I've been thinking about what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it for a few weeks now... I knew I wanted to post an update regarding life in general, as well as Princess' life specifically, since her bio-dad & stepmom abducted her three years ago, but I struggle to write it without getting upset. I get mad, I cry, I rant internally... I also struggle with the right words. I suppose that's what "edit" is for, right? So, here goes:
Almost of you know, three years ago (from last weekend, btw), Princess's BD & SM took her from our doorstep. Without regard for the number one concern of any GOOD parent, "in the best interest of the child", they came to our home under the guise of delivering her costume, and took her. The way she was taken was also difficult -- BD bent down, pretending to just be giving her a hug, grabbed her, and ran. Do ANY of you, dear readers, know how traumatizing that is for a child (not to mention, myself)? She was not yet 8yrs old.
I called my attorney (I have his cell number for emergencies), and then the cops, but since (1) our court-order was not as precise as it should have been (later corrected), and (2) the cop was a non-custodial father (can you say, "biased toward the father"?), he did nothing. He also tried to tell me how much more traumatizing it would be for a police officer to show up, put her in the back of the cop car, and return her to me would be for her. I knew then that not all cops are created equal, and on that last point, he was correct. So, I called my attorney back to report in, and had probably the worst weekend I've ever had. I didn't eat, I couldn't sleep... I was a mess.
Sunday night, BD did return her, but she did not come back to me the same child. She would never again be the carefree, easygoing child she had been... My first concern was her safety; I asked the courts for a restraining order for both her & myself. Being as I was (am) her primary parent, I felt the only way to have a restraining order was to ask for one for both of us. I was denied. I couldn't honestly (at the time) say for sure that he would ever harm her or me. I, of course, didn't realize at the time that he already had; emotional damage is deeper & longer lasting than physical harm. I felt defeated, but knew I had to do something else... something that would protect her from anything like that ever happening again.
I spoke with my attorney, and we asked for a hearing so the courts could spell it out, in black & white, what the current document meant (he was not supposed to have parenting time unless he either paid a huge chunk of what he owed me at the time -- child support as well as some attorney fees judgements -- OR could prove he didn't owe it to me due to his bankruptcy filing). In the meantime, I agreed to status quo; Princess would continue to have her regular parenting times with BD until we saw the judge (it was only a few weeks - Thanksgiving weekend was his last time with her).
That court date was less nerve-wracking for me than any previous ones; I knew he was wrong (both in his actions & in his thoughts regarding BK -- can't discharge family law bills, like child support & attorney fees), and that the judge would be pissed - BD had already been threatened with jail time, and was, at that time, on his first round of bench probation. Boy, was I right! After hearing the testimony as to what happened leading up to, and including, the abduction, the judge wanted to put BD in jail. However, when he asked me if I wanted to press charges, I said no.
Now, I know some of you are reading this, wondering why the hell I didn't throw his ass into jail for a while... Remember what I said at the beginning of this post: "in the best interest of the child". I honestly didn't (& still don't) see how putting him in jail would be in Princess's best interest. I firmly believed, as well, that if I were to have asked for jail time, he would have done something even worse once he got out - he'd take her again, & this time, she wouldn't be returned. As the years go by, I fear that less & less... but Princess still thinks it.
Anyway, the judge decided that while he didn't agree with my refusal to press charges, he did understand it. Instead of jail, the judge ordered all parenting time be suspended. BD was to have no parenting time with Princess until he paid the four (there are now six) attorney's fees judgments w/interest, all child support w/interest, and continued to pay child support. I thought at the time that it wouldn't be long before he'd find a way to pay the money, and he'd be back in her life in no time. Boy, was I wrong.
By mid-March, we were starting to prep for her second season of softball, and she had a freak out. She basically didn't want to go into any stores or restaurants between our house & his, for fear he may be there & take her. She wanted to drop out of softball, for fear he may show up & take her. The only place she said she felt safe was school (I had made sure there were steps in place to safeguard her), home, certain friends' & family members' homes, and out of the immediate area (another city, state, or country). At this point, I knew it was time for counseling.
This wasn't her first time in counseling; that had happened when BD moved to Colorado back in 2004. In her young mind, BD "abandoned" her when he moved out of our family home, and here he was, doing it again; moving out of state. Three or four sessions later, she understood that whatever his reason for moving so far away, it had nothing to do with her. This time, however, she was confused, and scared, and distrusted almost everyone - including me to a small degree. She felt I should have &/or could have done more to protect her; that I should have fought harder.
Her counselor at the time, K, spent many sessions working through her emotions. K explained to her that I did everything in my power, but that BD is bigger & stronger than I am; had I tried anything further, I could have hurt her, or BD (& that could have winded me in jail). K also helped her understand that BD & SM acted of their own accord, for their own twisted reasons, and that NONE of it had anything to do with her.
A few sessions in, K & Princess asked BD to join them. He did, but didn't stay for the whole thing, and never apologized. Mostly, he had many excuses (to accompany his wife's multitude of internet postings, finding many different ways to blame me -- ie: I'm keeping her from him, I'm poisoning her against him, a long blog all about what "parental alienation syndrome" is, a claim that all I'd have to do is tell my attorney he can have his time back but I refuse, etc -- all bullshit), and Princess wasn't buying it. The next session was about making sure she understood all the steps I'd taken to protect her as best I can, but since BD chose to blame me for her mistrust of him, counseling was no longer needed at that time.
Since then, I've had her do two other "mental health check ups" -- three sessions each. I just wanted to make sure she's doing okay, and that Ace & I are doing everything we can to make sure it stays that way. We've recently been working on her physical attachment to me. Not that I don't love having her around, but at her age, she shouldn't want to be around me so much. She's almost old enough to babysit, for jiminy's sake! This past summer, she took her first ever SOLO flight -- only a return flight from Pendleton, Or... but still; huge accomplishment! We're also working on her comfort level for staying home alone (max time so far: 1 1/2 hours -- she thought it was too long, but she was fine), and walking home alone (not quite there, yet).
On the "contact" side of things, he's called her (on average) about twice a month (although, he once went almost three full MONTHS without so much as a peep -- that was nice for us), he orders school & her two major sports' photos, and he comes to (on average) one conference and two-three games (no practices) each for her two major sports each year. She was 7 when he last came to a dance performance (no regular classes), and I think 5 or 6 when he last came to the last day ("show off day") of a swim class.
Since he isn't allowed to be at the school during regular hours (safety for not just her, but for the school & their liability, too -- if he shows up, they call me first, then call the police), nor around Princess without me there too, he can't volunteer for much of anything. Last year, there was a whole fiasco when her SM told her (at the ONE game she actually made it to) that it was "too bad" I had "banned" her BD from her school 'cuz he'd "love to volunteer at Field Day!" (which, of course, turned out to be total bs, 'cuz I jumped through many hoops to make sure he could be there if he so choose -- basically by writing a letter to the school that he had my permission to be there, that Princess was okay with it, and that I would be there too anyway -- and he never followed through). That incident was just another nail in his coffin as far as she was concerned...
For all of these three years, she has been angry at her BD and SM. She, at first, didn't understand why he's so attached and such a good parent (supposedly; we don't know for sure... we only know every time we see him somewhere, he's got at least one of his other kids with him) to his other kids (he has a 15 yo SD and two daughters, age almost-2 and 4 1/2). Princess has said many times over many conversations that she misses her sister MKG (the 4 1/2yo).
Recently, it's been things like, "You & Papa are my parents. Dad is my dad, but not my DAD; Papa is. He's here, he's part of my life, he cares, he loves me and shows me every day... Does that make sense?" and other related conversations. Don't get me wrong; I'm so grateful Ace is here, and a good dad to her... but I want to scream at BD, "How DARE YOU do this to her!! What the eff are you thinking?!?!" Hell, if I'M conflicted, can you imagine how my Princess feels?
The last conversation was about the meaning of "like" vs "love". She "loves" Ace and I all the time, but doesn't "like" us when she feels we're being unfair to her (that makes sense; total "parent/child" relationship right there). But, when the conversation was brought around to her feelings about her BD & SM, she said that she "loves" BD, but a lot less than she does us; more like an uncle. She then said she doesn't "like" him much right now.
As far as her SM, she flat out said she doesn't "love" her, she doesn't "like" her, and she will never call her mom or mommy again. The day that woman helped "take" her (Princess' word) was the day Princess lost all love & respect for her. I'd say that's a shame, but the only thing that's shameful is the way that woman treated my daughter and the loss of a part of my daughter's childhood because of it.
All in all, she's mostly okay. There are bad days and there are good days, but mostly, she just tries to focus on daily life and her future. We give her rules & boundaries, and she's pretty respectful of them. She's chosen this year to use her free time at school to tutor other students instead of working to get ahead (as she has in previous years). I applaud this. I think it shows just how caring she is; she wants others to succeed too and is willing to help them to achieve it.
By his continued refusal to do what is legally required, & blaming me for his own absence in almost every aspect of her life, he is now only hurting himself... she is done. We, her real parents, are proud of her. We love the fact that we get to watch her grow, and grow up, and become such a wonderful little lady. Too bad for him, and his misplaced pride, that he's missing out...