Whether we are leaving a job that is slowly killing us or choosing to move on from a relationship where love is no longer being served- there aren’t many heroic moments in those first days, weeks, months.

Taking action is where it’s at, though. Color returns. The black and white world of the cage begins to fade when we acknowledge that we are, in fact, Enough. We are not inadequate, needy, broken, too messy, too verbal, not verbal enough, weak, lacking, failed… we are Enough. Exactly as we are.

You. Yes, you. Are enough.

What if this moment in all its ridiculousness is exactly where you are supposed to be? What if this chaos, this uncertainty, is the rock bottom on which to build the life you deserve?

Sometimes, we can’t let go. Sometimes I can’t let go. The stronger you are, the more endurance you have, the more tenacity you possess, the harder it is to let go. So, quit fighting it. Try just “letting it be”. Let it be what it is. Difficult, painful, chaotic, uncontrollable… that’s life. Beautiful, messy Life.

Embrace the suck. Embrace the parts of yourself that you don’t love very much. All of that? Is necessary. Good, even. Does it hurt? Yeah? Well, you’re alive. You’re breathing, you have an airway. You can use it to tear yourself down or you can get up. One more time.

This isn’t the post I meant to write, when I sat down with a tumble-dryer of thoughts spinning and started to put them on paper. I wanted to write the beauty, the profound joy of a life event my fiancé and I are celebrating today: the anniversary of our first date, one year ago. The truth is, in order to arrive at that day and this one… we have both had to go to some very dark places and stay there. We had to embrace the black and white of a hideous custody battle, eight children torn from their father, false accusations hurled repeatedly, and the saga that continues both in and out of the courtroom.

We found love in a hopeless place. We found a durable, sustainable, constant love that has grown stronger with every obstacle we’ve encountered. We have learned to communicate openly, gently, constantly, honestly about some of the most difficult topics any couple will ever discuss. The result? We each chose love over fear, again and again. We chose to connect, to close the gap between our ideas and understanding and trust the process.

The very same horrible set of circumstances that caused a woman to decide to commit welfare fraud, falsely accusing a man of domestic violence in order to obtain maximum welfare benefits, isolating eight children from their father and a community of caring friends and immediate family… is the same set of circumstances that caused us to pull together as a couple, to work together more powerfully, to communicate more effectively… and to love more openly.

It’s been a long road to this point and this is only the first chapter. Page One. We have each chosen to live out loud, to explore what that means individually and together. We have chosen to be a good example for our nine children of life lived fully, openly, with no regrets.

Yes, I do get angry. I get vehemently outraged at the depths of depravity conjured by the mind of a sick, sad human being who cares so little for her own offspring that she would use them repeatedly as pawns in the chess game of divorce.

* * *

“The best revenge is to be unlike him (or her) who performed the injury.”

– Marcus Aurelius

* * *

I inhale, I exhale, I move on.

The only cage that exists is the one in our own minds. The only entrapment is getting mired into our own story and own thoughts to the point where we can’t see daylight any more. The answer? Take some small action today. It doesn’t even matter if it’s the “right” one. Simply choosing to take that step will free your mind. What if you can’t do it?

Often, we are more afraid of success than we are of abject failure.

* * *

“It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.”

– Marcus Aurelius

* * *

Today, because of all that this year has brought, I’m celebrating in technicolor. My world is not just black and white any longer, but every possible color in the crayon box. Without darkness, there would be light. No contrast. No photo. Without difficulty, there would be no ability to fully appreciate beauty.

We need both the sunlight and the shadows. We need the struggle in order to emerge into this world, whether as a caterpillar from a cocoon or a baby from its mother. We are made better by exertion.

Today, I’m celebrating life. I’m celebrating in color, maxing out on deadlifts with the best training partner I’ve ever had- and I’m re-writing the rules of happiness. It turns out, you can be happy. Not “in spite of” things, but just… happy. It doesn’t displace grief, sadness, loss, injury or discouragement (and by all means, give them their due); it simply exists.

The Happy finds us when we are in the process. Taking action. Doing what we CAN do. Today, if you can’t let it go… let it be what it is. Good happens, just on the other side of the seemingly impossible.

true-colors

Remember your feet.

Nebulous

Never apologize for burning too brightly or collapsing into yourself every night. That is how galaxies are made.    ~ Tyler Kent White

________________________________________________________________

I’ve been collapsing into myself as the daylight hours shrink and winter’s blanket threatens to suffocate me. The dark is very dark this year, the cold gets into my bones and I hurt. Shoulders bent under the weight of the ‘mountains I was only supposed to climb’, I struggle to draw a deep breath. To get up, to keep walking.

 “Star formation begins when the denser parts of the cloud core collapse

under their own weight/gravity.”

 

Feet fall heavy. Perhaps it a sign- a harbinger of change. Tomorrow, I celebrate Solstice. I celebrate the Dark and the return of Light.

Tonight? I am soft and quiet and miserable and collapsed. Weary. Undone. Dark.

That is how a star is born.

Own it.

img_4060

Sunrise over Chena River:: Fairbanks, Alaska  11.19.16

“Today IS that day.”

– Michael, this morning, after sweating his way through accessory work.

* * *

Neither one of us had any inherent motivation to get up at 5:00 AM and hit the gym today. It’s Friday. End of a long work week, end of a brutal training week. Sore? Doesn’t even begin to describe it.

His dogged determination and sense of humor (and the double-shot espresso he made for me) coaxed me out of the fetal position and into the snow-covered car. As we drove in, I embraced the fact that I’m tired. Beat up. Emotionally exhausted.

“What do you need today?” he asked me, first thing this morning. It took me a looooooong time to formulate a response. I can’t even English with it, first thing in the morning.

Post-coffee, I managed to articulate something vague like “putting one foot in front of the other”. I couldn’t wrangle the herd of wildebeest thoughts into actual sentences.

Sometimes, the only cure is more iron.

Feeling weak? Overwhelmed? Tired? Tapped out? It’s iron deficiency. And not the kind of iron you ingest (unless you’re in the habit of biting kettlebells). There’s something about lifting heavy weight… that lifts the heavy weight in your mind.

He was right. What I needed today was more, not less, exertion. I needed to move, to bring my best game, to give my 100% effort BECAUSE I didn’t feel like it.

It doesn’t have to feel good to BE good.

You can’t place a value on a good training partner. It’s not possible to calibrate the magnitude of the awesomeness of someone who encourages you to get out of your own way.

The feeling of unsettledness shifted, the sense of despair went back to its corner to suck its thumb- and l got unstuck, one more time. I’m thankful for barbells and plates and kettlebells and lifting shoes. I’m grateful for life lessons, broken down into one-hour blocks of time where I apply myself and redefine my consciousness. I’m apprenticed to the iron, the sweat, the exertion, the effort, the failure… the Process.

I’m thankful for my training partner. My best friend. Together, we are More.

Making room at the table for grief

empty

Scrolling the pictures in my phone’s camera roll, he stopped. Caught short by the one that was clearly out of place. Between the laughing faces and the loaded dining tables there was one, small, still shot: an empty high chair at an empty dining table. Ours.

“Why do you take sad pictures?” his voice trailed off, muffled and choked by emotion.

After cleaning the kitchen, I had just shut off most of the lights on the main floor and the only light remaining was a small luminary on the kitchen table. The late morning light gently cradled the stillness, the emptiness. The tiny high chair in the corner, still missing its tray from the last time he lifted his baby boy.

I put my head in my hands and cried. Helpless. Grief-stricken. And I took the picture.

I refuse to whitewash the grief, the heartbreak, the silence, the emptiness, the Loss. I refuse to be silenced.

On the night before Thanksgiving, with a giant crockpot of homemade (Dad-made) fifteen-bean soup simmering at home, with our barely-operable van warmed up and ready to go, with two working adults folding up their jobs and switching gears to parent-mode… my Sweetheart got a call from the state troopers. A call that changed everything. For more than an hour, he was interrogated. Questioned. Accused. Yeah, that’s right. After eight long months under the duress of restraining orders filed under false pretenses, he’s still subject to the whim of a mentally ill woman who at any moment can have a complete break with reality and completely obstruct visitation between him and his children.

The children are the ones being violated with every passing day, with every week and month that slips by without ability to maintain a relationship with their own father.

Even though he did absolutely nothing wrong, even though he has never done a single thing to deserve ANY of the accusations heaped on him, there is a ‘presumption’ that exists- an assumption that no woman in her right mind would lie so extensively, would place her own children in harm’s way, would debase herself to such an extent as to vilify the father of her children and falsely accuse him.

Mental illness has no such parameters. Psychopathic behavior, paranoid breaks with reality- these things have no such limitations. All is fair game, it seems.

The crockpot, all seven quarts of soup, sits in the fridge untouched. None of us had an appetite that night.

Unlike the woman who is utilizing every possible welfare resource to fund her vendetta, we can’t afford an attorney (let alone multiple attorneys). We aren’t living off food stamps and welfare dollars. We aren’t perennially unemployed and scrapping for government handouts. We don’t have adequate transportation for our children because the court awarded her $8,000 (their permanent fund dividends) so she could purchase a vehicle (because ironically, she sold off the 15 passenger 4-wheel drive van that was ALSO awarded to her).

We’re caught in limbo-land. We’ve been waiting nearly three months for her attorneys to finalize her rendition of a “settlement agreement” and have heard nothing whatsoever. We have opted to simply give her everything. The house. The vehicles. Every single thing that she could possible want to squabble over- in the hope that it will lessen the conflict, lessen the burden on the children.

No such luck.

The more we pull back, the more we refuse to put the kids in the middle of her fight- the more theatrical and ridiculous she becomes. It’s almost as though she’s a narcissist who has lost her source of “supply”. (insert sarcasm emoji here)

Any reasonable, intelligent human with normal psychology would be physically ill at the thought of putting children in fear, in putting them in harm’s way to further their own agenda.

This one? Thrives on causing suffering. On instigating fear. On creating drama and difficulty where none exists. This one? Committed her oldest son to a mental hospital when he was twelve years old. Because he called her out on her lies, her false statements about his father, her mental illness and her damaging behavior. She threatened him for months. Told him that she would do it if he didn’t knuckle under. And she did. She committed him to a mental hospital because he stood up for what is right, because he took a stand for the truth.

That boy? Is stronger, healthier, wiser and better than ever. For the first time in his life, he’s actually receiving an education. Going to school. Interacting with peers. For the first time in thirteen years, he is no longer isolated by his mother’s choices. He’s better off in foster care than he EVER was in the months he was held captive by his mother.

But there are seven other children. Isolated in a house fully funded by taxpayers, denied schooling and education, racked with fear and anxiety, told every day that all men are evil and abusive and damaging- these kids are living under the cloud that is a mentally ill parent. Oh, she puts on a good front. She’s got the help of her welfare-funded, unemployed sister and her narcissistic father (a corrupt former magistrate), and a whole host of nodding heads at the local women’s shelter.

This is why I take sad pictures. I capture the reality of a situation as it is and I refuse to whitewash it, I refuse to silence it.

We made room for grief at our Thanksgiving table, this year. We made room for heartbreak and loss and unanswerable questions. There is grave injustice that exists in this world. There is Loss. A father’s arms are empty tonight and tomorrow and tomorrow.

What have we (as a society) done? What untruths have we perpetuated to create a world where a loving, involved, supporting, beautiful man who delivered three of his eight children into this world with his own hands can be treated with such absolute disrespect by this community? Yes. I said it. Community. All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men and women to stand by silently and do nothing.

This is not a cry for help. The time for crying for help has long since come and gone. This is Violence UnSilenced. This is one woman’s voice, speaking out against injustice. Against untruth in all its many forms.

Whether or not the DA decides to press criminal charges, whether or not these latest accusations go before a grand jury, is out of my hands. I believe that the stench of gangrene, the rot of moldy thought and hateful actions grows best in dark closets. Oxygen and sunlight are the only cure, the only remedy for this sick, wounding, injurious situation.

Bring it.

Perhaps, then, for the first time, he will have a jury of his peers. Perhaps he will then be permitted more than ten minutes to tell his side of the story. Perhaps the courtroom will resound (if only for short while) with the gentle baritone voice of a man who loves his children more than life itself.

Whichever occurs (arrest, wrongful incarceration or complete vindication), I will not be silenced. Many a good man, many a game-changer, powerful leader, change-maker has been falsely accused. Arrested. Held without bond or fair trial. Many a good human being has been deeply wronged by those who cannot stand in light and truth. That does not make these leaders any less effective. Right does not become wrong, truth does not become untruth simply because of false accusations, lies and harassment. Truth stands alone. We either align with it or we do not.

There will come a day when these clouds roll back, when light will shine in every dark corner, when the truth will have its day.

As Martin Luther King, Jr. said so profoundly, “No, no, we are not satisfied and will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Look Up

makeithappen

“Please, don’t worry so much,

’cause in the end none of us have very long on this earth.

Life is fleeting.

And if you’re ever distressed, cast your eyes to the summer sky,

when the stars are strung across the velvety night,

and when a shooting star streaks through the blackness turning night into day –

– make a wish, think of me.

And make your life spectacular.

I know I did.”

– Robin Williams

The Time is Now

mountain-high

Alaska Range

“The time is now. Why ration passion?”

– Mike Libecki

 

* * *

Two days. Blood draws. Labs. Two ultrasounds. Six hours spent in various doctor’s offices, exam rooms.

Abdominal pain. The kind that makes you clench your fists, grit your teeth, hold your breath and try not to puke. After three weeks, it wasn’t getting better. I argued it down, I ignored it until I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat, couldn’t sit or stand or lay down. I changed my diet, I even stopped drinking coffee. Yeah. For about a day. I couldn’t pinpoint the exact source of the pain, it seemed to overlap and the symptoms made zero sense.

My intuition said it was a combo-pack of stress induced mayhem finally bringing me to a full stop. I wasn’t far off the mark. The test results came back today and we’re in “wait-and-see” mode. I’ve got a situation that will either resolve itself or get worse in the next few days and require surgical intervention. Fun times.

Last night, after spending the majority of my work day getting poked and prodded and examined and holding down a chair in a waiting room, I rewarded myself with a couple good hours at the Reel Rock Tour 11, courtesy of Ascension Rock Club. I figure it this way: no matter what kind of revolt my body is currently cooking up, if I can’t be actually climbing- the next best thing is to watch other people pursuing their dreams and making things happen.

Watching Mike Libecki unravel the fine line between world-class exploration and expeditions and being a Rad Dad, I was reminded again of the importance of living our dreams. One day at a time. The critical necessity of pursuing the things that bring us profound satisfaction and joy.

There are times when life is so painful, so demanding, so brutal that we’re left stumbling under the weight of responsibility, difficulty and grief. That’s exactly the time that our “soul-envelopes” are blown wide open. Whatever we put in the ‘envelope’ at that juncture is what remains when that window of time closes (and it will- we can’t stay blown wide open forever).

Today, I’m choosing to spread out my pieces instead of “picking them up”. I’m laying it all out on a virtual tarp and conducting a gear check like no other. Some of these things cannot go back in the backpack: prolonged, protracted stress of this sort cannot be sustained. Something’s got to give. I’m sorting, piling, weighing and considering what will serve me well for this journey. I’m cutting weight. I’m jettisoning fear. I’m abdicating responsibility for things that are outside my control. I’m choosing.

ti

Pika Glacier, Alaska Range:: Ti Conkle

I’m choosing to reconnect with my tribe, my ‘sisters’, my friends. I’m choosing to ask for help, to ask for the support I need to make solid decisions and to lighten this backpack. I’m choosing to return to the outdoors, to the trails, to the fat bike, to the ridgelines and the creeks that access them. There’s nothing that ails me that the mountains (and the company of good friends) can’t cure.

Sometimes, life gives a “full stop”.

The best thing to do? Stop. Look. Listen.

pika-glacier

Pika Glacier, Alaska Range

“Dream big…..and climb those dreams.
After all, it is not only life, but the quality of this life.”

-Mike Libecki

Violence UnSilenced

For many years, I have been an advocate for women and children in crisis. I have volunteered my time and donated my resources to protecting those who are most vulnerable in their greatest time of need. Like many people, I kept my ‘lens’ focused on the seemingly obvious, the presumption that the vast majority of abuse is perpetrated by men against women. The truth is a whole lot murkier, a whole lot more complicated than that. It took a virtual hurricane to level my assumptions, to broaden my understanding, to remove my self-imposed blinders, to open my viewfinder.

Sometimes, even the most well-intentioned of us get it wrong. Really wrong.

* * *

For months, they were confined in a single room in a women’s shelter. Eight kids, ages nearly-two to nearly-thirteen. Even with court-ordered visitation, there were weeks when their mother simply wouldn’t allow them to leave to see their dad.

Their muscles atrophied, they were constantly sick. When we were able to take them out to play, they would complain of aching joints, aching muscles, feet hurting… even walking hurt. They had gotten used to captivity. It took its toll.

Five months confined.

Their mother has a five bedroom home, now- rent paid for in full by the state. They are still confined. With a playground in sight of their bedroom windows, a month went by and they hadn’t been out to play. They venture out, now, alone. Minding each other as best little children know how. Left home alone frequently, they make the best pasta meals they can and feed each other. They aren’t being schooled. At all. The oldest girl (eleven years old) is trying to teach herself, as best she can. The rest of the younger kids can’t even read. Or write.

They miss trees. They miss their five acres in Pleasant Valley. They miss their log home. They miss the wood stove warmth and their dad. They miss their dad.

Their dad gave the log home to their mother, along with a fifteen passenger van. She refused the home and sold the van. The log home has been repossessed by the bank. Their garden didn’t get planted this year. They harvested wild strawberries from their playground fields for the last time in June, mowed the lawn and wondered what would become of their home.

“We carry our ‘home’ with us,” I whispered, through their questions and tears, “no one can take THAT from us, in the end.”

But their sense of stability and home is forever rearranged. Displaced. Disjointed. Their oldest brother has been bounced from a mental hospital to a boys’ home- and now, most recently, to foster care (by their mother). He no more than gets settled in one place and she uproots him, displaces him, forces him back into chaos and deeper into the system. His counselors are confused. They can’t imagine why a mother would give away her own child, especially a gentle, well-adapted, considerate and traumatized boy who has not once evidenced any type of violent behavior of which he has been accused.

The kids are grieving the loss of their father and their oldest brother. The littlest boy cries inconsolably for his brother, when he is tired. Saying his name over and over again like a mantra, he weeps his baby grief into my arms. I cry with him. There’s nothing else that can be done.

The system is irreparably broken. There were no charges filed, no trial, no evidence, no jury of his peers on the day the court granted a 20 day ex parte order against the children’s father, an order that ended up lasting for more than two months. In fact, he wasn’t even present in court. He was at work. At his job. Supporting his family as he had always done. He had no knowledge that any action had even transpired, much less any opportunity to question the horrific charges against him. Because it is considered a “civil matter” and is handled by family court, he never had the opportunity to defend himself against the accusations before his children were awarded to the person who kidnapped them.

There is no “men’s shelter”. There is not one single advocate for a man who has been systematically destroyed by a woman for thirteen years. There is no free legal help for a male survivor of domestic violence. In fact, there is silence. The silence of a community. The vast emptiness that exists in the wake of false allegations, nine restraining orders filed under false pretenses- that emptiness echoes with the questions and the fears of eight lost children.

Who will advocate for them? Who will stand up for their right to an education? Who will ask the hard questions and demand accountability of the woman who is collecting every possible form of welfare and community assistance, and is incapable of using seat belts and car seats to safely secure her children in a vehicle?

Who will question why a person can obtain the homeschool funding to school children and buy a new laptop with that funding, but has yet to even begin instructing those children? Who will question why a woman with a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education, who has traveled and lived abroad for years, who refused to work outside the home in gainful employment as a teacher, who decided to bring eight children into the world- who will question why she refuses to do the work of educating them (or, at minimum, allow them to board a school bus and join their peers in established classrooms)?

Their dad’s hands are tied. He can’t advocate for them, their mother made certain of THAT. Their oldest brother can’t advocate for them any longer- she made sure of that, as well. Seven months have passed. The youngest child has now been separated from his father for more than a third of his short life. The oldest child is living in foster care, surrendered by his mother due to no fault or action of his own, in spite of the fact that he has five family homes open to him in this same community- the homes of his uncles, aunts and cousins. The oldest child has only seen his father for two hours total in the past two months, in spite of a court order mandating that he be allowed visitation with his dad twice a week for a total of 13 hours/week.

The Office of Children’s Services is over-burdened by the mere thought of involvement in a case that includes eight children, and so has conveniently sheltered themselves behind the wall of silence. Inaction.

Who will question how it could possibly happen that the oldest child is committed to foster care and is housed by a foster parent who is married to the person responsible for his “treatment plan” and counseling. Yeah… about that. Conflict of interest, anyone?

And so it goes.

The funny thing about truth is that it’s often inconvenient. Ugly. Unpalatable. It’s so much easier to just believe that “surely, there has to be SOMETHING that man did to deserve this, after all… there’s two sides to every story.”

We always want to believe that somehow, the person who is suffering grievous injustice and unspeakable wrong is culpable. It absolves us of accountability. That’s a function of epistemic myopia, my friends.

Ask the hard questions. Do your research. Investigate. Do the WORK. Don’t ‘shelter in place’ from human suffering. Be the difference. Question your own closely-held beliefs. Accept accountability and take action. Refuse to be silenced.

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“No matter how far you’ve gone down the wrong road, turn back.” –Turkish Proverb

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