The Day that Changed My Life
C – My Husband
K – Husband’s Ex Wife
M – My Step Daughter
Cass – My Daughter
Waking up to another morning of doubt and worry, I just want to keep my eyes shut. When I sleep, I dream. My troubles are gone and I can live in a world of fantasy and unrealism. Yet I must arise, get dressed, care for my daughter, Cass, and go on with my life as normally as possible. In the meantime, I have this sense of a 3 ton anvil hanging over my head by a tethered rope. I know I need to focus on my daily life. And I am getting the hang of it more and more each day. But I cannot seem to lose this feeling of constant worry, dread, and most of all – anger.
I met C’s daughter, M, on our second ‘date’. At about 15 months old and she was very adorable. She only said a few distinguishable words and was running around in her diaper showing me her toys. It is very hard to resist a child that age; so friendly, chunky little legs, and big smiles. Little did I know the roller coaster ride on which I was about to embark.
I was 26 and drawn to the family aspect of this relationship. The few years prior I was basically living alone, going on a lot of first (and only) dates, and feeling as though my existence was at a stand still even though I was getting older and older. I felt time was passing by all too quickly and I needed the stability of a family life…a grown up life.
C seemed to really like me and even though he did not fit my checklist for a serious boyfriend (with an ex-wife, a child – I had been in a similar relationship a couple years prior and leaving the kids in the end was extremely painful), I decided to just let go and let it happen. The relationship developed quickly. Week two we went to a wedding together. Week three we went on a vacation with another couple. And by month three I had moved into his home. Even with an ex wife and a child, my family seemed quite approving and almost relieved that they didn’t have to worry about me anymore. I stopped going to my hangout, George’s Tavern and took on an instant parenting role to M. For the first year or two I took care of much of the parenting responsibilities when she was with us – which was 50% of the time. I picked her up from her daycare provider, I fed her, bathed her, sang to her at bedtime, and took care of her when she was sick. I loved and cared for her as thought she was my child.
One late night as we were sleeping, I flew out of bed to the sound of her cry. It was a strange, loud cry and I knew instantly something wasn’t right. She was about two and a half at the time. Just as I opened her door, she projectile vomited across her room. She ran to me crying and screaming. We went to the bathroom and I ran a bath as I undressed her. She kept screaming, “My teeth hurt!” I had no idea what this meant. Her father had been complaining of tooth pain the previous week so in a moment of parental paranoia, I feared it was some strange communicable thing like the recently reported Bird Flu. I got out the children’s pain reliever and she grabbed for it like it was a sandwich to a starving person. She would not stop crying very dramatically and vomited several more times. I washed her and dressed her and woke her father up announcing that we are going to the ER – NOW!!
I held her the whole way there (as it was only blocks away). And in the waiting room she grasped me so tightly and refused to be held by anyone else. It seemed to be taking forever and she continued to throw up in a bag provided by the intake nurse. I demanded someone see her immediately. What was taking so long? This was my first experience with a sick child, a child I loved as my own. And I am sure I appeared to the staff to be an annoying, paranoid parent. As it turned out, it was only a case of the flu. We had to give her suppositories to keep her from throwing up, as the oral meds were coming up as fast as they went down. Of course C nominated me for the job and I accepted without hesitation as I just wanted her to feel better immediately. She was better the next day, and back to herself in a few days and C’s tooth ache was later diagnosed as an infected wisdom tooth. No bird flu to speak of.
After a couple years I was beginning to feel a bit taken advantage of. I would hear a lot of complaints from K when she was in ‘a mood’. And C just expected me to do all these motherly duties as though it were simply my obligation. And by that time, M was becoming rebellious. She would tell me that she hated me, wanted to go to her mom’s, etc. So I decided to back off. C needed to take on some of these responsibilities.
One thing that was always left up to me was communication with K. C could not stand conflict or even the possibility of conflict. So, I would be the one to email her, call her, keep schedules straight, inform her of daycare issues, and even behavior and discipline concerns. It was pretty much like K was MY ex. C had little to do with these conversations.
It got to a point, when M was about 3-4 years old, she was becoming quite out of hand with her daycare provider. I would get numerous calls and even had to pick her up on several occasions. She was being violent to the other child at the daycare and unmanageable at times for the provider.
When discussing these matters with K we would ask her how she was disciplining M in her home. She told us that she would slap, spank, and even pull the little hairs around her ears when M was naughty. We both asked her to please stop and even sent her literature suggesting alternatives. C even went as far as to write her a letter. She told us to ‘fuck off’. She said, “My mom spanked me and pulled my hair and I am just fine. I will do what I want, I am her mother.”
One day M came home from daycare and told us that her sitter spanked her with a paddle. She also said that she had been locked in the garage. At this time M was obtaining quite the habit of fibbing. So, we really did not believe what she was saying, yet it was something that I felt couldn’t be ignored. M described the paddle in great detail as well as the events. This worried me. Either M was making up dangerous stories about people or this woman was mistreating my step daughter. I wrote K a long letter explaining everything. I asked her to talk to the daycare provider. She called me and asked if I would please do it, that she felt uncomfortable and just thought M was lying.
It was very hard to believe these stories as this woman was a devote Christian, always stated she never used corporal punishment, and M has been there without incident since she was a baby. So, considering M’s imagination and history of lying, I called the woman and casually spoke to her about my step daughter’s accusations. The daycare provider became very defensive and angry. I was not comfortable with her response. Still not knowing the truth, I told C that I would watch M during the day until she started at a new daycare which was about 3 months from that time. And, I did. Everyday, all day.
Much of the responsibility was again placed on me. And I admit, I accepted that. And it was fine, really.
The only complaint I had was the fact that I was her primary disciplinarian. Her father was never much of one as he would rather not deal with it. Her mother ignored her behavior until it angered her enough to smack her or call us crying asking us to pick her up or ‘make her stop’. I tried to be consistent and stable. I was not mean. But I was strict. I wanted her to be able to predict the consequences of her actions, at least at this home. But that was entirely too difficult to do on my own. Her consequences were mostly time outs, loss of toys or a tab of hot sauce on the tongue for lying. Eventually she became very predictable. She was almost perfectly well behaved here, aside from some lying. At her mothers, she is a completely different child. Obstinate, tantrums, screaming…all of this even in public. Her mother would often write or call us with exasperation not knowing what to do. We would give her suggestions on what works for us, but she would never practice what she agreed to do. And to this day, she cannot handle her most of the time. And that seems so odd to us, because she rarely misbehaves with us at all.
When I started dating C, I received many warnings from his friends and family. They all had they same things to say for the most part: watch out for K, she is a trouble maker!! I took what they had to say with a grain of salt. It sounded like a lot of gossip to me and if they were going to talk about her like that, what will they say about me? So, I kept my distance where those conversations were concerned. When I moved in with C and M I decided to write K a letter. I wanted to open up the lines of communication and let her know that I am not the enemy and that I hoped only the best for all of our futures, especially M. She responded very positively and I truly believed everything was going to work out just fine.
It didn’t take long before the threatening phone calls to start. I would be sitting across the room while C and K were on the phone. I could actually hear the words she was shouting and screaming into his ear. She would say things like “You don’t even love her; you just want someone to wash your clothes and help with M.” She’d call me every name in the book and threaten to sue for full custody, even though she had no grounds. She even tried once and the court decided no way, that 50/50 joint custody was to remain. Yet another waste of taxpayer time and money.
As time went on, K’s attitude and personality would change as often as the erratic Wisconsin weather. At first it seemed to depend on her social life, whether or not she had a boyfriend. When she did, and she was distracted with that, things were quiet and smooth. When she didn’t or she was bored with her relationships, or lack there of, things got loud and chaotic.
K has led a very unstable lifestyle in the past 5 years. Since having M she has lived with 4 men and in 6 homes. She has had serious debt issues and had her car repocessed. She is a self diagnosed shop-a-holic and cannot control her spending. And her emotional outbursts have been unbearable and not hidden from M in the least. I can say, to her benefit, that she has held a successful position at a good company for well over 5 years and makes a very decent salary.
K is constantly complaining that we are always telling her what to do and making her feel bad about herself. Yet, all that we have asked is to be responsible with M, discipline her appropriately, feed her healthily, do not expose her to her boyfriends so soon and not let her sleep in bed with these men. I do not feel these are outrageous pleas.
Many times in the past years K has emailed and called me asking for my advice concerning M. I always tried to talk to her, make her feel better and give her suggestions without making her feel badly. I truly wanted us all to be happy.
We have had so many family meetings including K and sometimes her boyfriend at the time. She would always agree that she would start being more responsible and consistent with M. She would always put on the water works trying to elicit sympathy. ‘Her life was so hard, she’s been through so much..’ yada yada. Her life isn’t any harder than the next person. She loves playing the victim and doesn’t know how to live with integrity. She blames everyone else for all of her problems and even in her brief moments of clarity when she admits her own faults, she is only doing it to get out of some kind of trouble. It has been a very frustrating roller coaster. But I seemed to always believe her for the most part. I wanted to be friends. We actually did have a lot in common and I didn’t hate talking to her. I wanted there to be trust and honesty among us. I could see the good in her wanting to reveal itself, but something always interrupted that from happening. I sincerely hope that one day she does get the help she needs – not only for M’s sake, but for her own as well.
For about a year prior to ‘the incident’ things were going pretty smoothly and relaxed. K and I were getting along quite well. We even exchanged Christmas gifts. She would call and talk to me on the phone for well over an hour about all sorts of things from childhood traumas to television shows to her daily life. She was in a relationship with a seemingly nice guy and they were living together. Things were pretty quiet there for a while. I guess it was too quiet for her. She needed drama and needed it big time. I still to this day wonder if she really knew the extent of damage she was about to create.
About a week prior to the ‘incident’ she told me she was about to go off her ADD medication. And two weeks after, I found out she had broken up with her boyfriend. I cannot help to think this had a lot to do with what was about to transpire.
In January of 2006, I had given M, who was then a month shy of 6, a spanking. Actually, it was a swat. During all of these years, I have given her maybe three spankings total. All open handed and on the butt. This was the first though that was on her bare butt. She was getting out of the shower and had once again lied to me. It was her second lie of the day and had been disciplined for this over and over. Her lying has become excessive and almost seemingly compulsive. She knows very well that lying is the largest of all offenses that can be committed in this home. We have tried all the different consequences: taking toys away, early bedtime, no story at night, etc. We stopped the hot sauce long ago when it was obvious that she was not at all bothered by it. None of those mattered to her in the slightest. At a loss, and admittedly, frustrated, I gave her a swat on her bare butt with my open hand. In my heart, I have never felt comfortable with corporal punishment in general. I have always felt it didn’t really teach anything worthwhile and it just made me feel guilty, which I am sure she could sense. Not to mention, it must teach them it is okay to hit. After I had given her this particular spanking I called her father and told him about the situation. I expressed my frustration about her lying and about me being the only consistent disciplinarian in her life. C disciplines very rarely and usually was leaving it up to me. And according to what we have known from her mother and from M, at her mother’s home it is either physical discipline or none at all. When K picked her up that night I also told her about what happened, she seemed unphased and didn’t even want to discuss it at all. My step daughter had been with us Monday through Friday every week for quite some time. This schedule was initiated because her mother could not handle her. And because she didn’t have the time to do what was needed to properly care for her – healthy meals, decent bedtime, homework, etc. , especially during the school year. Basically, she just wanted things to be easy. And there I was – to make things easy. And we wanted M to have stability and consistency at least while she was in school.
The following day, K had off work but she was bringing her over before school because I was to do M’s hair for ‘crazy hair day’. I had actually been looking forward to it and bought pipe cleaners to make braids all over her head that would stick straight up, though I was unsure if this idea would even work with her very thick hair. K told me that she wanted to show me something. She pulled down M’s pants and showed me her butt. There was a very slight bluish bruise on one cheek about the size of a pencil eraser and some red bumps (pimple looking) on the other (which I believe were unrelated). Her mother asked, “Do you think this is from the spanking or do you think it is just a rash?” I asked M, “Does it itch?” She said no. I told her mother that I would be extremely surprised if my spanking had left any kind of mark, but that it also was not likely a rash since it didn’t itch. I simply had no answer. I explained that I could not understand how one swat on her butt, even though it was bare, could leave any mark, she basically shrugged it off as we went into the other room for me to fix M’s hair. While they were here, well over an hour, her mother chatted with me like a good friend. This was not uncommon as we had been getting along pretty well for a few months previous. She talked about an Oprah show she watched, about the ring her mother gave to her, and many other trivial subjects.
A couple hours later she called and said that she was just going to pick up M (she was suppose to take the bus back to our home as she did every Monday through Friday) and take her to her grandmother’s house. It sounded reasonable and I didn’t think anything of it at first. But then I realized that her tone was suspicious and abnormal, even for her. So, I called C to let him know and he called her to ask why she wasn’t going to let her just come home on the bus. According to C, K began ranting and screaming, saying that she had taken pictures of M’s behind the night before (BEFORE coming to my house and chatting with me for over an hour) and started making threatening statements. He really couldn’t have an adult conversation with her because she was being extreme and irrational. This is only a couple hours after sitting in my living room acting friendly and as normal as can be. It was really so strange.
The next day C and I put the baby down for a nap and we were about to watch a movie. As I begun to take spoonful of my clam chowder, a police officer knocked on the door. He interviewed me briefly about the alleged “abuse” and what had transpired two days prior. He was very friendly, led me to believe that this would likely blow over, and I felt I had nothing to worry about. He said as policy, Child Protective Services would be coming over to investigate on Monday (this was a Saturday).
I was in shock. I was heartbroken. My life was about to change forever at that moment.
Monday I waited and waited. No one from CPS ever stopped by or called. I, in fact, called them. Finally I received a call a couple days later. The CPS employee asked me a few questions. I was very up front and honest, not knowing any better, I thought the truth would prevail and everyone would see this was blown far out of proportion. He also was very friendly and through out the next couple weeks never once met with me. I called him repeatedly leaving many messages. Finally he returned my call and said he had to send the case to the DA because he saw the pictures of the marks on M’s behind. But he said that he has seen the DA throw out cases much more severe than this one and that I really shouldn’t worry. He said that M was fine to come back into our home as before and things could go back to normal. I expressed to him that I did not feel comfortable watching her or being alone with her anymore. He said I shouldn’t feel that way and I should go on with my life as it was.
In the past, K had on several occasions tried to persuade us to spank M as punishment. She always said that it worked so well for her and her siblings. She told me more than once that spanking her was the best way to get through to M. We never agreed and only used it less than a handful of times as a last resort. We asked that she did the same so we could be consistent at both homes. Her response was always the same, “It’s none of your fucking business…I will do what I want with MY daughter.” Yet, I was the accused abuser.
Days after this happened; K went behind my husband’s back and pulled M out of her school. The one that we all agreed upon. And she proceeded to enroll her into a Catholic school, which her father and I were very much against. She did this without C even knowing, much less with his consent. She also informed him that he will now only have her on the weekends. Making these unilateral decisions was not legal for her to do, but C thought it was best to see what was happening legally with me before pursuing a fight with her, so he simply allowed this to happen. He asked her one day why she did this. Her response, “To get control…I am sick of you (C) always getting your way.” ‘His way’ by the way was for M to eat healthy, sleep healthy, do her homework, and not sleep in bed with Mom’s boyfriends. Period.
I was, like I said, a primary parent to this child for 5 years. I am now nothing more than furniture. I have no relationship with her whatsoever. She has been taught to fear me, though she knows better. Her mother tells her to lie to us about things and asks her when she returns if ‘Heather was mean to her’. She even goes back to her mom and tells her I am mean. Which is not the truth. I basically disappear when she is here. I now fear that she and her mother can create lies that can actually endanger me and my daughter. I fear that I will always be in fear. I resent the child and I have guilt for that. But I cannot seem to help it. When she is here, I pretty much hide in another room. I know it is not her fault and I have even told her that none of this was her fault. But I feel how I feel. I feel she is now a threat to me. I see her as a symbol of pain. I see her as a wedge in my marriage. This all makes me so sick. I have loved this child. And now this is how I feel. I hate feeling this way. Perhaps this is just still so new and raw. Perhaps this is temporary. God, I hope so. Does her mother have any idea what she has done? Would she even care?
My marriage is on the rocks because my husband wants everything to go back to normal and it simply cannot. My husband is very non-confrontational in general and the way he has been through this has made me resent him as well. If someone did this to my spouse I would put up a huge fight, I would defend with claws out!! He was raised to stick his head in the sand and wait for problems to simply go away. I think she spent the years of their relationship (only one year married) and the time after walking all over him, he just got used to it. She cheated on him, left him countless times, and created so many problems for him. It is very hard for me to understand how someone cannot stand up for themselves. That is just not in my character and it bothers me that it is in his. I do have to say that he has improved ten fold through out this ordeal, yet he still does not seem to get the severity of the situation. And he definatly does not understand what is happening in my heart. Yet again, who really could unless they have been through it?
C’s family hasn’t once called to see how we are doing through all of this. In fact, his mother has even babysat for K and chit chatted with her and her family as though all is fine and dandy. Does she not realize what this is doing to part of her family? She says she wants to keep the peace so she can continue to see M. Personally, I think she is incredibly disloyal and to me, this is unforgivable. She will go on and on about how wrong the war in Iraq is…but she ignores the war in her own back yard. She ignores her own son’s needs. C’s family has been friends with K’s parents through all of this. Even after knowing that K told us that she was pushed into going to the ER by her parents, even though she really didn’t want to (according to her). I feel completely betrayed and abandoned by his family.
I was planning on going back to school in the fall for Social Work. And I was hoping to one day running for a local office position or the school board. I feel my career dreams are now futile. Anyone can look this up on the internet and see I was accused of child abuse, regardless of the outcome.
I am a stay at home mother. My family is literally everything to me. To be considered, accused, or called an abuser by anyone – regardless of their ignorance – hurts me more deeply than anyone can imagine.
For so long both of her parents left all the work up to me. I have loved her, cared for her, and took responsibility for her for almost 5 years. And now I have been stabbed in the back because of it. My heart has been trampled and my soul is damaged.
Six months after the ER visit I was charged with Child Abuse – Intent to Cause Harm. A summons came in the mail. It is a felony charge. Needless to say, I am devastated.
We have spent $1,000 on a family lawyer and had a new custody agreement filed. It states that M must go back to her original school, must go to the before and after school care that her father has chosen, and that the 50/50 schedule CANNOT be changed without mutual agreement. So, basically, we had to spend a grand just to have the same situation we had prior to all of this.
I have already had to pay criminal attorneys $3000. And will have to pay another $1500 if it goes to trial. Needless to say, on one income, this has been a huge financial burden. We had to take a second mortgage out to help pay these fees.
There have been NO restrictions concerning my step daughter or anything for that matter. The case was never investigated. No one from CPS or the DA’s office has ever met with any of us. She has been under our care just as before (except that I refuse to ever be alone with her again) since all of this happened. Yet, now, they are charging me with abuse? Why would they let her be here for the past 8 months with me if I was abusive? This makes no sense!
A couple months ago K emailed me asking if she could come over so we could talk. She said she wanted to apologize in person. I agreed. Stupidly, I did so without a tape recorder. She told me that her mother pushed and pushed until she agreed to take M to the ER. Her mother does not like us because of several reasons. Firstly, because I have been raising her grand daughter and that makes her family look bad. Secondly, we are not Catholic. And third, because C and I were married in a Unitarian Church by a homosexual minister. So, she basically couldn’t wait to scorn us somehow, especially me. Well, she got what she wanted. Anyway, K went on and on about how sorry she is, how she wished she could take it all back. I do have some of this on emails, but not everything. And believe me; I printed everything out for my lawyer. She also went in to much detail about all sorts of things that happened in her childhood and that is why she acts the way she does. She admitted that she acts before thinking and has anger issues.
C and I have a lot of work ahead of us. We may need serious and consistent counseling if our marriage is to ultimatly survive. I have resent towards him, some rational, some not. I have so much fear inside of me. I feel my life is deteriorating before my very eyes and there is absolutely nothing I can do to save it. Cass is my saving grace. If it were not for her, I don’t know where I would be right now. I don’t know IF I would be right now.
The DA offered me a lesser charge – from Felony Child Abuse to Misdemeanor Battery. I would have to go to probation, anger management, counseling and this will always be on my record. It will certainly affect the rest of my life. I cannot see pleading guilty to something that isn’t true. Yet, if I take my chances and go to trial – I could go to jail with a felony on my record. That would do me in completely.
Even though K has written a statement admitting that she knows there is no way I have or will abuse a child, it turns out the DA knows of her from an outside source (we have no idea who) and has no respect for her. He said that he knows from this source that K has basically dropped M in my lap all these years to raise. So he said he gives no respect or credence to what she says.
No matter what, I am screwed and I have very little options. I feel like I am going to throw up more times than not.
Each day something new seems to pop up. Or another hope is dashed. I need to figure out a way to recapture my life. To realize that I still have what matters most to me, my daughter. I also have a wonderful family who has been very supportive. I have over 15 character affidavits – from many different people – from a Forensic Psychiatrist to a Psychologist and many friends and acquaintances. They all have been so supportive and have said so many nice things about me. I need to remember that those are the opinions that matter.
There are still flowers to smell, chocolate to eat, movies to watch, and words to write. I cannot let this destroy me. I cannot let this devour my soul.